Buyer beware: Choose a business coach carefully to get the results you want

Consider this scenario. A colleague suggests you get a business coach. Via the Internet, you find one close-by. The woman says she’d love to help. She charges $300 a month for two 30-minute calls. It seems like a good deal, so you eagerly sign on the dotted line.

Next, you are sent to a website to learn your Enneagram type. This personality quiz doesn’t seem to connect with marketing your business. You call the coach. She says that you rank a “two” and that you’re trying to please everybody. She says that you should take better care of yourself. She says you need to take nature hikes, yoga lessons, and long bubble baths.

You have yet to get real business coaching. Sadly, this scenario plays out often, usually resulting from a lack of understanding on how to choose the best coach for your business.

In the past several years, coaching has become one of the most effective ways to cultivate the professional and personal skill-sets of teams and individuals. Coaching has proven results. Fast Company magazine reports that up to 40% of Fortune 500 companies hire coaches to improve their businesses. There’s a proven, significant return on investment. A 2001 study by the Manchester Review said that the output of executives involved in coaching programs averaged nearly 5.7 times higher than the initial investment.

But you must do your homework before choosing a coach. For coaching to work, it’s vital to have a basic understanding of a coaching relationship.

What is coaching?

Coaching is a conversation, a dialogue between a coach and a coachee. Through coaching, you will learn how to:

  • Communicate better;
  • Balance priorities;
  • Make effective presentations;
  • Better understand strengths;
  • Identify new competencies needed.

There are several types of coaching to choose from:

Life coaching – Focuses on inspiring life-transforming experiences. These include: creating personal joy and freedom, developing a better sense of self, building stronger romantic relationships, or learning to let go of old fears and doubts.

Business coaching – Focuses on issues of running a business. It ranges from individual and executive team coaching, to coaching owners of small- to medium-sized businesses. Coaches help executives, staffs, and businesses develop, promote, and grow.

Executive coaching – Builds highly collaborative, individualized relationships. The aim is to bring sustained behavioral change and transform the quality of the executive’s life.

Pick the best type of coaching for you. Then find the coach with the experience, education, and skills for supporting others that you’re looking for. But beware: There are some people without formal training or background who call themselves coaches.

How to choose the right business coach.


The coaching industry attracts consultants, therapists, and people with good intentions who want to help. But because there’s currently no regulatory board or set of, the prospective coaching client should choose a coach wisely.

Evaluate their credentials

A business coach should have some formal training, and have some understanding of organizational dynamics including how to navigate corporate culture.

Other questions: Is the coach part of any organizations? Does the coach publish books or articles? Does the coach offer products and services in addition to coaching?

But don’t take degrees and certifications at face value. They tell you nothing about the quality of the coaching.

Evaluate how they work with clients

Many organizational consultants direct you toward answers without involving you in the solution. That’s not coaching. A skilled coach will engage you in dialogue, give you a new look at an issue, and ultimately let you decide what’s best.

The coach’s role is to provide support to enhance the skills, resources, and creativity that you already have. Coaches are trained to listen, to observe, and to customize their approach to meet your needs. Coaches will elicit solutions from their clients; but a skilled coach also knows when to jump in and provide direction when you get off track.

Make sure they’ve been in your shoes

Make sure your coach has experience in your area and speaks your language.

Many therapists jump on the coaching bandwagon. While the therapists may have skills and knowledge that help them work on personal transformation, they’re not necessarily best at helping you adapt your leadership style or improve work performance.

Other ways to learn about a coach:

  • Read their bio, and ask about their background.
  • Ask them if they’ve worked through the issues you’re having.
  • Visit their website and see how they market themselves.
  • Look for testimonials and get real referrals

Most coaches will post a client list or testimonials on their website so you can see what their clients think. Beware of anonymous testimonials.

Ask for names and numbers of clients to contact, to validate the coach’s work. Call them. Ask specific questions such as:

  • What was it like to be coached by this person?
  • Did they help you achieve your goals?
  • Would you hire this coach again?
  • Make sure you fit with your coach

Trust your instincts when deciding whether or not the coach truly understands who you are and what you need. You may want:

  • A coach who’s direct and will act as a constant “swift kick in the behind.”
  • A coach who provides advice and talks about their experiences.
  • A coach who listens as you pull the answers from inside yourself.

Ultimately, you will want a coach with whom you have great rapport, who you would trust with certain details of your life as well as your observations, who will not judge you.

About the author
Jim Jenkins is a certified professional coach, owner of Creative Visions Consulting and co-founder of Innovative Play LLC in Frederick, MD. He specializes in partnering with executives, front-line managers and entrepreneurs who are committed to creating sustained success in their professional lives and in their businesses. For more information, call (866) 322-8263 or visit Contact Jim Jenkins for a copy of his white paper entitled “Getting clear about success: The return on investment of business coaching.”