Business Coach Or Business Strategy Consultant?

It has become increasing popular for leaders of organizations large and small, as well as Freelance consultants, to work with a coach, as a way to become a more effective leader, manager and decision-maker. Launching and sustaining a business venture is a significant undertaking. The stakes are very high and the margin of error is exceeding narrow. I’ve briefly worked with a coach myself. But is working with a coach beneficial, or a waste of time and money? Experience told me that it depends on your goals and your choice of coach.

Here’s the good news. The International Coach Federation, a support network for professional coaches, has data that demonstrates 86% of coaching clients recouped in business revenue at least what they invested in their coaching sessions. Further, 96% of those business owners/leaders would seek coaching again in the future. The ICF found that working with a coach improves productivity:

  • It keeps you on track. Through regularly scheduled sessions, business coaching provides accountability that encourages you to pursue your goals.
  • You have a forum for reliable and confidential business advice. A good business coach is positioned to use his/her expertise and judgment to guide you through the minefield of business challenges and difficult decisions.
  • You learn to set meaningful and attainable goals. Recognizing the goals one should set and can achieve is one of the keys to success in life and business. Ideally, your business coach will help you identify short and long-term goals and work with you to devise strategies and action plans that will bring your organization into the winner’s circle.

Now for the reality. As I see it, most of the certified coaches operating today have no business experience. Their background ranges from laid-off human resources / organizational development specialists to psychologists who can no longer make the money they want in the counseling field, due to restrictive health insurance reimbursement rules. Precious few of these individuals has ever seen the inside of a marketing department, sales department, finance or operations department.

They do not know how to create a business model; they’ve never participated in writing a strategic plan; they’ve never done a marketing plan; they’ve never so much as sold an umbrella on a rainy day; they could never interpret a profit & loss statement or a balance sheet. The only business decision they’ve ever made is to repackage themselves as a “business coach”, because they see financial potential.

When I prepared to open my consultancy, I saw a business coach who has an MBA from a very respectable program and who worked as a program manager at a mid-size local not-for-profit organization.  She was an acquaintance and so I consulted her for my launch. She was good with keeping me on track, but there were real deficiencies. She was not quite worth the $75/hour that I paid her in 2003.

She was useless in helping me to define my customer or devise strategies in how to reach them.  She was equally useless in helping me to either refine my business model, or offer feedback on the likely financial potential of the model presented. She, a single woman in consulting practice just as I aspired to be, had no words of advice regarding survival strategies, meaning the development of other revenue streams (such as teaching). She is still in business today, but she’s left the immediate area. I don’t know how successful her business is.

Many coaches may have glowing credentials, but the proper application for their experience and training is as a life coach and not a business coach. As I learned, even an MBA is not necessarily qualified to operate as a business coach.  A significant percentage of coaches are someone you call when work-life balance is an issue, or you need a plan for your under-employed husband, who’s become passive-aggressive because he’s envious of your professional success.

Qualified business coaches are available, but like any other professional services provider that you seek, conduct your due diligence. Coaching credentials are not your primary yardstick. Organizational development specialists and psychologists do not know business, so why would you hire one simply because they have some piece of paper?

Business experience and the ability to work with others one-on-one, or as group leader in CEO forums, is the skill-set that matters. Leaders who seek business coaching in fact need a business strategy consultant,  a seasoned professional who has been in the trenches and knows what it’s like to outwit, or get shot down, by competitors and the changing winds of business fortunes. Organization leaders are best served by a wise and savvy pro who has been to the mountain top and returned, to show us how to reach the summit.

Thanks for reading,



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