From the June 2007 issue of Entrepreneur

Rob Basso knows the benefits of working with a personal business coach--and today his sales employees do, too. Basso, owner of Hicksville, New York-based Advantage Payroll Services, has hired trainers to work with his 25 employees. But in 2005, dissatisfaction with the $3.5 million company's sales approach and results led the entrepreneur to hire an outsider to coach his five-person sales team.

"We asked our sales coach to help us develop a different way to sell our products and services," says Basso, 34. Basso hoped a coach would go beyond the trainer's job of giving employees needed skills and see that new skills were put to use. After 18 months, he's calling the experiment a success. "[The number of clients was] up roughly 23 percent from 2005 to 2006," Basso says. "Is that all attributable to the sales coach? No, but it was a major help."

Coaches can help employees keep the big picture in mind and stay on track toward goals as well as master new techniques. Entrepreneurs should consider calling in a coach to work with employees when they face any of several situations, including dealing with a problematic employee, preparing for a significant change in the business or feeling a need for self-assessment of employees or the organization, says Karen Glatzer, a business coach who has worked with growing companies. A coach may not be appropriate if you already know what you need and want someone to carry the news to employees, she adds. "You don't need a coach to act as your mouthpiece," she says.

Coaches lack established credentialing organizations, so the best way to find one is to get referrals. Glatzer recommends looking for coaches who have experience working with companies like yours, interviewing candidates and checking references.

Unlike trainers, who may come in, put on a seminar and leave, a coach is typically hired for an engagement of up to several months. Each month, the coach meets a couple of times or more for an hour or two with each employee and is available for consultations as needed. One-on-one work distinguishes coaches from trainers. Coaches are also more like mentors in that they encourage and monitor improvements.

Expect an engagement with a coach to cost a few thousand dollars or more. Taking employees away from their work to spend time with a coach will also cost in lost productivity. You may be able to improve results by seeking a close fit between the coach, the organization and the people. Basso says his choice essentially came down to which coach he felt most comfortable with personally. "They all said they could do similar things," he says. "We needed someone who could mesh with me."

Confidentiality is a sensitive issue with coaches and one that entrepreneurs should explore before hiring one, Glatzer says. Because coaches work one-on-one, they may become privy to personal, medical or financial information that is relevant to performance but which employees don't want others to know. In those cases, Glatzer urges employees to bring up job performance matters with a superior themselves.

Basso says seeing results from coaching took much longer than the four or five months he'd originally envisioned. Sales referrals also slowed at first as the team lost momentum while shifting its focus. But he's glad he stuck with it. "Even if we'd taken a backward step," he says, "based on the results I've seen so far, I'd do it again."

Mark Henricks writes on business and technology for leading publications and is author of Not Just a Living.