Opinion

What makes a great business coach?

6 min read

31 May 2013

It's tricky finding the right coach for you and your business. Jan Cavelle shares her experience with business coaches.

We have recently signed up for the Growth Accelerator Programme and are at the stage of awaiting CVs of possible business coaches to interview. As I felt daunted by this task, I thought it wise to give some serious thought as to why and what I am going to be looking for.

Although I had business coaches in the past, the experience never really worked for me. I needed to compare where I had been then – supremely ignorant of business coaches, while thinking getting one was “the done thing” – to where I am now. I specifically want to learn and achieve something from it and I have to be the first to admit that this leads to a more successful outcome.

The person being coached has to be ready to listen and be pushed outside the box, not to mention admitting where one has gone wrong – in my case pretty regularly! I will need to look hard in the mirror at both me and my business to make it work and be open to change – very scary stuff.

So the first thing I am going to look for is a feeling of mutual trust. We all dread negative feedback. One of my past experiences pushed me too hard for the stage I was at and left me a gibbering wreck with no confidence, considerably worse off than when I started the process. I was not impressed by this particular coach and felt unable to say what wasn’t working for me. This made the process untenable. That said, a coach one relates to should surely keep the balance right, involving mutual respect and trust, rather than using a sledgehammer and judge to push to the point of near annihilation. A good coach will be open enough to hear that something they have done is not working.

That personal relationship is important. A great coach for one person, however, might not be a great coach for me. I am also expecting that some people I speak to will tell me I’m the last person they would want to coach – we just won’t match. In fact, I hope they will be as picky as I will.

Through research, I found that coaches generally fall into two different categories. One being psychologists or of similar background, concentrating heavily on listening, emphasising and asking what you are going to do about it. The other is more business skills and knowledge orientated. Again, I have experienced both kind. Under the sheer remit of Growth Accelerator, I am looking to increase my knowledge and skills as I don’t feel the psychology approach is right for me at this point in my career. I want to learn and be encouraged to think and work things out.

Rather than glossy degrees and qualifications, I would look for someone who has run businesses themselves. Without having been there and done that, people can’t really relate. I think it is important to find someone who has run a small business that has grown – I don’t think corporate experience is going to relate to small businesses. It would undoubtedly be a bonus if they had manufacturing experience as none of it will matter if they can’t tell one type of chair leg from another.

If I was paying and going in cold again, I would look for references and more details on how they bill, but I don’t have to worry about that with Growth Accelerator.

Like any job interview, I want an idea of how we are going to tackle the task, to know more about how things would be structured and how we are going to measure results. I need to know what information and knowledge they will be able to bring to the table. I also want to know what their expectations of me are, including time – while I am fully
committed, any business owner’s time is a precious commodity and the commitment needs to be an achievable one.

I am hoping to find someone who is willing to be involved as a temporary business partner who is going to be as excited and proud as me when between us, we get things right.

Jan Cavelle is founder of the Jan Cavelle Furniture Company.