Business Coaching Catches on:
Outside experts help small firms create game plan
December 11, 2000
By Jennifer Martin
In the world
of goal-setting, Michael Kesner thinks big.
When he had
the chance to run his own business, then a second and then a charity,
he did all three. At once.
So, when Mr.
Kesner decided he wanted higher profits three years ago, he did
what he typically does, seized a hot opportunity. He sought out
a business coach, a trend that's exploding among small businesses
and entrepreneurs nationwide.
that up to 20% of American small businesses are using them, up from
4% just four years ago.
only time all week when I focus on the big picture," says Mr.
Kesner, who is trying to concentrate on his primary company, Greater
Chicago Group, an employee benefits agency in Bannockburn. "I'd
be apt to get off track and not spend the appropriate amount of
time toward each (enterprise)."
The result of
the coaching sessions: Profits in his benefits agency are growing
between 35% and 40% annually, up from 25% in his pre-coaching days.
in business coaches is reflected in the scramble to churn out more.
In 1996, Colorado-based Coach University, a virtual college that
trains business coaches nationwide, had 500 students. This year,
the number jumped to 5,000.
Assn. of Business Coaches, a professional organization based in
Clear Spring, Md., with 400 members, counts 1,100 small businesses
among its clientele.
chapter of the International Coach Federation has grown from four
members to 150 since its launch four years ago. Member Cynthia Stringer,
who is Mr. Kesner's coach, estimates that 50% of her clientele is
composed of small businesses.
are driving the trend.
Tips for picking an effective coach
Entrepreneurs should seek an expert who will:
· Ask questions that expand your thinking.
· Have personal and professional characteristics that you'd
like to emulate.
· Have worked with business owners who have faced challenges
· Have creative ideas for various departments, such as administration
· Have a network of resources and contacts to turn to when
faced with a question outside his or her expertise.
· Offer seminars and workshops that speak to your company's
· Have professional training in business coaching.
· Have a flexible schedule and be available between appointments.
· Give you a complimentary 30-minute appointment.
· Give you references from past clients.
Among them is
the virtual marketplace, which puts small businesses on a competitive
field with large ones. The price, a need for sudden expertise in
marketing, distribution, financing and other issues . drives many
small business people to seek help.
are realizing that to be competitive and effective, they can't do
it alone," Ms. Stringer says.
Fans of business
coaching say the services roughly parallel those of a consultant,
but without the high fees.
While a consultant
often demands thousands of dollars an hour, coaches generally charge
between $200 and $600 per hour.
While a consultant
may appoint a team to do the marketing plan and other tasks, a coach
simply points toward the experts or resources needed. It's up to
the business owner to do the work.
I'm the expert. In coaching, you're the expert," says Timothy
Ursiny, a Chicago business coach.
Mr. Ursiny notes, coaches help small business people set their own
just want to be a one-person shop. Other people want to be a huge
business down the road," he says. "I help them start picking
paths to complete that vision."
small businesses' problems often spring from growing pains. For
example, a firm's success may outpace the skill level of its employees.
Coaches, who typically focus on personal as well as professional
issues, can help in a many ways.
employees to training seminars, a coach helps them learn time management,
deal with difficult clients and co-workers and discover their personal
and professional goals.
For Ming Sison,
a Chicago women's clothing designer who owns Designs by Ming, a
need to develop confidence with clients led her to Ms. Stringer.
'You have to be strong and you have to show them that you know what
you're talking about,' " Ms. Sison recalls. Coaching has given
her a personal boost and helped her company become more financially
stable, she adds.
focus is the issue. That's especially true for highly creative entrepreneurs,
business begins to grow, more and more opportunities come into their
field of vision," says Chicago business coach Amy Ruppert.
"The entrepreneur has a tendency to want to grab all of them,
and it dissipates the energy and the momentum of what they originally
set out to do. Almost every entrepreneur will have a history of
failed businesses behind them because of that."
A business coach
helps "keep the client connected to who they are," Ms.
leads to dramatic life changes. Mr. Ursiny says that in one case,
an employee he counseled at the request of a manager ended up resigning
and pursuing a different career.
scared to death as to how the company would react," Mr. Ursiny
says. "(But) they realized that person had been in the wrong
place for 10 years. It wasn't a good match."
kinds of risks, many companies increasingly are using coaching as
a perk. Jeff Sucec, president of Lombard-based Frontline Group FTR,
persuaded four employees to take advantage of coaching, as he has
The best approach,
he says, is to present it as an option, not a requirement.
'I'm going to introduce you to three or four coaches, and here are
a variety of questions you can ask,' " Mr. Sucec says. "Then,
they view that their destiny is more in their hands than that their
fate is dictated."
Mr. Sucec, who
hopes to refer more of his 75 employees to coaching, adds that strict
confidentiality is critical. "I don't know anything that goes
on in the coaching sessions," he says. "And I don't want
publisher of Naperville-based Sourcebooks Inc., said about 15 employees
including herself are receiving coaching from Mr. Ursiny.
been growing 60% to 100% per year (in gross revenues) for the last
five years," says Ms. Raccah, who manages 60 employees. "That's
hard. When you've got that kind of a stress on your organization,
you want to make sure you've got (safety) valves on it, too."
Mr. Ursiny, Sourcebooks employees have learned critical skills from
properly interviewing job applicants to negotiating for high-quality
printing services at reasonable prices, Ms. Raccah says.
In some ways,
small companies are better positioned to take advantage of coaching,
Since they don't
yet have an entrenched corporate culture, they may be more receptive
to creative solutions. But coaches offer this caveat: Coaching is
never easy. On the contrary, it demands growth.
As Ms. Sison
notes, "When there is somebody there who is really after you,
you are more inspired to do things."
©2000 by Crain Communications Inc.
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