Should I hire this business coach?
May 14, 2019 1:01 PM   Subscribe

Met a business coach I really clicked with. She's in my industry and is my gender (most of my mentors have been/are male, and they were/are wonderful, but working with a woman who understands the gender-related challenges of building a business sounds like a breath of fresh air). But I'll take a bit of a hit, financially. Should I go for it?

Hi all. I read this question and answers, which have some great insights, but my situation has enough specifics that I thought it warranted its own question.

I co-founded a company 5 years ago. My business partner has transitioned to another role elsewhere. So, I now have the decision-making power, and I'm feeling both energized and overwhelmed by it. Financially... I'm doing okay, but not great. I see a vague path forward for my business, but I'm struggling to implement concrete steps and find confidence that it could work.

Cue this business coach I met at a conference. In addition to her consulting business, she has another business in the my industry—the same type of business that often buys my services. So she gets it. We had a great hit-the-ground running convo at the conference, and I'm actually the one who expressed interest in working with her. Then we had an hour consult call, and once again, we clicked like whoa. She thinks the new services I'm brainstorming could really take off, and I have that hunch, too, but... you know, she was trying to sell me something, so I have to be skeptical, right?

The cost is $2200 for 9 sessions over the next few months. That's a lot for me right now, especially as I take full responsibility for all business expenses, accountant, software, freelancers, etc. For reference, that total cost is about 1/3 of what the business is grossing monthly right now.

While on the phone and energized by our excellent convo, I committed to working with her. Then, after I hung up, I had that pit in my stomach like "EEEEEEK. I was too rash! I can't afford this!" I asked today if we could split that into 6 monthly payments, and she agreed. But it's still $2200.

I want to make sure I'm not making an emotional decision but a rational one. Emotionally, I'm thinking I NEED HELP. But rationally, I think, can I just get it together on my own, chart my path, and save the money?

Your perspectives are greatly appreciated!
posted by gold bridges to Work & Money (15 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I really can't speak for the efficacy of business coaches (or any other "coach" for that matter -- as it's a typically unregulated field with no assurances of a common training background, code of ethics, etc.), BUT, is this relationship something that you think will bring you more than $2200 of business income? And are there other former clients of hers that could attest that they had financial benefits from her coaching? If it's something that you feel pretty sure will make you more than $2200, I'd look at it as a business investment. But I'm a random person on the internet, and I agree that $2200 is a lot of money!
posted by rogerroger at 1:19 PM on May 14 [1 favorite]

Asking for a large lump sum feels a bit scammy.

What does that $2200 get you? Why 9 sessions? Are the sessions 1 hour each? If so, that's $244 each.

What if you didn't commit to all 9? Will she let you start with 4? Or does she have a specific program that she's following?

Agreeing with RogerRoger - are there any tangible benefits for this or is it personal growth? Personal growth is fine, but the price and commitment seems high.
posted by hydra77 at 1:55 PM on May 14

Just chiming in to say it's 9 hours to be structured how I want, so two big brainstorm days, or 9 one-hour sessions, etc.

She did say—in the context of our own discussion about clients always pulling meto take less than I'd like—that I should identify my package pricing and stick to it, rather than bending. So I'm not sure she will take me up on 4 sessions, but asking her would let me know for sure, of course! (But then it puts me in the position of being like the clients I was complaining about...)
posted by gold bridges at 2:23 PM on May 14

I'd probably tell her you need to think it over more, and check out SCORE, or some areas have small business counseling (we have such an org here in Maine, and think the counseling is free and a class is $25).

The problem is, you may be paying just for confidence, or she might have valuable information, but if you can't afford it, you can't afford it. What if you need emergency funds for something related to your business?

At least allow yourself to think it over for a week or two. Is this something you could get in a class or workshop? Learn at the library? Join a professional group and exchange free information with others?

I'd be honest and say, "I'd like to explore other options and then circle back to you when I feel more committed," or something like that. It's okay to change your mind and think about it some more, it's your money.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 2:42 PM on May 14 [2 favorites]

A good coach (meaning someone who knows her stuff and clicks with you) will definitely help you make more money than you're preparing to spend here.
posted by spindrifter at 2:52 PM on May 14 [2 favorites]

Does she have a proven track record? Testimonials, known clients, people she could refer you to to explain how she worked with them and what kind of successes they had with concrete numbers.

