From the April 2000 issue of Startups

About a year ago, Alexandria Brown's life reached a crossroads. She left her full-time job at a New York City ad agency to start her own homebased marketing communications firm, AKB & Associates, facing the typical challenges of a first-time entrepreneur. She was also moving into a new apartment and, as if that weren't enough transition for one year, she was in the process of breaking up with her fiancé.

One day at a business function, Brown, now 28, crossed paths with 34-year-old business coach Talane Miedaner. Call it fate. "Talane told me that she helps people live the lives of their dreams," says Brown, recalling that first conversation. "I thought it sounded fruity, but then I thought maybe she could help."

Move over, traditional management consultants. Like Brown, a growing number of Gen X entrepreneurs are turning to the nation's approximately 10,000 part-time and full-time business coaches for advice. Part business advisor, part therapist, part best friend, a coach is there to offer support when you need it and give you a kick in the pants when no one else will.

Coaches and clients usually keep in touch by phone, conversing between two and four times a month about whatever business or personal issues the client needs to discuss. These chats aren't cheap. Coaches at Miedaner's Talane Coaching Co. LLC in New York City charge $300 a month for three half-hour conversations; Miedaner, a certified coach and the author of Coach Yourself to Success, (Contemporary Books, $22.95, http://www.lifecoach.com) charges her clients-which include corporate executives, business owners and artists-$700 for 90 minutes of her time.

For cash-strapped entrepreneurs, wouldn't this money be better spent on a new computer system or, say, the rent? "In one sense, no one needs a coach," Miedaner acknowledges. "People have been getting along forever without one. But having a coach helps you go from ordinary to extraordinary. Why do Olympic athletes pay a coach, someone they can run circles around? They hire someone who can offer an objective perspective and who is committed to their success. Friends can't tell you the truth for fear of damaging the relationship, and family members may have their own agenda."

Miedaner hired a business coach for herself more than five years ago when she became dissatisfied with her job as a bank manager. The results, she says, were immediate. Miedaner began taking better care of herself physically and mentally by doing things like hiring a housekeeper and getting massages. Before long, she was offered a promotion. She was so inspired by her coach that she soon became one herself.

"I had dreamed that I would have a successful business by the time I was 45," Miedaner says. "Instead, I had one at 31. I thought I wouldn't write a book until I was 65, but I did that by the time I was 34. I credit my coach with helping me achieve those goals."

Likewise, Brown believes her success is due in large part to Miedaner's coaching. "She helped me refine my business and work through personal issues as well," Brown shares. "She advised me to get a virtual assistant to help me stay organized, and that has been a great help. She helped me raise my standards and accept only the kinds of projects I want to do."

Henry Landes, president of the Delaware Valley Family Business Center in Sellersville, Pennsylvania, agrees that every entrepreneur needs a coach or mentor of some sort. "Most people who start a business are really technicians," he says. "They know how to do their job well, but they don't know a whole lot about running a business. And I think everyone should submit themselves to a relationship in which they are accountable for what they do."

Landes is more skeptical, however, about the need for start-up entrepreneurs to pay for professional coaches. "The important thing is to find someone who can talk you through the process, make you accountable and give you a sense of hope," Landes says. "That person doesn't have to be paid. A start-up entrepreneur who's strapped for cash might find a retired businessperson who will volunteer to serve as their coach." For coaching to work, the client and coach need to have chemistry. Brown knew instantly that Miedaner would be the right coach for her. "Talane and I think along the same lines," Brown says. "I wouldn't have chosen an IBM executive to be my coach."

Despite her success-or perhaps because of it-Miedaner still has a coach to help her and refuses ever to be without one. "It's just too delicious," she says.


Pamela Rohland, a freelance writer from Bernville, Pennsylvania, coaches her staff of four cats.

Educated, Motivated

Currently, there are no laws licensing business coaches; anyone can go to Kinko's and get letterhead with "coach" printed on it. However, there is an independent accrediting body that certifies professional coaches: The International Coach Federation in Angelfire, New Mexico, has a Web site at http://www.coachfederation.com. Some think the best place to find a qualified coach is through Coach U in Steamboat Springs, Colorado (http://www.coachu.com), a virtual university that offers the world's largest training and certification program for business coaches in the United States. Call (800) 48-COACH or e-mail info@coachu.com for more information.

You Need A Coach When . . .

  • You're starting a new business.
  • You're struggling in any area of your life.
  • Your partner and your friends are tired of hearing you complain.
  • You're transitioning from one stage of your life to the next.
  • You feel overwhelmed.

Your work space is very cluttered-a sign that you've got more to do than you can handle alone.