What's the hottest commodity in business today? It just may be business coaches, as entrepreneurs across the country scramble to find personal gurus to help make them better at what they do.
Just as a personal trainer offers a physical fitness routine tailored to help you build a better body, a business coach provides personalized services-from strategic planning, marketing and leadership development to morale-boosting and problem-solving-to help you build a better business.
Sounds like a consultant, you say? Not exactly. While in some cases consultants also work as coaches, the difference lies in the aim and intensity of the service. Coaches offer a one-on-one relationship with entrepreneurs that's far more personal than in other consulting arrangements. They work behind the scenes, with their primary mission to support, develop and empower the entrepreneur-and, eventually, put themselves out of business. While consultants are in the business of selling their expertise, coaches are in the business of bringing out the best in you.
"A coach enables you to become self-sufficient and self-reliant," explains Helen Rothberg, a business professor and coach at Marist College in Poughkeepsie, New York. "I teach my clients how to 'fish for themselves,' so they only need my services for a limited time. My aim is to put control back in the hands of the people who own the business, not in the hands of experts."
"My goal is my own obsolescence-not to make the people I coach dependent on me, but to help them fly on their own," agrees Sheryl Spanier, an executive coach in New York City.
Whether you are an experienced entrepreneur dealing with growth, a downsized executive turning to business ownership for the first time, or a novice in the business world, a coach can help you get up to speed. A good business coach helps accelerate the learning curve, bringing a perspective and overview that would take you years to acquire on your own.
"There are patterns that work in every field of business," says Bob Ritter, a small-business coach and executive director of the Dutchess County Business Development Center in Poughkeepsie, New York. "You're paying the coach for knowledge of what works and what doesn't so you can [learn from] other people's failures."
Along with business knowledge, a coach provides something else that's critically important: moral support. You can't overestimate the value of having a confidant who is knowledgeable, unbiased and unfailingly honest-someone you can ask about anything, no matter how embarrassing. "As a business owner, you're supposed to look like you know what you're doing, so when you need help, you're careful about the questions you ask," says Dave Bouton, owner and president of On the Spot Mobile Oil Change in Wappingers Falls, New York. "But with my coach, no matter how dumb the question, I know I can ask it and he won't give me a funny look."
"We serve as sounding boards and help our clients gain perspective and feel less isolated," says Spanier. "We give them feedback and support, and recommend corrective measures when necessary."