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What Is a Business Coach?

Last updated on May 15, 2023

While business coaches have been around for decades, there continues to be a lot of confusion about what business coaching actually is. After all, coaches coach people, not businesses. It is the business environment that we must be cognizant of that determines what business coaching comprises.

Many of us have had great, and some not-so-great, coaches throughout our lives that seemed to pull the competencies out of us as we learned and practiced skills, in our chosen mentor’s prepared way. 

For example, my middle school basketball coach had practices with multiple drills to help us to learn, practice, and play. Mr. H was my basketball coach, and the environment that he worked in was a gymnasium with basketball courts. To put it simply, he was a professional (paid) coach of amateur basketball players. 

What Is Business Coaching?

Well, a business coach is a professional who works with business owners and leaders to help them succeed in their industry’s market. Outside of that market and industry expertise are their employee groups, their families, their community, and their legacy, which has the potential for long-term impact.

Now that we understand who business coaches tend to coach, we need to use the rest of the time here to discuss what, where, when, why, and how business coaches coach. I will work that list backward, for reasons you will soon understand. So, we start with the “how.”

How Does Business Coaching Work?

How business coaches coach is similar to how my basketball coach mentored us rambunctious middle schoolers. 

He had his drills to help us learn, practice, and play. Business coaches use tools and frameworks to teach, mentor, assess, and reflect. 

For example, one of my client business owners was familiar with concepts in the book The 5 Love Languages, as he and his spouse and children all used those concepts well at home. 

We had our drills, or playbook. Then, we needed to practice them at work. We chose to role play, and then hee used that rehearsed dialogue as a basis for a conversation with each of his direct reports. 

My client and I assessed how the conversations went based on a few business measurables that we developed. We reflected quite a bit on how the tactic had worked, especially with one executive who did not seem to fit into an exact appreciation category. Years later, we had a fun time catching up when The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace was published!

Why Become a Business Coach

Why business coaches coach is probably the most debated of these topics because it determines the when, where, and what.

My business coaching clients and podcast guests are owners of small businesses with $500,000 to $10,000,000 in revenue whose growth has plateaued. In other words, the reason I coach is because small business owners at times have business growth decisions to make. 

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If a small business owner makes that decision to grow their business, or at least does not purposely stop their organization’s growth, challenges emerge.

They can include issues with business development and sales strategy; operational efficiencies and automation; hiring and employee development to become an employer of choice in their industry or community; or financing their growth. The biggest challenge, perhaps, is in evolving into a visionary, or at least strategic, CEO, instead of maintaining a functional executive role, such as the COO, in their business. 

I know what you are thinking, and you are right! Yes, this is where life or executive coaches can come in, as the business owner often reacts to growth challenges as the fires appear rather than preparing for growth and taking proactive personal growth steps. It is not uncommon for me to refer a client to a life coach or executive coach.

When to Hire a Business Coach

Because my ideal client is a small business owner who has growth challenges for positive reasons, when I come in as a business coach is typically well after the owner has started the business.

However, there are business coaches who excel at the leadership development of the next owner of the business or focus on helping brand-new business owners navigate startup challenges, and in those circumstances too, a business coach may be invited into the picture.

Business coaches’ expertise can vary. There are business coaches who specialize in preparing business owners to finance their growth, for example.

On occasion, you will find me doing that or coaching owners of part-time businesses who are testing the waters before making the leap of going full-time in their business and leaving their job behind for what may be better. Again, “when” can be key.

Where to Find a Business Coach

Where do business coaches coach? I have a fairly strong opinion on this, but that is because of how my coaching practice has developed. 

Business coaches certainly coach in-person as well as online via self-paced online modules and live virtual group or individual sessions. However, I believe that a business coach needs to understand the business as a whole, not just the business owner that they are coaching. 

How does a business coach do this? We walk the plant with our clients. If they own a virtual company, we decide together how we will schedule regular virtual meetings. As a business coach, there is certainly data to consider, but experience and even one’s gut have to be involved as well. 

As I was walking the factory floor with the CEO of a company, he told me that his primary challenge was financing his company’s growth. Walking that floor, I saw that he had more problems than his relationship with his banker.

He did not know who was working on the floor, and the reaction of his employees to his presence was enough said.

The “what” of the business coach needs to understand what is going on in that business from as many angles as possible. Financial data, employee data – including employee interview data, operational data, sales data, marketing data: yes! We won’t know if that business owner wants a business coach until we learn about the business from more than one source, not just the business owner.

What Makes a Good Business Coach?

My concluding answer to “What is business coaching?” is that business coaches should have, at least on occasion, a business coach of their own. I have hired five coaches myself, and I have been coached by at least a dozen different people throughout my life. Coaches need to be coached, too.

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Ryan Kauth - Guest Author
Ryan Kauth

Ryan Kauth is a business coach and executive who founded the current entrepreneurship program at the University of Wisconsin Green Bay. Over the past 25 years, he has helped hundreds of entrepreneurs grow their businesses. Ryan holds several business degrees and certifications and has taught undergraduate and graduate business students and entrepreneurs.

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