9 Questions to Ask Before Hiring a Small Business Coach

Illustration of man explaining a line chart while holding a bag of money

When you’re ready to scale, the insight of a small business coach can help take your company to the next level–but how do you find a good one?

And another important question: what’s the difference between a small business coach versus a small business consultant?

Aren’t coaching and consulting kind of like Voldemort and Professor Quirrell? Is it even possible to have one without the other?

Short answer: Yes, you can.

And yes, they’re different.

And which one you should hire depends on what your needs are.

What does a business coach do?

In the world of competitive sports, coaches tell you what you need to do better.

They may teach you new moves or new ways of getting around that monstrous, 250-pound linebacker. In business, they serve a similar role by helping you address mental obstacles that are blocking you from realizing your full potential (Does it sound a little bit hippy-ish? Just bear with me).

Business coaches work on “you”–so maybe we could just call them “life coaches” instead, or “mindset” coaches, or “personal” coaches.

They help you develop your purpose and often ask you questions to help you discover your own “why”s.

  • Why did you start your business?
  • Why do you feel burnt out?
  • Why do you do what you do?

You’re a business owner, but you’re also a human.

Which means you’re weak to cognitive biases and thinking traps.

A coach will help pinpoint these issues and teach you how to avoid them so that you can stop self-sabotaging your company and really start believing in yourself.

Think of business coaches as personal trainers for your whole frickin’ life.

You might need a business coach if…

  • You consistently ruin your own plans.
  • You’re afraid of success or of increased responsibility.
  • You find yourself shying away from normal aspects of business maintenance, like:
    • Replying to customer complaints and queries.
    • Doing the “hard work” of finances.
    • Meeting with investors or potential clients.
  • You find it hard to get up and take care of your business.

These issues aren’t caused by the business–they’re caused by a chasm in your thinking process.

A good business coach will pinpoint these issues and poke at them until they find the root causes, and then they’ll help you address those causes.

Counselors usually help you with your personal life and relationships–your marriage, for example, or your connections with family members.

Business coaches will help you with problems that directly impact your business, and connect you with tools that can get you to the next level.

For example–if you have a chronic time management problem, they might tell you to start tracking your hours with Toggl, a robust timer that ensures you spend more time on stuff that actually delivers results.

Regular meetings with a great business coach will serve as a support framework that can keep you accountable on your business journey.

Friends and family are inclined to smooth over issues and support you, but sometimes what you really need is a huge push or a big fat wallop of the honest truth.

What does a business consultant do?

Consultants are usually solutions to business owners with temporary problems.

Since they have a lot of hands-on, real-world experience in solving problems that plague businesses, they should be called in whenever you’ve got an issue that you can’t handle alone.

Maybe you don’t have the right tools, or you don’t have enough experience. Whereas a coach works with more esoteric subjects like mindset and personality and maybe even neurolinguistic programming, a consultant works with hard aspects of a business:

Most consultants address a specific aspect of your business. It’s kind of like outsourcing your manufacturing, but with a consultant, what you’re getting is a fresh perspective.

Who should I hire?

That all depends on you. If you’re just starting out, a business coach will help you think like a proper business owner. If you’re dealing with daily uncertainty and keep second-guessing your decisions, then you probably need coaching.

If you need a fresh perspective but don’t have the budget for, say, a marketing manager, a business consultant is the better option.

The Unicorn:

Some business coaches are actually consultants who provide a holistic approach to your issues.

They’ll address the aspects of your business that are failing or need more work–but they’ll also help you out of thinking traps and other mindset mistakes.

To figure out if a business coach is actually a coach-consultant, look at the services they offer and the experience they share on their site.

If they talk about topics like scaling your business or increasing your profits, but they also talk about work ethic and personal responsibility, then chances are they’re a coach-consultant.

How do I find a good business coach?

There are plenty of “gurus” (aka hacks with charisma) who will trick you into believing that they’ve delivered results.

You shouldn’t rely on your business coach–their job is to guide you to an independent state where you can handle the mental and emotional blockers that are preventing you from running your business.

If you only do well when they’re around, then that’s a sign that you need to re-evaluate your relationship.

What qualifications do they have?

Anyone can say they’re a coach, like your nosy neighbor across the street, or the overly-pushy mom from your kid’s PTA who thinks essential oils are made from holy tears that can cure anything.

You can’t practice medicine without a degree, but business consulting and coaching aren’t regulated industries.

Even some coaching schools are simply degree mills that look good on paper but deliver 0 real results and lessons.

Be especially wary of any business coach who has no business experience and refuses to tell you their educational background.

Do your research into their resume–this person will be shaping your life and mindset, so don’t feel guilty for making sure you get your ROI. Here are more questions to ask when trying to find the perfect coach.

1. How much experience do they have?

The ideal business coach has coaching experience and business experience.

If you had to learn how to make a 9 course French dinner in 6 hours, who would you pick to teach you: Gordon Ramsay or your cousin who thinks meatloaf is made of bread?

