From the February 2006 issue of Entrepreneur

You have a coach to play softball or volleyball. You generally need a coach to get you through childbirth. But when bringing a new business into the world, do you need a coach to help you? Maybe you don't need one--many people have started businesses without the help of coaches. But hiring a business coach can be helpful. Maureen O'Crean, a business coach in Redondo Beach, California, notes that her job is to give entrepreneurs the outside perspective they need to become successful. "If I can see the vision, then I know the steps [the entrepreneurs] need to take to have that vision come true. And that's something you can't do when you're in the midst of putting your life on the line [with a] startup," she says. "[Coaches] provide a different set of eyes for you. They can see from the outside."

It's not just objectivity, either--the best business coaches offer specific business advice, from where to go to register a website name to how to apply for a patent. In fact, Lorraine Marshall, founder of the TL Marshall Co. in Burbank, California, credits her coach, O'Crean, with helping her swim through the complexities of starting her manufacturing business--she creates hot knives used for crafts, construction and the like.

Marshall, 46, got the germ of the idea in late 2000 but was unsure how to proceed. She took a communications class provided by a local educational program in early 2001. O'Crean taught the class and offered three months of coaching to her students. A longtime coaching relationship was born. "She just knew the simple things that would save me a lot of research time," says Marshall. For instance, O'Crean suggested Marshall get a provisional patent instead of a regular, more expensive patent.

After three months, Marshall still wanted to work with O'Crean. For $500 a month, they talked over the phone for at least one hour per week. From covering specifics including prices and finances to talking Marshall through the difficult times when she was feeling particularly overwhelmed, O'Crean's proved invaluable as a coach, helping Marshall build annual sales to a quarter of a million dollars.

Finding the right coach is key, as success depends on the chemistry and communication between the two of you. Check out local chambers of commerce for referrals, and visit local SCORE chapters for free business coaching. Also go to the websites of the International Coach Federation and the Worldwide Association of Business Coaches for information on coaching or help finding a local coach.

And look for opportunities for group business coaching. Suzy Girard-Ruttenberg, founder of Girard & Associates, an executive business coaching and life-design company in Boca Raton, Florida, recently launched a prototype group-coaching program nationwide specifically for women entrepreneurs. "Entrepreneurs have a tendency to isolate themselves," says Girard-Ruttenberg. "Whether it's through work with a coach [or with a group], one of the most important things for an entrepreneur to do is to have an outstanding circle of human resources--individuals who are formal mentors to them."