Many entrepreneurs attribute at least part of their success to having a good business coach. Someone who asks the difficult questions and who can use his experience and network where necessary. But finding a business coach is not easy. Your business and personal lives are closely intertwined. To find a productive relationship, there are many factors to consider.
Most importantly, alignment is the foundation on which a successful coaching relationship can be built, and therefore matching desired traits between coach and client should not be underestimated. I asked entrepreneurs to tell me the most important qualities of a business coach and the responses fell into four categories.
Many entrepreneurs referred to the character traits of their coach. Entrepreneurs are looking for qualities that make a coach effective but also sympathetic. “For me, it’s all about a personal connection,” says Kate Tompsett of Happy and Glorious, “If I don’t like someone, I’ll never be able to work well with them! I look for humor, empathy and enthusiasm.”
“Indispensable qualities are honesty and business acumen,” says coach Alison Callan, “solid processes and systems to create a secure and confidential container that builds rapport and trust” are what you should look for.
Business psychologist Fiona Kearns believes its key attributes are “integrity, strategic thinking and industry insight.” Jason Rawles suggests “vision, empathy, and tolerance,” as well as more practical elements such as “experience, proven credibility, connections, and network.”
Great character and interpersonal skills are a solid start, but it’s clear that coaches need to have other qualities to be effective. Some entrepreneurs are strongly convinced that business coaches must have had personal success in order to be able to guide from an experiential position.
With so many coaches touting their ability to develop success with entrepreneurs, it’s paramount to cut through the noise. Many of the entrepreneurs I asked told me that they felt more comfortable working with a coach who was a successful businessman in his own right.
Entrepreneur Daniel Priestley said, “This is not a popular thing to say, but I want my coaches to get results for themselves.” He went on to explain, “They don’t need to have built a billion dollar brand or have thousands of employees, but I do want to see them be successful and have respect for their non-coaching achievements.” Is it enough for a coach to just be a good coach or do they have to have their own success in business?
“You don’t want a good talker to find out he can’t walk. You want someone to be honest about their background, their challenges, failures, lessons learned, personal triumphs.” said Martin Norbury of I Don’t Work Fridays, “What have they achieved and how does this fit into your ambitions?”
Going beyond your coach’s personal success and track record and finding one with relevant experience to your situation can provide additional benefit.
The know-how that comes with running a marketing agency is different from that of a dropshipping company or a SaaS. Knowing the automotive industry inside out is of little value to someone who works in the hospitality industry. While it may not be a deal breaker, some business owners place a high value on relevant experience.
Ravi Davda of Rockstar Marketing has used several business coaches in the past. “I didn’t benefit as much if they were in a completely different industry or didn’t do what I wanted to do (run a successful marketing agency). So I found one that did. It worked incredibly well.”
dr. Aishah Iqbal is looking for “someone who has walked a similar path to me, understands my niche and is flexible in what I can do. I don’t think coaches should be one size fits all, because every company is unique.”
Experience in the field puts a coach in a strong position to give his clients more practical advice and suggestions. Coaches can also have more relevant contacts that they can use to help a business grow.
However, not everyone agrees. Alison Callan isn’t looking for “just someone who’s been where I am or going where I want to go, because I don’t want to imitate someone else’s journey, but create my own.” Instead, “I’m looking for someone who shares the same values as me and my company.”
Perhaps the most passionately expressed quality was that the business coach shared values with his client. “If you have a coach who believes in hard hustling, but your number one value is freedom, you can create a successful business, but you won’t create happiness,” suggested Alexandria Maria.
“Some business coaches just dictate a model and don’t think about who you are,” said mindset coach Susie Ramproop, “I’d rather someone could tap into my potential based on a wealth of experience rather than being educated.”
Business coach Melitta Campbell agreed: “They should align with your business stage, values and personality. While their job will be to challenge you to become your best self, you don’t want to work with a business coach who uses strategies that do not match your style, personality, company or brand.”
Values dictate much of a coach-client relationship. Close alignment means there is a shared understanding of what success looks like on many levels. Occasionally a mismatch can be productive, bringing alternative worldviews and priorities to the fore and being considered. On balance, however, entrepreneurs prefer harmony.
Finding the right business coach is the difference between snowballing your success and stagnating in the mother of all plateaus. Before you sign the paperwork or even start your search, you need to know exactly what you’re looking for in your coach. Don’t be afraid to gauge their experience and the results they’ve achieved with others. The more time you spend talking to them, the more you will learn about their character and values and whether or not everything will work out.