Business coaching. Like it or loathe it, the industry is growing, and was valued at $15 billion globally in 2019.
The definition of “business coach” is a bone of contention.
Some prefer to focus solely on advancing the goals of their clients’ businesses, while others use “coach” as an umbrella term for life coaching, encompassing everything from sales to personal confidence.
According to Brand Minds, coaching may comprise:
- Executive coaching: ‘soft skills’ and personal development
- Business coaching: ‘hard’ skills like sales and performance
- Employee satisfaction coaching: healing broken relationships
- Sales-only coaching: internal, focusing on business development
- Female empowerment coaching: niche, but evidently, on the up!
My (brief) encounters with business coaches
I’ll be honest.
Before November 2019, I’d scarcely had any contact with any of these coaches. Save for one, the lovely Nick Bramley (with whom I’ve worked on several projects, as below), I’d never understood the benefits of working with a business coach.
It was York Business Week that introduced me to the big wide world of coaching. There I met personal development experts and life coaches.
I’ll admit, I was pretty cynical.
If you’ve ever seen that episode of Peep Show in which Mark prints a certificate for long-suffering flatmate Jez, you’ll understand why.
How can a person who knows nothing about me tell me how to live my life? On one occasion, I met a coach who told me he would “hug a tree” for motivation. Whatever works.
Learning from others’ success
More recent tussles with referral networking groups (not my bag) led me to wonder if others had experienced this. So, I spoke to two people – both successful in their own right.
Nico Jones – Managing Director at Captain
“Coaching is a shortcut to a point that would have taken you far longer to get to on your own,” says Nico Jones, founder of smartphone video marketing app Captain.
Nico hired a business coach in September 2019 after finding a contact with whom he “clicked”. Now, he’s built up his networking skills and is looking forward to the next stage – finding somebody in the digital niche.
“I learnt absolutely tons from my business coach, who helped me to develop local connections and put countless systems in place. It’s so useful to have somebody offer you a fresh perspective, especially somebody who’s been there before.”
Nico adds that this advice is yours to take or ignore – and it’s always best to get a diverse range of opinions. “There are so many different versions of coaches. For me personally, I needed a boost. It helped me to learn how to review my own personal qualities and connect with people.”
So, what are the takeaways from Nico’s experiences?
- Be active instead of passive – don’t be afraid to pick up the phone
- Look at aspects of your personality that may hold you back
- Always evolve.
“Of course, I understand why some people can be cynical. After all, it’s in the coach’s interest to keep you paying them. It’s all about picking the right person.”
Bethan Vincent – Marketing Director at Netsells, Podcast Host and Speaker
Even for those who don’t work with business coaches, having the right contacts is essential. For Bethan Vincent, who has built up her own personal marketing brand from scratch, it’s about learning from experience.
“I would sooner spend five minutes with somebody truly successful than have weekly catch-ups with someone who didn’t know my industry. When I was starting out, I was approached by coaches who promised me success for a price. But when I asked them what they’d do in hypothetical situations, they couldn’t give me an answer.”
Coaches and mentors – the key difference
“Of course, I wouldn’t decry the coaching industry in general. All coaches want to help people and there’s nothing wrong with that.
“I prefer to work with mentors – people who have been at the top and can share their wisdom.” Certainly, having prior experience can guide us, but what is the key difference between a coach and a mentor? As somebody who’s worked with therapists, counsellors and mentors, Bethan says:
- Coaches are like therapists – they don’t know the answer, but work with you to uncover it.
- Mentors have been through it themselves – they’re likely running their own businesses, rather than devoting all their time to coaching.
Having your own back
While Bethan wouldn’t rule out coaching, she’s a keen advocate of self-belief. “If you can find someone amazing who can add value, go for it – but you can’t hire someone to make mistakes for you.
“Everyone has the potential to be what they want to be, but they have to do the work. You need to have your own back! No one can do this as well as you.”
A sex issue?
Having spoken to a male and a female, and drawing on my own experiences, it’s hard for me to overlook the obvious sex/gender disparities.
The simple fact that ‘women’s empowerment’ coaching is on the up suggests an underlying problem. Are we expected to be less successful? Do we have a history of being less assertive, and therefore, less likely to achieve our goals?
“As a successful woman, I’ve had run-ins with people who’ve said some very sexist things. Sadly, it’s very common to frame it as ‘you’re so young; you have so much to learn’,” says Bethan.
Indeed, Imposter Syndrome is far more common in women. Just 24 per cent of men experience these feelings compared to 54 per cent of women.
On a personal level, I have felt inadequate before when challenged by men. Could historical gender imbalances be the reason for this spike in women’s coaching?
Accepting your own flaws
By its very nature, Imposter Syndrome requires self-reflection, even if it is distorted and negative. For me, the best measure of success is setting my own goals, rather than competing with others.
In short, if I fuck up, that’s my fuck-up. I don’t want to cop out and blame somebody else, regardless of whether or not they’re telling me what to do.
That’s the biggest takeaway from this. Nico used his own judgement to decide when it was time to move on, and Bethan has made her own mistakes along the way. Both are shining examples of modern-day success.
If you’re looking for a business coach, remember:
- nothing replaces real learning experiences
- you need to ‘gel’ with someone and make sure your goals are aligned
- demonstrable success is worth far more than a Peep Show-esque certificate.
Of course, having never worked with a coach, I can’t advise you on how to make that decision. But then, is anybody a better judge than you?