Are Business Coaches worth the investment?
July 27, 2018 6:32 PM   Subscribe

Looking for personal experiences, positive or negative, with hiring a business coach for growing and further developing a small, soul proprietor business!

I am in the third year of running my own business full time and am quickly realizing that it might be time to come up with a rock-solid growth plan with a clear future. This feels a little beyond my scope, and know I am probably not considering all the possible roads I could take. I would love to get guidance on this, but am hesitant to hire a business coach since they seem to be a dime-a-dozen, have horrible websites, and don't actually know anyone who has used one.

Got any advice or stories to share?

posted by bleedfoot to Work & Money (6 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I have no experience. But have you considered the volunteer group SCORE (Service Corps of Retired Executives)? Or your local area probably has an office for small business development.
posted by maurreen at 7:07 PM on July 27, 2018 [1 favorite]

Just a thought, but take a look at b-school programs near you: they often need student's to find real-world fodder for their business plans, strategic analyses, etc. case studies... or maybe even have market-research "agencies" where for-hire student-run-but-professionally-supervised teams can but together some research and otherwise solutions for you.
posted by glibhamdreck at 7:30 PM on July 27, 2018

Well, before I was a consultant/business coach, I used one. So now you at least know one random internet stranger (TM) who has. About 15 years ago, I was very much where you were - running a business (one I was kind of stuck with, in my case), felt I wasn't doing planning effectively, and was overwhelmed. In my case, a retired/made-redundant banker wandered into the chamber of commerce circles in which I was running, and I ended up spending some time with him - weekly meetings to discuss strategy, and he also attempted to do some sales training for a couple of my employees. I say "attempted" because frankly one of the lessons learned was they weren't extremely trainable.

Some things I think I learned as a consumer of consulting services:
- it's not a magical, quick road to instant success. It's very slow cooking. Some times I felt I got nothing out of the session, occasionally there were epiphanies.

- sometimes the lesson or takeaway is: you've discovered and clarified the problem, but you can't solve it. So sometimes you have to be prepared for less-than-great news. In my case the consulting work ultimately led me to sell the business. But the money paid was still worth it, because a) I used lessons learned in future endeavors, and b) I might still be somehow beating my head against a certain wall because I couldn't get clarity about those issues that the consultant helped me realize.

- you still have to do a lot of work, maybe more work. So if you know deep down that there are problems that are a result of lack of time resources, beware of consulting approaches that promise to help you do time management. My consultant taught me about time management, and I teach time management, but most people who run businesses are not lazy and there isn't a magical additional 8 hours a day to be found without going insane. So in those kinds of areas, expect to get maybe 10-30% better.

Major point #2
As a guy who offers consulting services, unsurprisingly, I have some opinions about the field. Some of them are not flattering. In some ways, I hope to be better/different, but in the end there are some things you have to just decide whether you can overcome the limitations/decide if it's still worth it. It's not for everyone.

- there is no national, recognized master certification that all competent consultants have, equivalent to bar admission for attorneys or CPA status for accountants. There are certifications, some of them have some rigor, but they don't convey the "authority" per se. Many CPAs, by the way, are good general business consultants, so you might start looking there, if you can afford their time. I am NOT a CPA, yet I am a firm believer that every business owner should have a good relationship with one. All that said, there are some CPAs that can do your books and returns -- and that's it. So be aware that some CPAs are useless outside of that wheelhouse; in my experience many of the ones who are affordable and willing to work with small business are less than great outside of tax issues.

- I am suspicious of consultants who really ride hard on a "system" or "franchise" or affiliation that they espouse. Reluctant to name names here, as some of these franchises search pretty hard on their terms and will ride to the defense. Not saying they're necessarily all wrong, but they tend to have one hammer, or a small set of hammers, and seek to make your problem a nail every time. Often they trade heavily on "motivation," "time management," "marketing tips," "networking," and the like, as these are areas that everyone is a little dissatisfied in, they can do a hard sell on, and results are a bit hard to measure.

- I *do* think that often the best consulting comes from those who are focused on your industry vertical, if you are in an industry that has one. So if you sell printing or are a IT/computer repair shop, there are likely to be consultants whose calling card is that they ran a business like yours. So their major benefit to you is not that they're extremely brilliant and have a Master Plan for Making Businesses Soar - their benefit is they already made all the mistakes you are thinking of making. As one friend of mine who I hired to help with a specific marketing issue said "I've simply stepped on all the landmines there are." If you're in kind of a strange or unusual industry, you are indeed kind of limited to finding someone who is more general in scope and to some extent you have to teach him or her your business and hope that the sounding board effect and their general business expertise/ability to learn quickly is worth the value.

I'll throw out another type of consulting/alternative to consulting, and that is master mind or round table groups (disclosure: I run one of these locally). IF they are well run and coordinated, they can be a relatively inexpensive way of getting the sounding board from peers. It's kind of like group therapy for you and your business. There is a national company that runs these that is VERY expensive. I talked to them about possibly running a group and couldn't justify the value prop - for $1,500 or so a month I think you should have more than a peer group!

On preview, by the way, for general bread and butter "how do I do X" consulting on broad issues related to most small businesses, I agree that SCORE can be a resource. My caveat is that their chapters vary in resources, and you may get a fabulous retired executive or you may -- not. I believe they are ethically bound to NOT charge for their services, so there is not necessarily a smooth transition to "I need more help; how can we dig deeper?"
posted by randomkeystrike at 7:33 PM on July 27, 2018 [3 favorites]

Randomkeystrike - ALL of what you are saying reinforces my existing suspicions! Thanks for your thoughts and honesty. I feel like i see a lot of people claiming to have secrets and schemes- when really I just want a very smart CEO to help tell me if I'm thinking about things in the right way - or If im missing the big picture.

To be clear, my business is doing well and growing, but I am quickly seeing the reality where I will need to expand/ hire employees / make a longer term plan and goal. While I feel pretty smart and 'business savvy' these are all things I have never done, and know very little about.

My CPA is actually the next thing I am changing this year- as I am totally lacking any kind of relationship with my current one.

Mauureen - I will check out our local SCORE office- that sounds like a great place to start! TY
posted by bleedfoot at 8:55 PM on July 27, 2018

Not a one-on-one coach, but i signed up for the B-school program of Marie Forleo and it gave me a good boost and insight and energy to grow my business. At the time i was super cash-strapped so i cancelled the program during the grace period, so i didn't pay anything for it, but still learned a ton. I plan on doing it again when it opens up (once a year) but this time i've saved up to afford the full course. She also has good content on her free youtube videos and newsletter. If you're going for it, shop around during registration time, she has a few affiliates that sell the program too, if you go through them you'll get additional free content on their part.
posted by PardonMyFrench at 7:40 AM on July 28, 2018

yet another thing to consider (and again, caveat, I offer this service...) - fractional executives. It's really just a fancy way of saying - you're hiring a high level executive part time.

As with round tables, the search results are full of national companies that claim to offer this service, but you might do better to do some local searches and/or ask around with the local chamber and the like.
posted by randomkeystrike at 2:44 PM on July 28, 2018

« Older Help me replace my motorcycle boots!   |   No interest in food except thin liquids. Help! Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.