What questions to ask a potential business coach to check they are the right fit for you and your business
Crucially here, you need to have clarity on your own goal and, therefore, know what answer you are looking for from a potential business coach. The best business coaches in the UK will help you define this and dig into this more deeply, but you need an idea to start from or at least an understanding of the symptoms you are seeking help with. Get clear on what you want, and it will become clearer who you need to help!
Here are some follow-up questions based around your goal to ask a potential business coach.
How would you help me grow my business?
Many business owners target growth as part of the goals and strategies but are motivated by day-to-day issues. These include wanting to solve a cash flow problem, overcoming limited profitability, inconsistency of orders, expansion of the team to reduce personal working hours, creating service or product variety to overcome gaps in sales, and a wide range of other underpinning issues. Each of these has its own action plan requirements so being crystal clear matters.
How can you help me achieve a better work-life balance?
Often this request comes from one of two directions. Firstly, the business owner is actually seeking an exit path and is not yet clear on how to reduce the time or responsibility burdens they are personally carrying. Secondly, they are actually happy with the role they are involved in but want to reduce the stress levels or required working hours in the short term.
How can you help me get my team performing better?
Requests for team performance are really common, but the real question is why do you feel they are not performing already?
Very often, the issue is not to do with the people, but to do with the clarity of goals, responsibilities, skill sets, time management, level of and simplicity of systemisation in the business and more. Sometimes it can be a leadership or management barrier or opportunity too.
When you have worked with clients in the past, what have been the results?
This is a really critical question to ask in order to find a business coach that is going to deliver. This is to help you identify a true business coach from those claiming the title or providing other types of services.
The answer should be given in metrics. They should be able to provide you with real-world examples of businesses they have supported that have shown business growth across key figures such as turnover, profit, employee numbers, client base, and so on.
It’s always good to ask to speak to a couple of clients directly to get a true feel for what it’s like working with the coach and the difference they have made!
What would the working relationship be like if we were to work together?
The answer should be a mix of business advice, guidance, and education. It would involve planning, setting action plans, agreeing on goals, establishing commitment, and providing accountability to perform. The relationship would be on an equal footing (i.e. the coach is not an employee, but someone who should be respected and to whom you allow yourself to be held accountable for delivering on your promises and commitments).
The coach should be a sounding board for potential decisions. There would be an expectation of tracking results and working hard to deliver the required outcome goals. There should be a high degree of trust and support available to overcome personal and business barriers across a wide range of topics.
Who would be completing the tasks we agreed on in our coaching sessions?
The answer should be (for small business owners); you, the business owner, and the team you work with. The coach is there to help you clarify the best ways and ensure you perform to the best of your capabilities. However, they are not there to do the work for you (as that way, you remain dependent upon them forever).
Instead, they are there to ensure you learn, develop the skills, and gain access to relevant resources. By doing so, they allow you to progress as a business owner, and as a result, see your business results flourish.
What types of businesses have you coached?
As with most industries, there are business coaches with specialisms and relevance and those with less direct relevance. Here are four sub-categories that could be given in the answer, which should help any small business owner choose someone relevant to their situation:
Big business coaches
This group tend to be ex-high-flyers from the corporate sector. They often have worked in large banks or multinationals or as a C-level executive. They are well educated and were highly capable in a large business environment.
The focus of coaching tends to be towards the high-level systematic side of things. They tend to be more consultative, providing direction based on years of experience. They are used to managing and directing in boardroom environments. They are happy to act as a sounding board and can help you define relevant goals and strategies in that setting.
If you are running a medium to large-scale enterprise, the insight and experience can be highly valuable and effective. The advice can be interesting if you run a smaller-scale business or have a more regional focus. However, it may not be fully effective as the options for growth in big and small businesses are different.
Executive business coaches
This group focus more on leadership and management topics. They work with individuals who are often not business owners themselves. Often the help is for career development or preparation for more senior roles. Sometimes it is for the development of boardroom culture and teams.
If you are working out how to choose the best business coach, it’s essential to understand that these coaches have a different remit. For example, the skills for business growth-focused coaching or coaching towards business autonomy are very different.
Executive coaching is a fast-growing area and often includes specialists in topics. NLP, team dynamics, psychometric testing, team engagement and often involved. Great learning and relevant to anyone in business, but they focus more on the person/role than on overall business results.
SME business coaches
There is an ever-growing number of individuals, franchises and small groups within this sector. However, those who want to improve and reach the apex of their environment hire coaches.
In the SME world, many people hire a coach to help them reach their potential with less learning through trial and error!
These coaches have either gained experience from their given sector and now want to share their expertise with others or have learned a system designed by someone else (e.g. a franchise model / employed by a coaching firm). Sometimes you can find a business coach who has a mixture of the two – benefit of experience and a framework.
Niche business coaches
These coaches are similar to SME coaches in that they tend to work with a system they have developed. Because of this, in many cases, they will also have experience in one specific industry. They use this as the basis of their specialism. The immediate contextual understanding that they can bring to a company is great, and the experience of solving specific industry challenges.
However, due to this specialism, their thinking can be relatively ‘narrow’ and less likely to bring something fresh or innovative to the table. This can make it harder for businesses to differentiate against competitors as the advice only comes from within that industry. There is a lot to be said for cross-pollination of ideas from different business types and sectors as a coach.
The other minus is that because the coach ‘knows the industry’ well, the tendency can be to become too consultative and directive. This can stunt the rate of personal learning and problem-solving skills for the business owner.
Have/do you run your own business as well as your coaching practice?
Although this might seem like an odd question to ask a potential business coach, it will demonstrate the coach’s level of empathy, understanding, and pragmatism. It isn’t essential, of course, but it can certainly help and make the education, guidance and tough questioning you may receive during the coaching more palatable if it’s from someone who has been/is in your position.
I say this from personal experience, having been a coach without prior business ownership experience, who now owns and runs two businesses in addition to a coaching practice. I know I am a better coach for the experience that direct business ownership and involvement has given me.
What system do you use with clients?
The VITAL question will uncover if they actually have a system! It is amazing to discover that many coaches are not operating to a structured business growth model as a fundamental base plate for their work with you. Professional coaches will be able to show you an over-arching structure and likely several different models and resources that they use with clients. Where a system is absent, it is highly likely that the coaching process will be a meandering, random series of individual interventions. In our experience, it is less likely to generate meaningful results.
How do you keep your professional knowledge up to date?
The professional knowledge questions are essential. While many coaches make great efforts to maintain and progress their knowledge, many tend to rely on what they already know from their ‘life experience’. Whilst undoubtedly valuable, a core tenet of coaching should be an internal drive to constantly learn, develop and ‘stay a step ahead!’ Good coaches either have a coach of their own or will be learning regularly in some other way.
So, how do you choose a business coach?
We hope this helps your understand more about what questions to ask a potential business coach.
The key is to simply ask probing questions about the outcomes you can expect, their experience, style and background.
These are the questions to ask a potential business coach to get the answers you need to make the right decision for you and your business.
We have been helping business owners across Sussex and the South East of the UK for more than a decade as a business coach, so I believe I can answer all of these questions for you.