Finding a Great Business Coach: 6 Tips

by | Mar 10, 2020 | CEO/Executive Directors | 0 comments

If your organization, whether for-profit or nonprofit, isn’t hitting its goals, consider why. Is there a deficiency in your top leadership that’s filtering down through the ranks?

Leadership failures at the top of your organization can affect the success of the entire organization. When you start seeing that, it may be time to bring in a business coach

According to a survey conducted by the Harvard Business Review, organizations engage coaches to develop high-potential performers. But first, you need to understand the difference between a business coach and a business consultant, to know if a coach is the team member you’re in need of.

What’s the difference between a coach and a consultant?

Those not involved in nonprofit and business development may mistakenly think the terms “coach” and “consultant” are interchangeable. Don’t fall into that trap! It’s important to understand the distinction as your organization may require coaching services, consulting services, or both.

Business Coach

A coach is an expert in bringing out the best in someone. They work to teach your organization and its leadership how to develop and work with the skills you already have.

While they should be experts in specific subject areas relevant to you, their job is to be agents of support and accountability, addressing issues of mindset. Instead of providing an off-the-shelf solution, they guide clients through discovering solutions for themselves.

Business Consultant

On the other hand, there are moments when your business would be better off choosing a business consultant.

A consultant’s main job is delivering a solution or system of improvement to their clients. This team member will analyze your business as it currently exists and create an action plan for going forward.

Consultants generate solutions and present them as suggestions to the client. For a nonprofit, that could mean outlining a strategic plan (like in this Averill guide) while for a business, that might mean outlining the path to quarterly priorities.

Put simply, a coach will build your organization up to keep reaching your goals long after the coaching is done; a consultant will outline the game plan for getting a certain result but you may find it harder to keep doing that when the consultant leaves. 

With that knowledge, is a business coach the outside force your leadership needs to succeed? If so, let’s explore the top 6 tips for choosing a great business coach:

  1. Consider where you need guidance.
  2. Check their references.
  3. Interview multiple coaches.
  4. Solicit feedback during the interview.
  5. Consider coaching styles.
  6. Follow your instincts.

The right business coach can have a long-lasting positive impact on your organization’s leadership, with that impact filtering down through the ranks. Are you ready to find the right coach for you? Let’s get started.

Consider where you need guidance when seeking a business coach.

1. Consider where you need guidance.

When it comes to coaches, one size does not fit all.

Coaches specialize in a wide variety of areas. For businesses, they may guide leaders through handling a crisis or help brainstorm ways to use their Enneagram number to their advantage. Or, for nonprofits, they might help leaders with their volunteer management skills or developing a staff-wide philanthropic culture aligning with the organization’s mission.

Begin your coach search with introspection, considering what your organization truly needs from a coach. Which issues drove you to seek coaching? What is the main area where you need help?

The steps following this one detail the in-depth research you should complete on potential coaches, so truly take your time with this first step. If you don’t know what your organization needs, you won’t recognize the best fit for your organization when you find it!

Check the references of all business coach candidates.

2. Check their references.

According to this Aly Sterling Philanthropy guide, it’s as crucial to check references when hiring a fundraising coach as when hiring a fundraising consultant. Fundraising is the most essential action for a nonprofit to complete successfully, so when bringing in a third-party team member to help formulate a plan for doing so— it’s essential that their track record is proven!

While the fundraising coach may not be laying out an action plan like a fundraising consultant does, they are motivating your leaders to create that plan themselves that is based on best practices and the leaders individual skills and talents— so proven success in fundraising is just as, if not more, essential.

Checking each coach candidate’s references, applies to all types of coaching. Be sure to seek input from:

  • Peers in your industry and professional circles.
  • Trusted colleagues.
  • Previous clients.

Ask your peers and trusted colleagues whether they have recommendations for coaches or any experience with the coaches you’re already considering. Of their previous clients, ask questions about their experience with the coach such as their communication style and general effectiveness.

Further, long-time executive coach Marc A. Pitman encourages anyone looking for a coach to ask prospective coaches who their own coach is. Are they familiar with being on the other end of the coach-client relationship? And do they stand behind the results of coaching so much that they are being coached too?

