How to Choose a Business Coach

I recently had lunch with a young entrepreneur. His business had grown quickly, and, as a result, he was facing challenges he’d never encountered before. He said, “I think I need a business coach—someone who can help me navigate the road ahead. Can you recommend someone?”

I get asked this question a lot. Running a business has never been more challenging, and coaching has never been more popular. As a result, business owners have a variety of coaching options.

I have my own coaching program, so, of course, I mentioned that. But then I said, “Look, I don’t care whether it’s us or someone else, just hire someone. The fastest way to scale your business is to grow your own capacity as a leader. And the best way to do that is with a coach.”

It wasn’t hard to anticipate his next question, and probably yours: “Where do I start?”

I went on to share the three questions to ask when considering a coach.

1. Do they have the right business experience?

Here’s the dirty little secret of the business coaching industry: most coaches have never run a business. They usually have experience working in a business and maybe even in leadership. But there’s a vast difference between working in a business and running a business.

You want someone who has taken risks, struggled to meet a payroll, overcome slumping sales, and figured out how to grow.

Several years ago, I met with a prospective business coach. He was a New York Times bestselling author with an MBA from one of the top business schools. He spent the day with me, learning about my business. He then told me emphatically that I needed to shut down every revenue stream except one, focus only on that.

It didn’t ring true at the time, but I wondered if he was right. I thought about it for days. It really sent me into a tailspin. I had nearly decided to revamp my entire business my business when I happened to talk with Chalene Johnson, right before she interviewed me on her podcast. I explained my conundrum. She emphatically disagreed with the business coach. But here’s what got me. She said, “Why are you listening to him? You do know he’s never started or run a business?”

She was right. He didn’t have any experience. It was all theoretical. I dodged a bullet.

Ideally, you want a coach who has run more than one business. It’s helpful if they have led businesses of different sizes, so you’re sure what they teach works in a variety of contexts.

2. Do they get the right client results?

You want someone who has gotten—and is getting—the results you want. They need to be a living example of the transformation they promise. But you want more than this. You need to know that their clients are also getting similar results.

In addition, you want a coach who has distilled their experience and wisdom down to simple-to-understand frameworks and practical implementation tools. You need insight plus application. They need to make it easier and faster to get the results you want.

Also, be aware of this when you read client testimonies: many coaches write the testimonials for their clients and then get approval to use them. They’re not exactly fake testimonials, but they’re close. At the very least, you want to see video testimonials or handwritten notes from real clients using their own words.

Better yet, ask to see specific, quantitative data on what their clients have achieved as a result of the coaching program. For example, what specific business results can they point to? What specific non-business results can they point to?

3. Do they use the right coaching frameworks?

Some coaches do only one-on-one sessions. Some facilitate group masterminds. Which format is best? Actually, neither. According to the research, adults learn best in a multi-pronged approach. One study showed that when training is combined with coaching, individuals increase their productivity by an average of 86 percent compared to 22 percent with training alone.

One-on-one coaching can lead to dependence on the coach. It also deprives you of peer support, input, and accountability—all of which are important in achieving the best results. Masterminds can be helpful, but they sometimes turn into “the blind leading the blind.”

What you really want is a program that makes use of expert coaching (see number 1 above) and structured discussions with a qualified peer group representing a variety of industries. This gives you both the leadership and accountability you need to make real progress.

The Final Criterion

Finally, I wouldn’t hire a coach who doesn’t have a coach. I want to make sure they are buying what they’re selling. If they really believe in coaching, then they will have one of their own. If they don’t, that should be a red flag. Either they don’t really believe coaching is for everyone or they are too arrogant to think they need it.

When Jonathan Rosenberg was being considered for head of the product team at Google, he had a final interview with Bill Campbell, the legendary coach who mentored Eric Schmidt, Steve Jobs, and other Silicon Valley legends. The interview consisted of only one question: “Are you coachable?” Campbell would never hire someone who was too arrogant to see their need for growth. Neither should you.

As a business owner, hiring a business coach can be one of the best investments you’ll ever make. Hiring the right one can help you go further, faster. But hiring the wrong one can slow down your progress and, at the very least, waste your resources. Asking these three questions can ensure you find the right coach and get the results you want.

If you’re interested in coaching, here’s a simple next step. Schedule a Right Fit call with our business consultants. In that conversation, you’ll find out if my coaching program, BusinessAccelerator, is right for you. Either way, it’s a solid next step in finding the coach who can help you take your business further.