How to Choose a Business Coach

Graphical arrows with word coaching

You’re likely familiar with athletic coaches. Athletes hire coaches to help with nutrition, speed, conditioning, and mindset. Working with a coach can help an athlete improve their technique, reduce injuries, stay motivated, and more quickly reach their goals and potential.

What does a business coach do?

Hiring a business coach can help move your business from where it is now to where you want to be. Business coaches work on a variety of issues, including clarifying your vision, marketing your business, and dealing with overwhelm. A good business coach can be an amazing asset and accelerate your success. You may also choose to work with multiple coaches. One coach might help with public speaking, another with sales, and a third with the operations of your business.

Individual vs. Group coaching

You can choose to have individual or group coaching. Each choice has advantages and disadvantages.

1.One-to-One Coaching

Individual coaching is the most efficient way to work with a coach. It is also the most expensive. Individual coaching is most effective if you have specific issues that cannot be efficiently addressed in a group setting or if you are willing to make a significant financial investment.

I recently went through some tech changes in my business and hired a coach to help me transition to a new platform. I knew exactly what I wanted my website to look like but had no idea how to do it myself. I didn’t want to just pay someone to complete the job because I wanted to be able to make changes in the future. Working with a coach was a positive experience. My website got completed to my specifications, I learned how to make modifications, and she saved me hours of aggravation.

I’ve also had bad experiences with coaching. A few years ago, I hired a sales coach who did not understand my introverted personality. His method of selling was to call potential coaching clients and, once they were on the phone, do some intense digging to help facilitate the sale. I hated this approach. It was intrusive and his hard-sell advice didn’t work for me. Instead of helping, his coaching left me hating my introverted personality and feeling like a failure.

Individual coaching varies in price from $50 to thousands of dollars per session. You can choose to meet weekly or monthly, either in person or virtually. Some coaches offer email, phone, or texting support between sessions.

2.Group Coaching

Group coaching programs are usually three to twelve months long. Some programs include a planned curriculum and/or library of resources. Group coaching gives you access to a community of other business owners and a structured way to move forward in your business. Group programs can range from $7 to thousands of dollars per month. Some programs give you limited access to personal coaching (sometimes only 15 minutes a month) or require you to ask all questions in a group setting.

If you want to join a group coaching program, I recommend asking for feedback from its members first. Ask questions such as:

  • Did it help build your business?
  • How accessible are the coaches?
  • Was it worth the investment?
  • What did you like and dislike about the program?
  • Would you coach with them in the future?

Selecting a Coach

There is no one-size-fits-all model of coaching. You need to choose the type of coach that is right for you. Think about your past experience with teachers and coaches. Did you prefer a coach who was confrontational and accepted no excuses? Or did you prefer someone who was understanding and supportive? Choose the style that works best for you.

Autocratic and Democratic Coaching Styles

Coaching styles fall into two general categories. The first is the autocratic style, where coaches make all of the decisions, are strong disciplinarians, and motivate through fear and intimidation. An example of the autocratic style is a drill sergeant.

The second category is the democratic style. This is a softer approach, where coaches focus on positive guidance, getting buy-in from the client, and sharing their experience. I think of this coach as being like a soft-spoken kindergarten teacher.

I prefer the democratic style. I love a yoga class because it has a quiet atmosphere and gentle suggestions about how I can improve my poses. You may disagree. I have a friend who loves CrossFit workouts and thrives in that high-pressure environment of timed pullups, squats, and weightlifting. She finds yoga boring and likes having instructors yell at her because it motivates her to work harder. Choose a coach whose style works for you.

Kinds of Feedback

In addition to preferring a democratic or autocratic style, you may prefer working with a coach who uses positive, constructive, or negative feedback. Let’s say you asked a coach to review your website. Here are examples of three styles of feedback:

  • Positive. Positive feedback will highlight what you did well. For instance, “Your website looks really professional. I can tell that you thought about the content of each page. The images are appropriate and your use of bullet points makes it easy to read. Good job!”
  • Constructive. Constructive feedback explains what you could do better. “While the content of your website is well-written, it’s not clear how a customer can sign up to work with you. I suggest that you place a ‘Sign Up Here’ button at the top of the page to fix this problem.”
  • Negative. Negative feedback describes what you did wrong, without proposing a solution. “Looking at your website, it’s obvious you are clueless about online marketing.”

You will get the most benefit from a coach who offers constructive feedback.

Choosing the Right Tone

Another element of coaching is the tone. How your coach provides feedback is just as important as what they say. It will be no surprise that I respond better to feedback when it is given with a gentle tone, but this may not be true for you. Let’s use the website example again to see how comments could be framed:

  • Gentle Tone. “Overall I really like your website. I’d recommend adding a ‘Sign Up Here’ button to make the signup process clearer for visitors to your website.”
  • Blunt Tone. “When I look at your website, it’s unclear where people sign up. You need to add a signup button immediately.”
  • Cruel Tone. “Your website is terrible. My dog could have created a better website that you did – and she’s blind.”

Personally, I see no benefit in working with a coach who uses a cruel tone. If you are paying someone to help you, they should do so in a constructive tone.

Dealing with challenges

Solopreneurship is fraught with challenges that you can’t anticipate. Plans, goals, and expectations can fall apart quickly because you don’t know what you don’t know. This makes coaching solopreneurs different from athletics or other straightforward activities. Consider how a coach will respond if you don’t meet a deadline or run into personal challenges. Do you want a non-judgmental coach who accepts where you are? Or do you want a coach who doesn’t accept excuses for any reason?

I have a friend who invested $12,000 in a year-long coaching program. A few weeks later, her father died. The next week, her mother broke her hip. While settling her father’s estate, she became the sole caregiver to an elderly woman with multiple medical issues and dementia. My friend made the difficult decision to put her business on hold. Rather than being supportive, the coach accused her of not having her priorities in order. That was the end of the coaching relationship and she was not issued a refund.

I admit that I’m strongly biased toward a democratic coaching style, largely due to the fact that I’m incredibly sensitive to criticism. I offer business coaching as part of the Solopreneur Academy and my clients face frequent personal and professional challenges. My view is that my clients should never be afraid to share where they are, even if they spent the weeks between our coaching sessions doing nothing but watching Netflix. These are often the most productive coaching calls because they spotlight roadblocks and allow for problem-solving.

Choose What Works for You

Think about your coach’s personality and how they can support your business. It’s okay if you are motivated by fear and prefer a coach who is apocalyptic if you miss a goal. It’s also fine if you do best with a gentle cheerleader who celebrates each step toward success. My recommendation is that you choose a coach that works with your personality and will help you make progress toward your goals.

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