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What is business coaching?

Business coaching has become a common and important practice for CEOs and business owners who want to advance themselves and their companies. Still, many business leaders don’t truly understand what coaching actually is. In short, business coaching is a collaborative relationship between a business owner or CEO and a professional coach, aimed at strategically developing a successful business. A coach’s role—generally, but particularly as we see it at EMyth—is to help you design a vision for your business that aligns with your values and goals for your life. With that vision in hand, they provide you with the guidance, support and accountability you need to set and move through your goals, allowing you to take your business from where it is to where you want it to be.

Hiring a business coach is not hiring a low-touch advisor or an industry-specific consultant to come in and fix your business. And there are a lot of people out there calling themselves business coaches who don't have any real professional accreditations or associations. It can be hard to know who to trust—not simply when it comes to their methodology or the quality of their training, but also in terms of their approach to business and life in general. Working with a coach is a deeply personal engagement. And on some level, you’re buying who they are and why they do what they do.

Since 1977 when our founder Michael E. Gerber founded modern business coaching, we’ve helped tens of thousands of owners transform their businesses with our unique and proven approach. We know what it takes: a trusted partnership and a strategic roadmap that works to systematize every area of your business. 

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Here’s what you should expect from a business coaching experience: 

A trusted partnership

Business coaching is not consulting, and it’s not therapy. One common misconception is that business coaches will act more like consultants and do the work of developing your business for you—they won’t. Coaches help set direction, and provide feedback, tools, guidance and perspective. They’re also the accountability factor, which is what we find to be the thing most business owners need—someone to help them stay focused on their goals.

A good business coach doesn't simply tell you what to do or listen without giving feedback. A good business coach is someone you can trust—someone who has the ability to diagnose specific and systemic issues in your business, and knows that you have to implement the solutions yourself in order to get real results.

Being a good listener and smart about business are key characteristics for any coach. They can’t help you unless they understand what makes a good business good—and a great business great. And to truly be a partner, they must care about people and want to get to know you so they can understand why you went into business in the first place.

Great coaches are patient. Their job is to help you clarify what needs to happen next, but they wait for you to take those actions. And of course, they hold your feet to the fire on your goals. A great coach lives by one rule: You already have the fundamental ingredient to transform your business—the ability to change how you relate to it.

Curiosity and courage from your coach

A great coach has curiosity and courage in equal measure. They use their curiosity to look at every corner of your business to find the root cause for why things are stuck or stagnating. A great coach asks the right questions in the right moments—something they can only do if they have the training and experience. And a great business coach has the courage to be honest with you. They understand that you need to hear the truth—even if it stings a bit—or pause and reflect before you jump into action.

If your business coach can bring these elements of your work together, you'll become a better leader. You'll see the impact in your business—in the way your business starts to stabilize, grow, and get closer and closer to your vision. You’ll see the impact in how your employees show up to work. And you’ll see the impact in your bottom line, in your customer retention and in how your work changes within the business.

A clear roadmap

Through business coaching, your objective is to build a successful business with intention. To do that, you need a structured program to follow. If your coach doesn’t offer a plan for how to help you build each of the systems and strategies you and your business need—and the order in which you should develop them—you’re likely to create some critical system gaps in your business. A good coach has a proven program that they stand behind and are prepared to implement.

A focus on empowerment and independence

At EMyth, we look at coaching through the proverb, “Give a man a fish and he’ll eat for a day. Teach a man to fish and he’ll eat for a lifetime.” A great business coach knows that over time, you'll need them less and less. Their goal is to give you the right tools to put theory into practice, and to show you how to soon do for yourself what you needed their help with today—the skills to discern and diagnose what your business requires next. Like any good supportive relationship, it’s a bit of a paradox: The more they help you, the less you need them. A great coach knows this and doesn't pretend otherwise to keep their financial relationship with you intact. 

Finding a coach is a highly subjective process that depends on several factors and how much each aligns with your priorities. If you're looking a coach’s professional characteristics, the most important four to consider are:

  • Experience, skill level and training.
  • Approach and philosophy.
  • Certification(s) (or lack thereof).
  • Program, curriculum or methodology they use.

All of these points are important when choosing a business coach, but personal fit is really at the heart of what makes a business coach the best for you.

If you’re ready to work with a coach, we’re here to help. Or, if you already have a business coach and wonder if they’re the right fit for you, ask yourself these questions: 

  • Do they meet you where you are? Do they take the time to celebrate with you as well as be there for you when something really goes wrong?
  • Do they know where you're headed? Do they have a proven map that they use to ask the right questions for your business in the specific stage it’s in? Don’t assume they have a real plan or any legitimate training just because they have the word “coach” on their business card.
  • Can they hold a long-term vision while they help you fix the problems that exist in your business today? Do they notice patterns and trends, or are they just reacting to your daily frustrations? You want wise counsel, not just quick fixes.
  • Do they make you more curious? Their way of thinking about things should be infectious—you should find yourself asking other people the kinds of questions they ask you.
  • Do they understand what coaching is? Watch out for consultants in disguise, and amateur therapists without the real training or experience to guide you.
  • Do they truly hold you accountable? They should be willing to call you out if you don't show up, do the work and make real change.
  • Do they hide behind lingo, lists or tricks? It shouldn't feel complicated to translate the work you do with your coach into your business and your life—hard maybe, but never complicated or unclear.

A great coach is a lot of things. But most importantly, they're a trusted mentor who truly cares about your success and the success of your business. They know that the two are inextricably linked, and that’s a partnership where everybody wins.

Tricia Huebner

Written by Tricia Huebner

Tricia is EMyth's Director of Coaching. She joined the EMyth team in 2002.

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