A business coach who has successfully scaled their own business will be able to identify more strongly with your fears, pain points, and issues–because they’ve been there.

They get it.

Seeing their track record of business success is proof that they’re knowledgeable, and won’t just talk about mystical breathing exercises that will *supposedly* skyrocket your productivity.

2. Does their scale fit with yours?

Mindset approaches are different for self-employed business owners, freelance agency creatives, and founders with a hundred employees.

Do you run a mini business, a tiny business, or a small one?

No matter what your answer is, make sure you stick with a business coach whose portfolio includes businesses of your size.

3. Are you truly compatible with them?

You might visit tons of therapists before finding one that “clicks”. Use the same diligence when choosing your business coach.

They might seem perfect, and have a ton of experience relevant to your business–but if you dread every meeting with them, then it’s better to continue your search.

You should aim to strike a balance between your comfort levels and their expertise and objectivity. Too lax and they’ll end up being a subjective friend or buddy–too impressive and you’ll find your knees-a-knockin’ each time you speak.

4. Don’t fall for the sales schtick.

Some business coaches love to pull the, “Book now before all my spots are taken!”

It’s a great sales tactic that definitely increases perceived demand–they make you feel like you’ll miss out on a ton if you don’t SIGN. UP. RIGHT. NOW.

They also like to use buzzwords and buzz phrases like, “ELEVATE YOUR BUSINESS” and “TAKE YOUR MINDSET TO THE NEXT LEVEL”.

But if you parse these words, you’ll find that they aren’t actually saying anything.

Don’t be fooled by big words or scare tactics: it’s better to wait for the business coach who’s willing to patiently work with you rather than get finagled into a contract with a coach who just wants to sell you stuff.

5. Stalk them on social media.

Thanks to bots, it’s become incredibly easy to buy followers and likes and retweets.

  • But do they have actual engagement and real connections?
  • Don’t be ashamed of stalking your potential business coaches on social media–does what they do match up with what they say?
  • When they share personal opinions, do they relate?

If you’re looking for a coach who can help you deal with your negativity and fear, for example, and one of your candidates keeps posting on social media about how amazing they are and how sucky other people are–well, they’re not going to be a good match.

Read the content they put out, too.

  • Is it relatable and easy to understand?
  • Does it make you feel like you’ve learned something significant?

If so, then that’s a great sign that your 1-on-1 sessions will be even more helpful. And reading their content will also help you figure out if they’re just copy-pasting-changing or if they’re producing high-quality, insightful, and original content.

6. What are their values?

Business coaches are still people too.

  • What are their values?
  • Profit?
  • Success?
  • What does “success” look like for them and their clients?

Think about your own values, and check to see if they match up with the coaches that you’re vetting. If your foundations are mismatched, then there’s no way you’re going to have a successful relationship in the future.

Their content might be the best you’ve ever read, but if something feels “off” when you speak to them in person, go with your gut.

7. What do they offer?

Some coaches offer workbooks. Others don’t. Some host weekly 1-on-1 Zoom calls, and others prefer bi-weekly IRL meetings.

What are you paying for, and what does the fine print read?

Some coaches will offer a free initial consultation so you can see what your subsequent meetings will look like. This is a good deal. You can get to know each other and see if there’s a good fit between what you need and what they offer.

During this time, ask them about their other offerings: will the price you pay include other services like classes, books, and programs? Or do you have to pay more for those?

8. What do past clients say?

A business coach with no testimonies is suspicious.

If they don’t have any references that you can contact, then step away–it means that they either 1) don’t have any clients yet or 2) don’t trust that their past clients will praise them. And when you’re throwin’ down wads of money for their expertise, you definitely want proof that they’ve helped other people find success.

Written testimonials on their website can be convincing, but check to make sure they include real names of real people with real companies–testimonials are easy to write, and they’re powerful because they immediately increase customer and lead trust.

Ask your coach straight up if they’ve got references you can call. If they seem iffy or hesitant, you don’t have to immediately cross them off the list–just proceed carefully.

9. How are their communication skills?

Marvin Bower, a legend in the field of management consulting, says, “A successful consultant has outstanding analytical skill and the ability to synthesize their thoughts readily.”

They can creatively solve problems and don’t get stuck on basic issues that might confuse greenies–more importantly, they’ll work with you to create a personalized plan of action that addresses your specific blockers.

They also won’t use a bunch of confusing, obscure words that you need a dictionary to understand. An ideal consultant will speak in a way that you truly, simply “get”, and they’ll also listen to you.

There’s a difference between listening for the sake of listening, and listening because you really want to respond and get in a word or two.

Does your potential consultant seem more focused on sharing their obviously-amazing knowledge, or on listening to your problems and guiding you towards a solution?

These questions should help you in your search to find a great small business consultant. Remember: don’t feel guilty for asking a lot of questions or for thoroughly vetting the coach you plan on working with.

An insightful business coach can do wonders–a bad one will burn a massive hole in your wallet.

May 29, 2018