Right from the outset of starting my business coaching practice, I was under no illusion of how difficult it would be for other small businesses and people in general to refer clients who really could benefit from the type of service I offer.
Be it in networking groups, existing clients, previous work connections or even family and friends, there would always be objections like: “I know how good you are and what a huge impact you can have on someone’s business and life, but you are just so hard to refer to” or “It’s just that I’m not quite sure what questions to ask or how to position you accordingly.” A conversation could continue with: “It can feel a bit awkward to ask some deeper questions or ask about what challenges they may be facing in their business” and then finally: “I’ve come across so many business coaches and still not quite sure what exactly they do.”
These responses do not surprise me one bit and with my vision being clear about enhancing the perceived value of business coaching in Australia, I feel it is my duty to try and educate others on making it easier to understand how a business coach can add significant value in helping their clients achieve their business and lifestyle goals.
So, to help other professional service businesses and the like position a business coach in a more positive light and which can even compliment their own services, here are a few points to consider when either addressing or recognising the potential need for someone to engage a business coach.
Comparable to Sports Coaching
I think the first place to start is with comparing a business coach to a sports coach. I firmly believe this is where business coaching differs quite significantly from other types of professional coaching, be it life coaching, executive coaching, health coaching, relationship coaching, and the list goes on. What I mean in this regard, is that a business coach must have some context around understanding the rules of engagement and how the “business” game is played at both a strategic and tactical level. Just like a sports coach, there are times when the business coach will need to advise, mentor and even educate on innovative ideas or concepts to help improve performance and achieve specific results. In reality, a more hands-on approach is what is really required (in my experience) and so focusing mainly on goal setting and accountability measures will not likely be quite enough to make as big an impact. In addition to this, having the ability to inspire and motivate change, help build resilience and be a sounding board to vent frustrations when things boil over are necessary traits of any good business or sports coach.
There is often this assumption that identifying a need for business coaching is only about addressing problems or challenges and so people feel that if one needs a coach, there is something wrong with them or their business. This could not be further from the truth as in my opinion business coaching is not about trying to save a business from going under but is rather about maximising potential and making a series of subtle changes that will move the business from a certain baseline to achieving important milestones along the journey to building a fundamentally sound and profitable business. This important distinction opens the door to a more curious approach and enjoyable experience to growing one’s business and often results in validating strengths and existing practices, which can be just as powerful as highlighting gaps and improving weaknesses. It is about having that trusted advisor as a sounding board, learning how to think more strategically, gaining new perspectives and generating new ideas that makes all the difference.
Easier to Refer to Specialists
A business coach is a generalist practitioner (or at least in my view) and so they should have enough knowledge and experience to cover a range of business functions, from HR leadership, sales and marketing to operations and finance – all underpinned by the strategic planning process. It should feel like you have a general management resource to support you across the board or better still, to prepare the business owner to think like a general manager rather than just continue as an operational specialist. As you can see, it takes a lot more to explain this service and a slightly more in-depth conversation to uncover the need as opposed to referring a client to an accountant for some tax advice or a lawyer for wills and estate planning. Unfortunately what often goes missing in conversation during the initial referral exchange, is that when you partner with a highly collaborative business coach, you ultimately benefit from his or her extensive alliance network of other highly reputable and capable specialist service providers. This can save time, money and unnecessary frustration when going through the process of finding the right people to work with.
Working with a business coach should not be transactional in nature. It is and always will be about fit and connection. If there is no appetite to go below the surface with your business coach, you are wasting your time and money. For this very reason, I always tell my referral partners that prospective clients will have ample opportunity to determine if we are a good match. There is also the assurance that this process does not include one of those 15-minute free discovery calls either. It often requires a more detailed catch up, in some cases a mini coaching session of sorts that tends to happen organically and the prospective client can get to experience what coaching would be like if they decided to engage. This way, there is really no risk to the referral partner and should make it much easier to encourage their client to seek an initial consultation.
We all know the best time to refer is when conversations flow naturally and when a clear need for a particular service is identified. When it comes to coaching, it is certainly no different. The main issue seems to be around understanding how to uncover the need in the first place. Hopefully, the points I raise above can provide a deeper and more genuine way of educating clients on how a good business coach can help them move forward in their business or perhaps it gives you some fresh ideas on how you can position your service-based business to your referral partners.