Rebecca Spicer looks at how business coaching can improve business performance, whether at the startup, growth or mature stage. And, how to find the best one for you.
When looking to enhance knowledge and ability, even the most elite and talented athletes need a coach—someone who will help them analyse their performance and set goals for what they want to achieve in the future, and direction in achieving those goals. Business is no different.
Coaching has become a viable option for businesses looking to operate at their peek performance. A coach works with an individual, team or a business to figure out where they are today, where they’d like to get to, and how they can get there, explains Natarsha Hearn, president of the International Coach Federation (ICF) Australasia, Victoria chapter.
Unlike a training course or workshop where a group of people will learn the same set of material, Hearn says coaching is very much specific to the individual, team or company.
There are major and subtle distinctions between coaching and other external advisory avenues available to business owners looking to improve themselves. Counselling, for example, tends to be focused more on the past, whereas coaching is more about where you are now, where you want to be in the future, explains Hearn. Consulting is about analysing the situation, then giving advice. ‘Whereas, as coaches, we believe that the person has the capacity to find the answers within themselves, so we would be helping people to explore through their own frame of reference, what’s right for them."
There is some overlap between the role of mentor and coach, especially in the area of SME coaching. She says mentoring is more a sharing of experiences between two people. "Part of being a good business coach may involve being able to offer some sharing of their experiences, but their primary function is to help the person explore what it is they want and to find the answers within themselves."
Sharon Pearson, CEO of The Coaching Institute, agrees there’s a distinction but believes business coaches need to be able to put the consulting and mentoring hats on as well. "If you’re purely a coach, you would only ask questions and would not offer suggestions. If you did that as a business coach you’d be out of business. As a business coach you need to be able to make suggestions, you need to be able to see what the business owner is doing and know how to improve it."
Does your Business Need a Coach?
Different people will use a coach for many different reasons. Kerrie and Barrie Lander, for example, needed a startup small business coach to assist them with the successful launch of their business, Fusion Jewellers, in WA’s Busselton, last November.
Barrie had been working as a successful manufacturing jeweller for 30 years, and after some experience in the pearling industry in Broome the couple decided to move down south and open their own business. Kerrie completed a small business course at TAFE but the couple realised that after working as employees all their lives, they needed help with the transition to running their own business.
Barrie’s expertise meant having quality product was assured, but the challenges came in all it takes to open a store and get customers through the door. It also didn’t help that the couple had to start in a new town. Enter coach Caroline Johnston from asOne Solutions.
"Caroline was able to give us direction in how to go from being employees to looking at the vision and the future, and how we’d launch the store," says Kerrie.
While the Landers particularly needed startup advice, there can be many other reasons why business owners engage a coach. As Hearn points out, it can also be for successful people who want to take their business to the next level, but don’t know how to start. "In fact one of the core principles of coaching is working from a position of strength," she says.
In Pearson’s experience, there are two main reasons why people hire a business coach: to give them more freedom from their business, and to make more money. So within that, business owners may be looking to increase profit, improve time management to achieve work-life balance, foster more interpersonal communication and leadership skills, or they may want to increase their motivation to inject new life into the business.
Depending on the objectives of the client, there are some broad coaching categories people can engage in such as: life coaching, which helps clients choose new perspectives and establish new beliefs about what is possible in their lives; business coaching; and executive coaching, which is more for CEOs, board and senior executive level staff.
Within these broad categories, coaches might specialise in, say, small business coaching, leadership coaching, health and wellness coaching, teen or youth coaching, and so on.
Hearn and Pearson agree that many coaches are found through referral, which was the case with the Landers. A colleague of the couple who mostly worked with bigger businesses, recommended Johnston to them because she specialised in small business coaching and had experience in the jewellery industry. "Using Caroline’s knowledge and expertise in this particular area has assisted our business and has changed our profit margins dramatically," reports Kerrie. "She tailored our coaching sessions particularly to our needs, rather than offering a generalisation of any old jewellery shop, and she also did her own research of the local area."
When the Landers first met with Johnston, they also had instant rapport, which is just as important as the professional credentials of the coach.
In terms of credentials, Hearn suggests the following checklist when searching for your ideal coach:
• Ask ‘what is your coach-specific training?’ So where did they do their training and how many hours of training have they had.
• What other credentials/experience do they have (such as a business degree or Masters)?
• Have they worked with people like you? Who have they worked with and how many hours of coaching do they have under their belt? Ask for a testimonial.
• What guarantees will they make in terms of confidentiality and what sort of contract will they provide?
Pearson adds that it’s also good to get a diagnostic. "Make sure you don’t go in and the coach just says, ‘yes, I can help you’. Ask questions like ‘how are you going to assess my business?’, ‘what tools/measurements will you use, or is it just your gut feel?’ You’d need to know they have a level of ability to diagnose the needs of your organisation." She also advises interviewing around three potential coaches before you make a decision.
As the professional body for coaches, the ICF website (www.icfaustralasia.com) is a good starting point to look for coaches in your area. Once you’ve establish the coach’s credentials, then comes the people stuff, says Hearn. Ask yourself things like, do I have good rapport with this person; would I like to sit with them in a room for an hour each week; do I feel they can listen to and understand me? "I would encourage people to listen to their gut and listen to the soft and fuzzies as well as the tangibles, because it’s so important. It’s a personal relationship and you need to be able to respect the person."
The coaching experience will differ from coach to coach, and client to client depending on their objectives, outcomes and so on. Most coaching relationships will begin with an initial consultation to establish whether there’s rapport between coach and client and if there’s an interest to work together.
Once a relationship has been formed and a contract signed, the coach and client will decide together how they’ll proceed with coaching sessions. Hea
rn says, generally, people will work with a coach for at least three months, weekly or bi-weekly, and they’ll either work in-person or over the phone, or a combination of the two.
Pearson believes it takes at least a year of working with a coach to improve a business. "It’s not a quick fix and it’s not a bandaid approach," she says.
In the Landers’ case, they had intense weekly coaching sessions over the phone (because they were still in Broome) for the three months leading up to the store opening. They have since had three coaching sessions, the latest of which was to work on their yearly planner. Kerrie says they will continue with coaching at least annually. "It will be used to make sure we’re still on track with our vision, to establish if things have changed within our business and what we need to refocus on and reassess to move on."
Coaching is usually costed at an hourly rate or might be rolled into a series – for example, 12 sessions for $X. That rate will vary significantly from coach to coach depending on their experience, credentials, and expertise. Hearn believes businesses should expect to pay anywhere upwards of $250 per hour, but stresses the upwards could be a long way upwards, so that’s another key question for your checklist.