I think the value of working with a coach is having someone hold you accountable for six months/nine sessions -- is that something you need right now as you transition to sole proprietor? I've only worked with a coach in very micro sessions with much less of an investment, but even those tiny sessions have been huge for me to shift my thinking about my business in some way. And honestly, that might be pretty cheap for a coach. The one I work with just started a new mastermind with a $6000 investment and that's not even one on one! This coach sounds like a good fit for you, but only you can decide if she'll be worth it for your business.
posted by pised at 4:09 PM on May 14 [5 favorites]

Hmm I'd really suggest doing some research before committing. There's a large supply of coaches on the market, not to mention other business advisors that may be a better fit and more affordable. It you're running a business and managing people, have you looked at MindTools or HBR? They have subscription / premium content but I find their content to be organized well for situational leadership needs. I'd suggest browsing their content then taking 1/2 hour to formulate the questions and problems you want to solve, or the skills you want to develop.

Then with that list of items, it's worth asking around for recommendations for advisors to help you. If you are in tech, nonprofit, female, or belong to a certain specialty group, I can recommend some leadership groups who may be helpful. Heck, you can probably pose that list of questions here and see what others recommend.

My experience: I worked with a coach and found it be only be partly valuable. In hindsight I could have saved a lot of money and done just fine if I had some good advisors to bounce ideas off of, focused on cultivating a stronger network of leaders to establish myself in my field, and leveraged a lot of web tools and training to supplement the hard skills development I needed.
posted by hampanda at 1:26 AM on May 15 [1 favorite]

that total cost is about 1/3 of what the business is grossing monthly right now.

Split over six payments? This seems like a really good match and a good investment in your company. I can't see why you wouldn't do this -- it sounds like you need support in your new role, and this is strategic support that will help you succeed in it. I mean, I think 99.9% of business coaches are bullshit and I still think you should do this.
posted by DarlingBri at 5:00 AM on May 15 [4 favorites]

I think working with a coach can be invaluable. It sounds like this is one of those times where that could really be the case. If she's really going to help you figure out where you need to take your business and give you the confidence and wherewithal to do that, then I think it's money well spent. You may want to just tell her that you're anxious about money right now and ask if she has any suggestions.
posted by xammerboy at 6:37 AM on May 15 [1 favorite]

Coaching could mean literally anything, you need to focus on what your broader objectives are, and what you are being coached to achieve, in order to work out whether the investment is worth it. Examples of outcomes could include:

- One new product idea and a validated development strategy
- A marketing plan for an existing project
- A review of current business plan and roadmap for x months
- A financial review and draft investment strategy
- A proposal for company restructure and a comms plan for stakeholders
- A staffing needs analysis and recruitment plan
- A clear set of KPIs
- x% profit by end of course

If you don’t have a tangible goal for this activity you’re essentially paying for a personal cheerleader. Only you can be the judge of how much value you’d ascribe to such.
posted by freya_lamb at 7:23 AM on May 15 [2 favorites]

I think it's totally worth it. You're feeling overwhelmed and talking with her makes you feel more focused and energized. You've lost your business partner, so you could use a good sounding board. And she has a business that is exactly the business that your potential clients are in, so she can help you make sure your offerings are going to resonate. I think her willingness to split the payments in six shows that she's not just doing a fly-by-night scam. And I'm sure you can deduct the cost. You are your biggest product right now since it's your vision -- anything that helps you will help your company.
posted by missjenny at 8:54 AM on May 15 [3 favorites]

It sounds like both you and your business are in a transitional time, and that both you and your business are going to need some additional resources (skills, money, people) in order to get to the next level. Seeking help is a smart thing for you to do -- you don't have to figure everything out by yourself! The most successful business-people I know put effort into building a strong team that includes qualified advisors.

It might help you to know that there are many places that you can find such advisors, including...
- A business coach - often more generalized & focused on building up your personal skills and confidence
- A paid consultant - often focused on a specific industry or area -- for instance, an HR consultant or a marketing consultant or a consultant specializing in X industry.
- A free consultant - for instance, through SCORE, your local Small Business Development Center, an entrepreneurship center or incubator, etc. Usually won't know a ton about your particular industry, but can help with general business skills.
- A peer network - for instance, through your local Chamber of Commerce, entrepreneurship center, etc. Can provide support & help with confidence and networking.
- An advisor or mentor - if you find the right one(s), they can be incredibly helpful both for their advice and their connections. This type of relationship can shade into paid consultant / board member / investor.

