Business coaching for SMEs

Business coaching may seem like an unnecessary luxury to a small, two-person company operating from home. Regardless of a company’s size, if the bottom line is failing to impress or operations are inefficient, it might be worthwhile asking a professional coach for guidance.

Do you need a business coach?

While most businesses could benefit from professional advice, there are some that really need it to progress beyond the early stages. It’s not difficult to establish which camp your company falls into.

“The first step is to actually recognize that you’re not achieving at your potential,” says Jeremy Carter, partner at Fusion Business Strategy.

One indicator is if the owner is unsure of their objectives, or, in the instance of multiple partners if they have ideas that differ from those of their colleagues.

“With a lot of businesses I coach, especially when there’s more than one partner, there can be some conflict or disagreement over where they actually want to go. When it comes to the decision-making process, instead of them being aligned and working together, they spend time battling each other about the decisions along the way. They all need to be 100% clear on where they’re headed in business – their vision, their goals, and plans,” says Carter.

Another simple sign is whether or not the business is performing financially.

“At the end of the day, business is about profit,” he continues. “If you’re not getting good bottom-line profit, then it’s a good sign you could benefit by speaking with a coach.”

Jennifer Harwood, managing director of Direct Incite, also suggests that managerial difficulties act as a likely sign a coach is needed.

“On the more social and personal side of things, if the business owner is feeling completely overwhelmed, if they’re struggling in managing their staff and getting the right outcome, and if they’ve found that they’re losing staff at a rapid rate, that’s usually an indicator that a lot of things aren’t right,” she says.

Alternatively, the business could be going particularly well, but the owner might want to grow their enterprise, and has no idea how to make it happen.

“There may not be anything wrong with the business, it might be that the business owner wants to take it to the complete next level, and they’re not sure how to do it, or the people around them are very comfortable with where the business is and they need someone who can give them independent strategies and ideas to grow,” says Harwood.

Finding a coach

The process of actually finding a coach is what turns many businesses off the whole exercise. Jodie Shannon, managing director at Defaye College, found her first coach through a ‘women in business’ workshop she attended.

“[They] didn’t last very long. It wasn’t really personal enough,” she says. “Being a small business, I felt I needed someone that was interested in the business, where I wasn’t just another of a group of people that logged in to a teleconference every week.”

Shannon’s second coach took a much more direct, hands-on approach to giving her business the advice it needed.

“The biggest benefit is that we’ve gone a lot more heavily into the marketing of the business, rather than the advertising,” she explains. “We were doing a lot of advertising, which wasn’t working, so he’s shown us how to market differently.”

Shannon’s coach has also shown her how to conduct PR campaigns, and, on request, accompanies her to high-level meetings as a consultant.

The key to avoiding the disconcerting side of business coaching is very simple, as Fusion’s Carter explains.

“You’ll know it from sitting down with a coach or talking over the phone for half an hour if they’re going to add value to your business,” he says. “All a great coach does is ask questions, make people aware of things, help people make decisions, and move forward. The level of value you’ll get in that first half-hour conversation will indicate the level of value you can expect going forward.”

What to expect

Direct Incite’s Harwood defines business coaching as being distinct from, and preferable to, a consultancy.

“A consultant is someone that is paid by the employer to get the job done,” she explains, “whereas a coach is paid to teach, train, encourage and motivate a business owner to work out how to get it done for themselves.”

Fusion’s Carter explains that coaching essentially comes down to four steps: clarity, focus, action, and results.

“The big thing that holds a lot of businesses back is being really clear on where they’re headed and why they’re headed there.”

Clarity about the purpose of the business leads naturally into focusing on what can be improved. The next step is to formulate a plan of action, to carry it out, and then assess whether the revisions to the business’s operations and direction have proved to be effective.

Take action

The most crucial element of business coaching is to actually take the advice offered by the professional and put it into practice.

“You can have a personal trainer, but you don’t put in the hard work, you won’t get the results,” says Carter. “A good coach will make it clear to you from the outset that it’s not a magic wand and that you’ve got to put the effort in and do the work to get the results. A coach can get you as clear as you like with what needs to happen, but if you don’t follow through and do it, then you’re going to be stuck where you’re at.”

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