It's rare that elite athletes get to the top of their game without coaching — most top athletes have several coaches that help them get to the peak of their physical and mental game. It's the same with elite entrepreneurs: the best ones know that coaching can go a long way toward success in the stress-inducing, fiercely competitive world of business.
You may already have an advisory board, a board of directors, a mentor, and lots of professional group associations that offer insights and advice, but a business coach serves a different function, explained Silicon Valley leadership coach Khalid Halim in a recent RocketSpace talk. "Advisors are people that give you advice. Mentors are people who have walked the road before and can guide you through that. Coaches fit in a different position, where their focus is solely on the CEO and how the CEO is performing."
Coaches provide perspective into both personal and professional roadblocks. Because they are not involved in the operations of the business, they can provide objective, bias-free feedback, which is sometimes difficult for someone in an advisory board or fiduciary role. And unlike mentors, who are oftentimes speaking about their own personal experiences, coaches are tasked with helping provide actionable solutions for problems in real time.
Professional coaches can provide invaluable assistance at every stage of a business. Whether you're prepping for an investor pitch, rolling out a new beta, or encountering problems with a co-founder or key employee, coaches help identify the key issues and help put a plan in place to get optimal results.
Getting the Most Out of the Relationship
Like any investment — coaches cost anywhere from $175 to $1,500 for hour-long sessions — the more entrepreneurs put into the coach relationship, the more they will get out of it. Just like piano lessons or swim lessons, improvement depends not only on the work together, but also the work between lessons. So, be prepared to spend a few hours each week on solving the issues you're discussing with your coach. It's also a good idea to block off an hour before and after each session for prepare and review time to make sure nothing falls through the cracks.
Coaches aren't a silver bullet or a quick fix to a fundamental business problem. They also aren't the answer to an overnight 10-fold increase in sales. However, they can help lead entrepreneurs to breakthroughs that will help fix a flawed business plan or come up with a new sales strategy to dramatically increase profits.
What Coaches Actually Do to Help
Business coaches are highly skilled at helping entrepreneurs identify strengths and weaknesses. They can help founders build confidence, prioritize objectives in what might otherwise seem like a never-ending list of to-dos, and design strategies for delegating work to other key members of the team. Coaches are also a great tool for accountability; they not only help you set realistic goals, but also make sure you're working steadfastly toward accomplishing them.
While your advisors are focused on big-picture business goals and your mentors (if you're lucky enough to have them) are available to give personal advice, the business coach bridges both of these worlds with laser-focus on the well-being of not only the business, but also the entrepreneur at its helm. And, because they don't typically have a fiduciary stake in the business, coaches are great resources for talking about sensitive subjects that you may feel uncomfortable bringing up with your advisors.
Additionally, business coaches can be a great resource for helping with the often-stressful co-founder dynamic. Even the best co-founder relationships can get tricky at times. Whether clashing over management styles or delegation of responsibilities or simply disagreeing about what's best for the businesses future, when one or more people are equally passionate about a business they've started together, tensions sometimes rise to the surface. Coaches can help act as an impartial mediator to help business partners get on the same page and work together more effectively.
Finding the Right Coach
The best way to find a business coach is through a referral. Speak with entrepreneurs in your network—if possible, in your own field—and ask for recommendations. If you can't get a personal recommendation, be sure to talk to existing clients of a potential coach before signing on. It will likely take a few sessions (which usually happen about every two weeks, for an hour, over the phone or in-person) to know whether or not a coach is the right fit. It's important to feel that the coach is someone you would be open and honest with, because emotional depth will be required for optimal results.
Seeking "help" from a business coach isn't a sign of weakness. Just like a great athlete who understands he can become truly exceptional with the right coach, great entrepreneurs can grow faster and go further when they've got this important player in their corner. And while adding another expenditure to the balance sheet can seem daunting, there's no better investment to make than investing in yourself.