Many entrepreneurs attribute at least some of their success to having a great business coach. Someone that asks the tough questions and can lend their experience and network when required. But finding a business coach isn’t easy. Your business and personal life are tightly interwoven. To find a productive relationship, there are many factors to consider.
Most importantly, alignment is the foundation upon which a successful coaching relationship can build, and that’s why matching up desirable traits between coach and client cannot be underestimated. I asked entrepreneurs to tell me the most important traits of a business coach and the responses fell into four categories.
Many of the entrepreneurs made reference to the character traits of their coach. Entrepreneurs are looking for qualities that make a coach effective but also likeable. “For me it’s all about a personal connection,” says Kate Tompsett of Happy and Glorious. “If I don’t like someone, I’m never going to work well with them! I look for humor, empathy and enthusiasm.”
“Must-have traits are honesty and business acumen,” says coach Alison Callan. “Solid processes and systems to create a safe and confidential container that builds rapport and trust,” are what to look for.
Business psychologist Fiona Kearns believes the key traits are “integrity, strategic thinking and industry insights.” 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 must have other attributes to be effective. Some entrepreneurs believe strongly that business coaches must have had personal success in order to guide from a position of experience.
With so many coaches touting their ability to develop success in entrepreneurs, cutting through the noise is paramount. Many of the entrepreneurs I asked told me they felt more comfortable when working with a coach who was a successful business person in their own right.
Entrepreneur Daniel Priestley said, “This is unpopular to say, but I like my coaches to have results themselves.” He further explained that “They don’t need to have built a billion-dollar brand or had thousands of employees but I do want to see that they are successful and have respect for their non-coaching achievements.” Is it enough for a coach to just be a good coach or do they need to have their own success in business?
“You don’t want a good talker to then find out they cannot walk the walk. You want someone honest about their background, their challenges, failures, lessons learned, personal triumphs,” said Martin Norbury of I Don’t Work Fridays. “What have they accomplished and how does this fit in with your ambitions?”
Moving beyond the personal success and track record of your coach and finding one with relevant experience to your situation can yield additional benefit.
The know-how associated with running a marketing agency is different to that of a drop-shipping business or a SaaS. Knowing the automotive industry inside-out has limited value to someone operating in the hospitality sector. Whilst it might not be a deal-breaker, some business owners prize relevant experience highly.
Ravi Davda from Rockstar Marketing used several business coaches in the past. “I didn’t get as much benefit when they were in a completely different industry or not doing what I wanted to do (which was run a successful marketing agency). So I found one that did. It worked incredibly well.”
Dr. Aishah Iqbal looks for “someone who has walked a similar path as me, understands my niche and is flexible to what I am able to do. I don’t think coaches should have one size to fit all because every business is unique.”
In-the-field experience puts a coach in a strong position to offer more practical advice and suggestions to their clients. Coaches may also have more relevant contacts they can leverage when helping a business grow.
However, not everyone agrees. Alison Callan isn’t seeking “just someone who has been where I am or is going where I want to because I’m not looking to emulate anyone else’s journey but create my own.” Instead, “I’m looking for someone who portrays similar values to me and my business.”
Perhaps the most passionately expressed trait was for the business coach to have common values with their client. “If you have a coach who believes in hustling hard, but your number one value is freedom, you may create a successful business, but you won’t create happiness,” suggested Alexandria Maria.
“Some business coaches just dictate a model and don’t consider who you are,” said mindset coach Susie Ramproop. “I would rather someone could extract my potential based on a wealth of experience rather than be schooled.”
Business coach Melitta Campbell agreed: “They must be aligned with your business stage, values and personality. While part of 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 don’t suit your style, personality, business or brand.”
Values dictate a lot of a coach-client relationships. Close alignment means there’s a shared understanding of what success looks like on many levels. Occasionally, a mismatch can be productive, enabling alternative world views and priorities to surface and be considered. On balance, however, entrepreneurs prefer harmony.
Finding the right business coach is the difference between your success snowballing and stalling in the mother of all plateaus. Before signing the paperwork or even starting your search, understand exactly what you’re looking for in your coach. Don’t be afraid to probe into their experience and the results they’ve achieved with others. The more time you spend talking to them, the more you’ll learn about their character and their values and whether or not everything will work out.