How to Choose a Coach to Help Launch or Grow Your Business

Research shows that for both aspiring and established entrepreneurs, working with a business coach typically yields powerful results. These include improved business outcomes, strengthened leadership skills and heightened personal confidence. If you’re launching a startup, a skilled coach will help you to define your vision, identify and leverage strengths and resources, create and implement an action plan, and overcome potential stumbling blocks. For existing entrepreneurs, a coach can provide invaluable support as you look for ways to grow your businesses or identify strategies and tactics for facing persistent hurdles or difficulties created by an unexpected crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic.

Regardless of the stage of your existing or aspirational business, a coach will serve as your confidential sounding board, providing fresh perspectives on your challenges and opportunities while opening your eyes to new possibilities.

Having a coach is like having a personal trainer in your corner, someone who helps you maximize your strengths and access tools for growth, cheering you on to new heights while holding you accountable to the goals and action plan you’ve created for yourself.

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Not just any coach will do

Once you’ve decided to partner with a business coach as you launch your startup or scale up your existing business, the next move ­is critical: actually choosing a coach!

To ensure that your investment in a coach pays off, you need to hire someone who has the training, experience, expertise and personality that suits your needs. This is definitely not a one-size-fits-all proposition.

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Here’s what to look for in any coach, followed by five steps for choosing a coach who’s the right fit for you:

Credentials and training

This should be nonnegotiable. Only hire a coach who is credentialed by at least one of the following organizations:

  • International Coach Federation (ICF)
  • The International Association of Coaches (IAC)
  • Worldwide Association of Business Coaches (WABC)

Most leading business coaches have more than basic coach training. For example, at The Workplace Coach, all of our coaches hold advanced degrees and have completed hundreds of hours of coach-specific training, in addition to being credentialed by the profession’s most-respected organizations.

Relevant experience

Look for someone whose coaching experience relates to your specific needs, goals and interests, and who has experience in entrepreneurship, business and leadership. You’ll set yourself up for success by working with someone who has relevant experience and qualifications.

Skilled coaches who are successful business owners tend to be particularly adept at helping entrepreneurs lay the foundation for sustained success. This might involve coaching you to think more strategically or guiding you to identify opportunities for business partnerships.

An experienced business coach also knows the pitfalls that are common to entrepreneurs and will help their clients recognize and avoid them. Let’s say you tend to get so bogged down in day-to-day operations that you neglect business development activities. Your coach will help you recognize how this pattern is holding you back, then guide you in developing tactics for changing your behavior while also creating a detailed action plan for business development.

A clear coaching philosophy, style and method 

Professional coaches will clearly articulate their coaching philosophy and method.

If you’re launching a startup, your coach’s questions might prompt you to clarify and refine your business vision so you can successfully sell your idea, product or service. Questions that encourage clients to recognize their personal strengths and apply them to their business vision can be especially powerful for entrepreneurs. Another line of questioning might spur you to identify and tap external resources or get a fresh perspective on a stubborn obstacle.

In looking for a coach, be sure to notice how they use questions in your introductory session. The ability to ask the right question at the right time is arguably one of the most important distinctions between being a good enough coach and an excellent coach. A skilled coach will ask questions in a way that generates a fun give and take of creative ideas, energizing you to take your next steps forward with greater confidence.

Consider the coach’s work style too. Will they meet with you by phone or video conference call? What type of support do they provide between sessions? Are there limits on support in between sessions?

Professional tools and resources

Many coaches give their clients access to assessment tools such as DISC, 360 feedback, Myers-Briggs and the Highlands Ability Battery. Professional coaches are also skilled at guiding clients in maximizing their use of these tools.

Professional ethics and coaching agreement

We strongly recommend working with a coach who adheres to ICF’s Code of Ethics. Additionally, your coach should be willing to draft an agreement defining the terms and scope of the engagement, including fees, scheduling, logistics and roles and responsibilities of coach and client. Pay attention to whether the coach clearly distinguishes between coaching, consulting and counseling.

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Five steps for choosing the right coach for you

  1. Gather names: Ask friends and colleagues to recommend coaches they’ve worked with successfully. Consult online resources of coaching credentialing organizations.
  2. Do your due diligence: Ask potential coaches to provide references, including current and past clients. Contact each reference and ask about his/her experience with the coach; be sure to ask about any perceived pros and cons.
  3. Interview top prospects: In addition to the basics (training, credentials, experience, methodology, costs), ask the coach to discuss:
    • His or her strengths and weaknesses
    • Specific experiences with clients whose situations or goals were similar to yours, including their process and outcomes
    • Their professional and business experience outside coaching
    • Numbers of clients coached
  4. Take a test drive: Schedule a complimentary session with your prospective coach.
  5. Consider personality and chemistry: Do you feel comfortable and at ease with the coach? Just as importantly, will the coach challenge you to grow?

Good luck!

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