How to Get the Most Out of a Business Coach

A willingness to change is essential for entrepreneurs

You may be wondering whether hiring a business coach will be worth your time and money. After all, you’ve gotten this far in your business with your own know-how, ambition and hard work.

The answer is that many entrepreneurs find a business coach provides them with invaluable advice to overcome particularly tough problems or take their company to the next level.

But to achieve those kinds of benefits, it’s important to not only find a great coach, but to also go into the relationship with the right mindset, says veteran business coach Ken Hossack.

“The right mindset involves being prepared to change,” says Hossack, a former entrepreneur who has successfully coached dozens of business owners for the Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC). “You have to be prepared to do the heavy lifting that may be required to make changes. If a person doesn’t have that mindset, they’re not going to get the full value out of the coach.”

Look at weaknesses honestly

Entrepreneurs need to be able to look at their business practices as well as their own personal strengths and weaknesses in an honest light. No entrepreneur can master all the different areas of running a business.

“You may be very well-organized and have perfect financial management, but your sales and marketing is terrible,” Hossack says “It’s the coach’s job to identify those weak areas and help you overcome them.”

Hossack says it’s important to have a structured approach to coaching. This should begin with an assessment from your coach as to how your business is currently performing in various areas such as finance, operations and human resources.

You should then agree on what steps are necessary to address your most pressing concerns as well as an action plan with time-bound goals.

Hossack holds 10 face-to-face meetings with an entrepreneur during a three- to four-month mandate. During these sessions, he works with the business owner to improve his or her management skills and achieve the action plan goals.

Knowledge transferred to entrepreneur

“There is a significant transfer of knowledge,” he says. “It’s almost like going back to school.”

One entrepreneur who has enjoyed huge benefits from working with a coach is David Van Stralen, president of Louet North America. Van Stralen, whose company is a wholesale distributor of knitting, spinning, and weaving equipment, has successfully worked with Hossack several times.

“The definition of insanity is continuing to do the same thing over and over again and expecting to get different results,” Van Stralen says. “We were doing a lot of that. We were having struggles. Ken came in and listened and asked questions and we started talking about the problems I was having. We started prioritizing them.”

Improved control

With his coach’s guidance, Van Stralen was able to implement several strategies, including securing advance orders from wholesale customers. “It allowed me to manage inventory better than I have in the past,” he says.

That and other changes have paid big dividends and helped position the company for growth, Van Stralen says.

“We’re poised to have our best, most profitable year in our company’s history.”

Lessons learned

  • Be honest—It can be hard for business owners to reveal areas of weakness. Being transparent from the get-go will help you get the most benefit from the experience.
  • Have realistic expectations—Business coaching can help you be more successful—but it won’t make you a millionaire overnight. You’ll still have to be willing to invest time and energy into your company.
  • Understand the coach’s role—The coach is there to pass on knowledge and recommendations, not make decisions or run the business for you.
  • Be open to an ongoing relationship—A successful business coaching engagement will put you in good stead to advance your business. But you may wish to return to coaching periodically as your business grows and becomes more complex.

This article is courtesy BDC for Small Business Week in Canada.