The old adage about it taking a village to raise a child could just as easily be applied to business. Building a successful company requires knowledge, skills, and guidance from a host of people both inside and outside the organization. At ‘ZinePak, that team of advisors includes not only world-class vendors and amazing employees, but also a business coach. Yes, a business coach.
When my co-founder Kim Kaupe and I tell others we have a business coach, we often get confused looks. “Is that like a therapist?” and “Is that a co-founder thing, for when you don’t get along?” are common questions. A few people have even said things like, “You probably shouldn’t talk about that. People might think that’s for business owners who just don’t have it together.”
In my opinion, nothing could be farther from the truth. Our business coach, Marla Tabaka, has been as integral to our success as anyone on our team. And while the role of a business coach is difficult to define, I suspect anyone who has ever had a good coach will tell you that the role is indispensable.
The reality is, running a business is hard work. Depending on which studies you cite, startup failure rates are estimated at 50 – 70 percent in the first two years alone. And many of the businesses that do survive aren’t profitable. A business coach can help startups navigate tricky regulation requirements, offer advice on when and how to bring on investors, and help founders make sure that every new hire is on point. And while I would love to tell you that all of our sessions with Marla are high-level, strategic planning meetings, she sometimes helps us with softer matters, too, like what is the best way to handle employees who don’t respect each others’ job roles? Clients who have unrealistic expectations? Vendors whose terms suddenly change?
Many business coaches will give offer a complimentary session upfront to make sure the relationship is a good fit. If you are in the market for a coach, ask yourself the following questions first:
- What do I want out of the relationship? You may want a coach who focuses on a particular area. For example, if you’re a tech startup, you may want to look for a coach who has worked with growing tech companies. If you’re looking for moral support, communicate that to potential coaches upfront to make sure the coach excels at just that.
- When, where, and how often do I want to meet? Do you want a business coach you can meet with over coffee, on Skype, or on conference calls? Studies show that coaching by phone is more effective than meeting face-to-face, mostly because it keeps distractions at bay. But that’s a personal preference, and some coaches are willing to meet in person. Kim and I “meet” with Marla, on average, twice a month for an hour at a time over the phone. Sometimes we speak more often, and sometimes we go a month without talking. We know our coach is only an email or phone call away if we ever need her support.
- Do I want to do one-on-one or group sessions? There are many programs that focus on coaching business owners in small group sessions. These sessions often follow a schedule or curriculum designed to educate participations across a broad range of skills and disciplines over a set time period. If you find that you do well with “accountability buddies,” peer group coaching might be beneficial.
- What qualifications or certifications should my coach have? While the coaching industry is not regulated, many coaches do have a coaching certification. (The International Coach Federation offers great information about finding a coach.) But what’s most important is that you find a coach with a great track record and with whom you feel comfortable. For us, it was important to find a coach with an interest in helping high-growth, female-fronted companies who also had extensive experience working with co-founders.
- Am I ready to dedicate time and energy to growing as a business owner? Like most other things in life, the benefits you receive from coaching will directly correlate with the time and effort you put in. Ask yourself if you’re ready to make the commitment to growing as a leader, a person, and an entrepreneur. Your coach may suggest books for you to read, conferences for you to attend, and webinars for you to watch. Similarly, you’ll need to be prepared with things to discuss before each session to get the most out of the relationship.
When other entrepreneurs have stated that they can’t afford a business coach, I ask them to think about whether they can afford not to have one. The investment will vary, but be prepared to spend somewhere between $75 and $250 per hour. I can only speak to my own experience, but the few thousand dollars Kim and I have invested have yielded many times that in business returns. Dollar for dollar, I don’t know if there is a better investment entrepreneurs can make.
I encourage you to take the first step to improving both your company and yourself. Who knows where you’ll end up?