Coaching Takes Small-Mid Businesses to the Next Level

Businesses are starting, growing and striving for success during the most challenging U.S. economic situation in decades. The difference between stagnation and growth can be attributed to information and action. A popular tool for gaining both is business coaching. Discussing it with us today are Ann Connor and Michelle Connor. They purchased an AdviCoach franchise three years ago and plans to grow it to a 17-coach operation. Their focus is coaching businesses from sole proprietorships to mid-size companies. Ann and Michelle have tremendous expertise and donated their time for a question and answer session on Friday, September 09, 2011.

What is business coaching?
Ann: Business coaching is an opportunity for a business to invest in itself by working with professionals who can help them deal with problems of growth, expansion and more, helping them deal with the obstacles they face. We do that by performing a gap analysis and then helping them bridge that gap with tools, resources and accountability. We help them work on their business, improving it, while they work in their business, performing their normal day-to-day-tasks.

You mention gap analysis. Can you describe that?
Ann: Gap analysis is when you talk to a business owner and ask them about their goals. Do they want to expand to new locations? Do they have a revenue goal? Do they want the business to have a certain value by the time they retire and want to sell it? It’s really about understanding the dream and what they expect the company to give them back. Then you ask where they are today. The difference is the gap. Then we analyze what it will take to get them from now to the dream situation.

What kinds of gaps do businesses experience?
Ann: A couple of areas of what I mean by gaps are financial and strategic. Financial gaps may be increasing revenue, profitability and business value. Strategic gaps may be things like expanding to new locations, hiring more people or offering new products, services and programs.

What are the real benefits a company gets from coaching?
Michelle: I’ll take this one. Fortune 500 companies have been using coaching as a guide for years. Now it’s available to small and mid-size companies, solopreneurs and sole proprietors, letting them have the same kind of guidance. Previously smaller companies only had consultants available, who specialize in one business function, not coaches, who handle all the goal challenges of a business. We’re an extra set of eyes. One recent client, an architect, had a blind spot about her prospecting abilities. Now she’s out there bringing in what she calls “A-List Clients”. Good coaches help you see what’s missing and then help you fill the gap, holding you accountable for taking action. It affects the overall business in many positive ways.

These days it seems like coaches are everywhere. It’s like anybody can hang out a shingle calling herself a coach. How should people select a coach?
Ann: That’s true, a lot of people are doing that and it worries me because it dilutes the perceived quality of coaching. The first thing to look for is relationship. You could have five coaches in a room, heck, five coaches from the same company even. A business owner is probably going to connect with one really well. That’s important. Finding a coach you connect with is important because you’ll be communicating with her a lot. You need a rapport that lets you take constructive criticism from your coach without feeling like you’re being attacked.

Another thing is to avoid limiting yourself geographically. With tools like cell phones, webinars, conference calls and Skype you can communicate with a coach just about anywhere. Business owners can work with coaches just about anywhere, so be open to searching for the best coach, not the nearest coach.

Watch out for coaches who don’t listen. They should try to learn as much as possible about you. It’s about your business, not the coach’s. I’ve heard about coaches who approach the first meeting with a list of services they can sell you. If the coach seems more interested in selling you stuff than in listening to you, you might want to look elsewhere. Likewise, if you leave the first meeting feeling like the coach is listening, like she’s already giving good feedback or ideas without charging you, that’s someone to connect with.

What qualifications should someone look for in a coach?
Ann: There are degrees people can hold. They could have certifications. The most important thing to look for, though, is experience. I’ve seen coaches with all kinds of certifications that I would never hire. I’ve also seen coaches who never went to college but have tons of hands-on experience and are phenomenal coaches. I’d hire those in a heartbeat.

You’ve talked a lot about accountability. What is it and how does it work?
Ann: Accountability is pretty simple. It’s making sure the business owners do what they say they are going to do. You break down their needs into four or five tasks per quarter to work on, what we call a road map. The business owner says that she’s invested in their business, in their goals and in our coaching relationship and agrees to complete those tasks before our next meeting. At the next meeting one of the first things we discuss is “Were you able to accomplish the goals from our last meeting?” Making a client accountable is sort of holding them to their word, about staying on task, and working through any obstacles that kept them from completing those tasks. You keep the meeting conversational so it’s constructive instead of unpleasant. It’s not a time to be negative. It’s about tracking progress, learning the “why”. Give clients goals and remove the obstacles and they have a very high success rate.

Michelle: Your coach should always celebrate your successes, too. That’s always part of the conversation. It keeps it positive. You need to understand how much you can put on the business owner’s plate. That helps them consistently succeed. We learn that from a behavior communication assessment. It helps understand the business owner.

Ann: You also have to understand and communicate well with the business owner because a lot of small business owners have little or no separation between their business and personal lives. It’s critical to keep them comfortable so they will talk. They’re so used to being in charge of everything and sometimes just need someone to talk to or vent to.

What else do people need to know about coaching?
Ann: Primarily that hiring a coach is not a sign of failure. It’s a sign that you are interested in growth and success. Business owners are the real experts at working in their business, like we discussed earlier. We’re the experts at working on the business. Coaching helps you be able to sustain your own success even after the engagement with the coach is over.

Michelle: Remember that coaches are different than consultants. Consultants are very specific. They often focus on a single industry. We as business coaches can work with any industry because we focus on business fundamentals and the goals of the business owner.

Also written by Andrew

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