Conduct multiple interviews when seeking a business coach.

3. Interview multiple coaches.

Once you begin the interview process, avoid interviewing one coach and calling it a day. While you may be in need of a solution sooner rather than later, it’s crucial that you don’t rush the interview process.

The most important part of a coaching relationship is that the coach and your organization truly mesh well. You need to trust your business coach and your business coach needs to understand your organization to guide you well.

Interview many coaches, both those that are a good fit and those that are less so, to discover the best fit for your organization. The more coaches you interview, the more this distinction will be clear.

After each interview, consider why a coach felt like the right fit or not. Really get introspective! This will reveal characteristics that you’re responding to, whether in a positive or negative way, and give you more insight into what type of coach you’re looking for.

Seek feedback from business coach candidates during the interview

4. Solicit feedback during the interview.

A business coach is going to be guiding you through moments both high and low, confident and fearful. They need to be both quick on their feet and thoughtful in those moments, both speedy and comprehensive.

The best way to test this is to offer hypotheticals during the interview. By asking candidates on the spot, you’ll get a good look at how they confront conflict with little preparation. Consider the following hypotheticals:

  • For a nonprofit: Imagine our organization is running a capital campaign and the timeline has been derailed. We’ve been unsuccessful in connecting with the major donors we thought we would easily secure, and are feeling less-than-hopeful because of it.
  • For a for-profit: We’re struggling to connect with staff members and foster community within our organization. Because of it, we’re experiencing drastically low staff retention rates.

What is the coach’s first impulse as far as how to guide your organization through the applicable conflict? Remember that the “on-the-spot” nature of these questions may lead to lower-quality answers than might occur in actual scenarios. Regardless, the general direction of the answers may provide helpful insight still.

Remember: Be respectful. Coaching services are a service your candidates provide for a fee. Ensure candidates don’t feel as though you’re simply using the interview to obtain quick solutions to your problems for free. While hypotheticals are valuable, limit the number you’re presenting to avoid any confusion.

Pay attention to learning styles when bringing on a business coach.

5. Consider coaching styles.

It’s clear that a business coach needs to align with your overall values, such as your nonprofit leadership style or your small business economic view. Just as important, however, is their working style.

It’s important that you understand exactly how they are planning to coach you. Consider the following:

  • How does the candidate conduct their sessions? By email, phone, video chat, or in-person?
  • How long are the sessions? A half-hour, forty-five minutes, or an hour?
  • Do they allow you to contact them between sessions? By email or maybe phone?
  • Do they have resources you can access when they are not available? 
  • Just as consultants have fees (learn more here), what are the fees associated with the coach’s services?

The way in which they plan to coach you needs to align with the ways you learn best— whether with longer in-person resources or through independent study of provided resources with regular check-ins. But be open to adjusting too. Some leaders who think they are only interested in face-to-face meetings are surprised to discover they actually accomplish more in a phone call appointment with their coach. 

Listen to your instincts when bringing on a business coach.

6. Follow your instincts.

Even more than a consulting relationship, coaching can be somewhat personal. Not that you should be discussing personal matters with your coach, but rather that this coach needs to understand the best ways to motivate and inspire you to be better— something that’s often different for every person.

Because of that, you should follow your instincts when choosing a coach. It’s a personal decision, and you need to choose the right coach for you.

So, if you’re interviewing a coach that seems perfect on paper but less-so in person, don’t ignore that feeling. Or, if a coach seems slightly less professionally qualified but really dedicated to understanding your organization, factor that in your decision as well.

At the end of the day, it’s your decision— so pay attention to your instincts when making it.

Business coaches specialize in bringing out the best in their clients, guiding them in solving their own problems rather than delivering solutions themselves. It’s a worthwhile partnership that can have positive benefits for years after the engagement ends, bringing leadership to their highest potential.

However, these benefits are contingent on finding the right coach for your organization— one that aligns with your values, needed lessons, and learning style. With the above tips, your search will be off to a great start.


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