I'd recommend that you take some time to look around and see whether any of these resources might be available to you -- that could be either in addition to or instead of a business coach, depending what you need. You'll get the most out of this if you can narrow down what it is you need most -- where are you having trouble? Where is your business having trouble? Are you having issues with generating sales? Making processes more efficient? Managing people? Managing your personal time? Setting clear goals? Marketing? Getting clear about this will help you to recognize the right resources when you find them.

It's also important that you find individual people who are the right match for you, and only you can judge whether this person is it. I will note that, from what you describe (committing in a phone call to a price you weren't entirely comfortable with, and that sinking feeling after you hung up), it sounds like this consultant probably has some sales skills that you aren't very familiar with. These are teachable, learnable techniques that are used to close a sale (for instance). This could be a good thing if you feel that you need those sales skills and she can teach them to you; it could be a bad thing if you feel it's clouding your judgement. Only you can decide.

One piece of hard-won advice I can give you about being sold on something: if you ever feel any kind of pressure (internal or external) to commit to a purchase during a conversation, don't. "That sounds really great! Let me give it some thought and get back to you," is usable in all kinds of situations. Once you're out of the conversation (and the sales tactics being used on you), you'll find your head clearer to make a decision on your own terms.
posted by ourobouros at 10:09 AM on May 15 [2 favorites]

and once again, we clicked like whoa.
There is training for making this kind of connection. She was listening to you and responding to you in ways that you are not accustomed to from (business) people. This is the emotional labor that is required to gain business in many consulting circles. There are consultants who specialize in providing exactly this kind of skill work. It may feel or seem effortless or magical, but I promise you, it is not. She is doing her job and doing it well. That's not to say that this connection is fake or forced.

The fact that she has received this training (either in a context where she paid for it, or through the school of life) does not necessarily indicate that she has any greater depth of knowledge about your field of expertise than you do. It does mean that you connected with her in a way that felt good. Separate the connection from the ability to transfer knowledge. It is tempting to pay for the connection but instead pay for knowledge. An asshole might be able to teach you more or introduce you to more people or otherwise help you more.

That amazing connection does not guarantee future income for you.

Visit your local small business volunteers - they may be available at your local library or some other organization. Look into books by Peter Drucker (about managing people). Wring as much as you can out of free or truly affordable resources. Make a solid list of questions, concerns, and skills you observe yourself needing.

Think of coaching like therapy. You have goals and you need to know up front how you and your coach will measure success. Will this be about generating leads, or closing sales, or getting people to pay on time or getting clients to stick to the original scope of work? You might have stretch goals, where you get really super good at the skills you set out to hone and then need other things to work on. Have a few of those discussed before you begin working so you aren't spending your time finding a new task.

When you have that clear list of skills, circle back to this consultant and a few others to make a robust comparison. Not just on price, but also on comfort, knowledge, and whatever other metrics feel appropriate to you.

This decision is not a race. You are right to be cautious and it is entirely possible that this consultant is the perfect fit for you. At the same time, you need more information.
posted by bilabial at 2:57 PM on May 15 [3 favorites]

Unlike some of the others above, I think that the CLICK and the GETS-ME is a BIG DEAL.

I have found coaching in my life to be massively life changing. And every now and then I am with someone who is just not a match. The coach understanding me and my circumstances is huge, because it gets us started faster. For example most male coaches may not get the specific things a female leader has to deal with - so you'd spend a lot of time explaining it -- time that you are paying for.

I might some combination of these things:
negotiate a trial of 1-3 sessions, that you'd be happy to pay for up front.
negotiate a lower price
negotiate a profit-sharing deal - if my income increases at all in the next 6 months - I will give you 10% of that income for the following 6 months (so if you get a $20k raise, you might give her 10% of half of that which would be $1000) in addition to whatever base
posted by jander03 at 3:58 PM on May 15 [1 favorite]

This was great everyone—thank you. I've asked her for a couple weeks to mull it over and she was, unsurprisingly, fine with that.

Special shout out to bilabial for this brilliant insight:
This is the emotional labor that is required to gain business in many consulting circles. There are consultants who specialize in providing exactly this kind of skill work. It may feel or seem effortless or magical, but I promise you, it is not. She is doing her job and doing it well. That's not to say that this connection is fake or forced.

I like to think I'm good at sniffing out inauthenticity (not that she was being inauthentic, like you said), but I'm also a reserved introvert... and when I meet someone with incredible outward-focused energy that relieves me of the conversational burden, I'm prone to being enamored. All logic goes out the window! Certain men I've "dated" have brought the same feeling, as you might suspect...

I'll be chewing that one over for a long time to come.

Thanks again!
posted by gold bridges at 12:10 PM on May 16

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