"Everyone needs a coach." That's what one of the world's wealthiest people said about how we need feedback to improve. While Bill Gates was speaking specifically about teachers, his words apply across the board.
Yet nearly two-thirds of CEOs do not receive outside leadership guidance — though most want it, and say they "enjoy the process of receiving coaching and leadership advice," according to a study conducted by the Center for Leadership Development and Research at Stanford Graduate School of Business. Perhaps this is one reason the axiom, "lonely at the top," resonates with many executives.
Unlike the corporate C-suite, entrepreneurs know the value in having a coach — and the most successful ones have had expert coaching or mentoring along the way. As a freelancer or independent consultant launching your own business, a coach can help accelerate your growth trajectory.
Is Business Coaching Worth It?
However, Forbes Coaches Council says most business coaching is "a waste of time." What gives?
The Council calls out many business coaching programs for focusing on "mindsets, motivations and emotions," rather than the bedrock of business success: systems, strategies, and action steps to grow your freelance or consulting business.
While coaching is not therapy, it can be therapeutic, as Eric Schmidt, former Chairman and CEO at Google, explains: "How could a coach advise me if I'm the best person in the world at this? That's not what a coach does …They have to watch you and get you to be your best … Once I realized I could trust [coach Bill Campbell] and that he could help me with perspective, I decided this was a great idea."
Four Questions at the Heart of Powerful Business Coaching
Mark Moses, founder of CEO Coaching International, has coached many of the world's top entrepreneurs. He maintains that asking better questions leads to better results.
The best entrepreneurially focused coaches will ask you four critical questions to clarify your vision, action, potential obstacles and accountability. These questions dovetail with short- and long-term goal-setting steps.
Moses' checklist includes:
- What do you want? (Vision)
- What do you have to do? (Action)
- What could get in the way? (Anticipate)
- How do you hold yourself accountable? (Measure)
These questions "are the foundation of every fast-growing profitable business," Moses avers. Key word: profitable.
How to Select a Business Coach
So how do you select the right coach for you, from the thousands marketing their services?
First, determine whether the best fit for your needs is a coach or a consultant. Karyn Greenstreet, who defines herself as a "hybrid" coach/consultant, explains that while a coach brings out your strengths and helps you live up to your potential, a consultant is an expert who can teach you skills to increase your reach and revenue, by helping you create a solid business plan and marketing model, for example. In this sense, a consultant is more like a mentor.
Here are some proven ways to source a top-notch coach or mentor to support you in growing/scaling your freelance or independent consultant business:
- Start with your networks. Reach out to fellow entrepreneurs for referral. Search your LinkedIn groups, as well as aligned groups on other social platforms.
- Consider a coach in a different time zone. In the digital age, most coaching/mentoring takes place via videoconference and phone calls, often with interim communication through email or Slack. As long as you can coordinate timing, there's no need to restrict your search to someone in your geographic area.
- Look for knowledge and/or experience. Has the coach or mentor worked in your industry? In some fields, hands-on expertise matters more than an advanced degree. In other areas, specific industry knowledge is less important than a strong business background.
- Check out the coach's/mentor's testimonials. What do past clients say about their gains from working with this coach? Are there links to contact them directly?
- Complimentary consult. Any coach worth his or her salt will offer a brief intro call so you can both determine whether there's a fit. Is the coach a good listener? This is as important as knowing what questions to ask.
- Type of program. Is the coach's style structured or open-ended? What tools and resources do they use? Does this seem like a fit for your personality?
- Availability. Does the coach/mentor have good availability, or limited access? If you choose someone with a high profile who has limited availability, be certain this will meet your needs.
- Fees. Make sure you understand what you'll receive for the cost.
- Commitment. Finally, is there a contract? While life holds no guarantees, find out what recourse you have if you're unhappy with the coaching or mentoring you receive.
Now you're ready to take your freelance or consulting adventure to the next level!