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Business Coaching: Is It the Right Opportunity for You?

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Have you ever wondered about what it would be like to be a business coach? Do you think that advising and teaching entrepreneurs might be a good career path for you? 

If so, this tutorial can help you figure out if business coaching is a viable option. We cover what it means to be a business coach, the pros and cons of the industry, and what it takes to get in and succeed in this field.

Is business coaching right for you
Business coaching (graphic)

What is Business Coaching?

A business coach is a person who provides dedicated assistance to an entrepreneur, typically in a small to mid-sized business. Coaches may serve as a sounding board for ideas, a strategic planner, or an accountability partner. They can even become more active consultants who help solve specific problems. Usually, however, the business coach acts more like a trusted adviser. 

A survey conducted by The Alternative Board (TAB), a business coaching group, found that when it comes to advisers for business issues, 31 percent of business owners trust fellow business owners, while 24 percent trust a business coach. Employees, lawyers, and friends rank much lower down the list. Clearly, business coaches are one of the first trusted people that entrepreneurs come to when they need help.

Apart from the impact that business coaches have on their clients, there are many other reasons why professionals are attracted to becoming business coaches:

  • Good Hourly Rates. According to an industry survey by Sherpa Coaching in 2014, business coaches have an average hourly rate of $242. In the TAB survey mentioned earlier, on the other hand, respondents said that they were willing to pay an average of $132 per hour for business coaches. While the figures for executive coaching are a bit higher, the income from business coaching can be made higher by teaching seminars or selling books and courses.
  • Location Independence. Many business coaches can conduct their coaching calls online, via video conferencing, or via phone calls. While having in-person sessions with their clients might be useful, but they can get a lot done just by telecommuting.
  • Varied Projects. Since business coaches will be working with SMEs, the above Sherpa Coaching survey found that business coaches typically have an average of 5 clients, coaches will often be juggling a variety of projects with different businesses. This keeps the work from being monotonous at any given time, especially if some clients have hired you to solve growth problems, while others have hired you to improve their leadership skills.

There are some downsides to becoming a business coach, however, including the following:

  • Time-consuming Marketing. One downside of becoming a business coach is that, in practice, it's likely that you'll spend more time marketing than coaching. According to the 2012 run of the Sherpa Consulting survey,  "When asked how much of their time they actually spend coaching, most business coaches (52%) spend less than two days a week actually coaching." To minimize the time and effort spent on marketing, it's best to have a lean approach where you focus only on the essentials that bring in results.
  • Projects are Difficult to Define. Working on a variety of projects might be an advantage, but it comes with its own costs. Project scope can be harder to define, especially if your client is in an open arrangement with you, with recurring sessions for the foreseeable future. This means that there are no standard processes, despite 45% of business coaches seeing a need for them. 

If you find that the above challenges are non-negotiables for you, then perhaps business coaching might not be the right career path for you. But, if you're excited about the initial legwork for marketing your services and thrive while working on projects with undefined scopes, then it's a field you're likely to do well in if you meet the requirements.

What Does it Take to Become a Business Coach?

While there isn't a strict list of needed credentials to become a business coach, there are some skills and traits you'd need at work. Although this isn't a comprehensive checklist, fulfilling the following criteria can ensure that you'll be able to handle the challenges that come with acquiring and keeping your first coaching clients:

  • A Business-Related Background. While an MBA or other business-related degrees are not required, you must have at least some experience with businesses, whether it's running, building, or working in them. The closer your previous experience is to running or building a business, the better. For example, it's better to have managerial experience in an SME than working as a regular employee in a large corporation. Of course, having degrees, coursework, training, or certifications in business, marketing, economics, accounting, and finance can also help.
  • People Skills. Being a business consultant also requires a deep understanding of human behavior, probably more than having a business background. After all, 35 percent of business owners hire a business coach for their coaching style and philosophy, while the coach's area of expertise comes second at 27 percent. This is why, even without business backgrounds, people with psychology or social science backgrounds also do well as business consultants. The job often requires uncovering hidden motivations and roadblocks, changing behaviors, and trying to convince clients to take steps they might be hesitant to take—even if it's for their benefit.
  • Certification. Though it's not always a requirement, many business consultants get certifications from organizations representing the industry, such as the International Coach Federation (ICF), the World Coach Institute, and the Professional Business Coaches Alliance. Coaches can also be endorsed by organizations such as non-profits or universities. The 2012 Sherpa Coaching survey (chart below) found that most executive and business coaches tend to prefer ICF's certification than university-based endorsements. When considering certification, keep in mind your goals, your clients, and the projects you want to work on. This will help you decide if certification is right for you and, if it is, which option to pursue.
Business Coaching Certification preferences
Business coaching certification preferences (source)
  • Knowing Your Limits. This might seem like a bizarre requirement, but with the broad services and expertise that a business coach offers, it's unavoidable that you'll end up advising in topics that you aren't as experienced in. This requires the humility and foresight to identify when psychotherapists, lawyers, accountants, and other specialized professionals should be stepping in.

With the variety of projects a business coach has to deal with, it only makes sense to have the above mix of business, communication, and social skills to get the job done well.

