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Battle of the business coaches

Are business coaches the key to success? Armed with nothing more than a notepad and digital recorder, Josh Mehlman steps into the ring with seven leading coaches and asks them to prove they’re worth your time and money. Who lands the knockout blow?

Business coaches are everywhere.

You can’t open a business magazine without tripping over ads for and articles from them, and while there are very few hard numbers, there is plenty of anecdotal evidence to suggest Australia is facing a plague to rival cane toads and Elvis impersonators.
Where have they all come from? One reason there are no hard numbers is Australia has no industry group or association of business coaches, and no accreditation is required. You simply set yourself up as a business coach and let your work speak for itself. It’s no wonder many business owners are skeptical about the benefits of hiring a coach.

Still, we know plenty of businesses that have achieved remarkable success with external tutelage, so Nett magazine set out to discover what makes business coaches tick and whether they’re worth the money and effort. We set up the ultimate rumble in the boardroom, pitting charts and diagrams against business models to help you find the best coach for your needs.

Why would you want one?

In July 2007, boutique design agency Rysen comprised its two owners and a few regular freelancers. Co-owner and managing director Ryuji Uematsu had big plans but didn’t know how to achieve them.

“We always wanted to be a medium-sized agency of around 12 to 20 people,” he says. “We had some financial goals [to hit] certain targets so it would be more rewarding personally. We realized that to achieve those goals, we needed external advice.”

The partners investigated a range of business coaches and found one who “genuinely seemed interested” and had the right skills, Uematsu explains.

“We highlighted a few key areas where our business needed improvement – the main one was sales development,” he says. “The second part was having systems in place for invoicing, backup, documentation, and so on.”

Engaging a coach was a serious financial commitment for a small agency.

“Their first goal was to recoup the costs of the investment we were making in them – to increase our sales so they could prove themselves,” says Uematsu.

Rysen now has six permanent staff and a larger pool of external contractors.

“Since engaging the business coach, we’ve tripled our turnover, so they’ve more than paid for themselves,” says Uematsu. “The business is also more profitable.

“Apart from the great advice, they keep us honest and more responsible. When you’re paying someone, you want to make it worthwhile.”

Truth or dare

Ryan’s experience with a business coach was overwhelmingly positive. Uematsu and his business partner did all the right things when looking for a coach. They set concrete goals, shopped around, and found an adviser who was a good personality fit and had the capabilities to achieve their aims. They were also fortunate to find a coach willing to pay their own way by ensuring increased sales.

To find out more about the bewildering array of business coaches available to Australian small businesses, we did the same kinds of research: looked through business and trade magazines, asked people in our professional network, and searched on the internet.

Were we surprised that some coaches we approached chickened out? Not really.

After some screening, we came up with six coaches willing to be interviewed, photographed, poked, and prodded, and you’ll see their profiles throughout this article. A seventh coach was overseas and not available for the photo session, but gave us answers by email.

We questioned them about their background, experience as coaches, stand-out successes, and understanding of small business needs. We also asked them to explain how they would help a business owner solve common problems such as:

  • A salesperson keeps missing targets
  • One of the owners doesn’t get along with his/her business partner
  • The business takes up all of the owner’s time and is destroying his/her marriage
  • The company can’t hang on to staff and recruitment costs are going through the roof
  • Staff spend all day on Facebook
  • The owner doesn’t see the point of running the business anymore
  • Continually losing clients to a major competitor
  • The company’s profit margin has been whittled away to zero by increasing costs
  • The owners have trouble finding the cash to pay upcoming bills
  • Customers constantly complain about poor quality or service

Finally, we encouraged them to choose a task they would perform for a customer as a proof of concept or to demonstrate their abilities.

Meet the coaches

Shivani

Shivani GuptaPassionate People
Age: 36, but I feel younger and wiser
Coaching career: Seven years for a living, but unofficially 20 years
Past lives: Engineer, manager

How did you get into coaching?

I was a senior manager with BHP Billiton making and saving them a lot of money. I loved the role but realized that this was not my passion and what I wanted to do in the long term. I did not want someone at my funeral saying, “She dedicated her life to BHP”. I wanted people to say how amazing I was and what a legacy I had left behind.

What’s unique about your style?

Connecting the head and the heart. A lot of coaching
is very intellectual. Although we use models to develop
your thinking and grow your business, coaching to us is
about getting people’s authentic selves to come out so
they become excellent leaders and people. The foundation
of our business and three words we use constantly are:
inspire, challenge, and transform.

Proudest achievement?

My vision is to touch a billion people in this lifetime.
I have reached nearly 30 million people already through speaking, coaching, TV work, and my books. Helping people
to unlock their passion, achieve their vision and be successful is very rewarding.
One example is the Chinese printer who worked on my book Passion @ Work. She wrote to me in broken English and told me that the book had inspired her to quit the printing business. It was not her passion. This was great for her; however, we did need to find another printer!

Casey GollanCasey Gollan

www.caseygollan.com.au
Age: 36
Coaching career: 12 years
Past lives: Student, sports event promoter

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