Turn Your Experience Into a Coaching Career

Even if you have a limited business background or none at all, it's possible to use the existing skills and knowledge you have and transform them into a valuable service for businesses. For example, linguist Richard D. Lewis used his background in linguistics as a springboard for providing cross-cultural communication training for businesses. 

Another example is author and business coach Marie Forleo, who has a diverse background. As a finance major, she worked in Wall Street after college, then moved on to publishing, followed by life coaching and dancing. Since then, she's pivoted her services into business coaching and producing training programs that rake in millions of dollars of revenue per year. 

Her previous experience might seem unrelated, but her content often includes clips of her dancing, which helps her branding stand out. As for Forleo's experience being a life coach for women, it probably comes in handy for her business courses, which are marketed primarily towards women.

Take a hard look at all the valuable skills, insight, and experiences you have to offer and ask yourself:

  • Among your skills, experiences, and knowledge, which ones can help you offer concrete help to SME owners?
  • Among the items you listed above, which ones can have the most impact on your potential clients? What kind of impact would that be?
  • Which among your skills, experiences, and knowledge can help you with marketing your coaching services? 
  • Think about how your unique combination of skills, experiences, and knowledge can help you stand out from other business coaches. (Consider Marie Forleo using her dancing as part of her content, or Richard D. Lewis specializing in cross-cultural communication.)

How to Make Your Business Coaching Services Stand Out

One major challenge of marketing your business coaching services is, how exactly do you stand out? With other eager and qualified business coaches who can work from anywhere, why would potential clients choose you over them? Fortunately, there are several things a new business coach can do so that they can be more memorable and unique in their industry:

1. Pick a Specialization

The simplest way to stand out is to pick a very specific niche to serve or to pick a very specific problem to solve. For example, you can brand yourself as the coach who focuses only on increasing profits. Alternatively, you could be the business coach who helps small businesses that are developing software products. By being specific about either who you serve or what you do, you become the go-to person for that particular need rather than becoming "just another business coach" like most of your competitors.

Business coach Lara Galloway focuses on helping mompreneurs—stay-at-home mothers who have or want to have their own businesses. Her coaching business, Mom Biz Coach, is very unambiguous in expressing who she serves, allowing mompreneurs to quickly identify that she is the right fit for them. By focusing on her target market, she is able to help her clients with problems and challenges that are specific to their situation, which other business coaches might not know how to address. 

Can you be as specific as Galloway when specializing? Not only will this kind of focus help you stand out, it will make your messaging, marketing, and service development much simpler.

2. Build a Vast Network

Since 85 percent of entrepreneurs report that referrals are the most reliable methods for finding business coaches, it makes sense to build a strong, wide network of contacts to increase your chances of meeting potential clients. 

Small business coaching data
Source: the Alternative Board (TAB) survey.

Networking might seem more challenging than promoting yourself on LinkedIn, but it will be more effective if word-of-mouth is how coaches tend to get hired. If you find it too intimidating to network, whether it's because you're usually introverted or find it difficult to make small talk during events, the guides below can walk you through the process:

3. Have Strong Case Studies

If there's anything that can win over your target clients, it's your case studies, testimonials, and reviews. According to the TAB survey mentioned earlier, 53% of entrepreneurs are most assured by a business coach's reviews and testimonials from previous clients. 

Because of this, make sure to devote time to developing solid case studies and collecting testimonials from your clients. The above survey results tell us that spending time on articles on social media instead might not have the same impact on entrepreneurs looking for a coach.There are definitely a lot of professionally designed case study templates for you to choose from to make the job easier.

4. Quantify Your Contribution

A business coach who doesn't track their impact via numbers is just guessing at their impact. The good news is that you have many options for quantifying the results you bring in. You can track a company's sales, profits, savings, efficiency, productivity, and other valuable metrics that are relevant to the specific issues you are working on. With these metrics, you can clearly see if you are truly helping your clients and can defend your role in the business.

A good example of this is Bill Silverman's Springboard Business Coaching. His homepage lists testimonials with quantified results, with clients saying they reaped "6-figure profits" and "business has grown more than 20%." His "About Us" page also has a list of concrete numbers he can help clients achieve. Having this kind of numerical insight on your impact on your client's business can help you easily justify your recurring services and help win over new clients as well.

Business Coach About Page
Business coach about page for Bill Silverman

5. Scale Your Services

Some business coaches try to scale their services by providing classes, online courses, events, or books. It's wise to learn how to benefit from these endeavors, whether you're turning them into products for sale or using them for marketing, since you only develop them once — unlike one-on-one coaching and networking which requires your real-time presence. 

Examples of this are Marie Forleo's B-School, which is geared towards female entrepreneurs, and Laura Roeder's Social Brilliant, which teaches business owners how to do their social media marketing. Given the videos, worksheets, and communities available with these resources, they are just scalable versions of the coaches' expertise in their field.

Once you have a few clients under your belt, ask yourself if your help is something you can scale. Can you turn it into a book, blog, course, or an event? Can you create a scalable business model for these projects? Creating products out of your services can help you reach more business owners without adding too many hours to your workweek.

Is Business Coaching the Right Career for You?

Given the above overview of what it takes to do well as a business coach, you're in a better position to know whether this career is a good fit for you. If you do decide to be a business coach, as long as you enjoy working with business owners, are comfortable with flexible projects, and commit to your marketing, you'll definitely thrive.

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