To know, is to know that you know nothing. That is the meaning of true knowledge. – Confucius
Once upon a business coach…
I remember the conversation quite well. My business partner, Phil, came into my office to discuss a phone call he just finished. A random telemarketer called. They were inquiring if we would be interested in having an initial consultation with a business coach that worked in our area. As I’m writing this today I’m thinking, “why in the hell did he even get that far in the conversation to find out that much information to begin with!” We were only 25 at the time. We still entertained conversations with telemarketers.
In hindsight, this inquisitive trust in the random caller was probably a blessing and a curse. Some of this opportunity chasing led to personal and business growth, while some of it nearly took us under. Either way, I digress. We certainly weren’t skeptical at the notion of what a business coach could bring to the table. A sense of curiosity is how we discussed it, sprinkled with a dash of hope. “Maybe this is what we need to push us to the next level,” I said to Phil. “We’ll just have to see then won’t we,” he replied ever so confidently…not.
The Start of Something Good
That was 8 years ago. We had that conversation with the business coach. Several conversations in fact. We decided to go forward with it. It was a lot of money at the time, somewhere around 5% of our total expenses. A credit card was our only means to pay for it. We probably had more hope than expectations that it would work in the end. We wanted answers and less problems.
After several months, we picked up some nuggets here and there. I can’t say we were ecstatic about any of the results. He was a great guy, but he had come from the corporate world and big business. As great as his resume was from a big business perspective, it was missing everything one might need to start something small and make it work. Forget big, survival is a whole ‘nother ball game.
Needless to say he didn’t last long as a business coach. I think we were one of only two, maybe three clients. He said his goodbye, back to big business he was going, and handed us off to one his cohorts under the same coaching franchise. That’s when I met Rich, and the start of a business relationship, eventually friendship, that is carrying strong to this day.
Why in the hell did he even get that far in the conversation to find out that much information to begin with! – The Backboard, early 2008
Fast Forward to Profitable Times
I don’t intend to cover every conversation, milestone, or other significant moment during the last 7 or so years. I won’t talk about the moments of despair and how he talked me off of the “ledge” on a semi-regular basis. I’ll leave out the stories of how he would continually help and guide us to land our next biggest client(s). I’ll brush off the many times we almost weren’t going to make it another month but worked (with our coach) to find ways to keep it going. Instead, I’ll boil it up to these main points as to what a business coach did, and didn’t do, to help us get from less than $200K a year in revenue to over $5M plus while maintaining anywhere from a 30-50% profit margin.
1. Keeping us on Track
Sometimes you just need someone to slap you upside the head when you get lost. As young entrepreneurs we were often lured by the glitter of a new business idea or opportunity that came our way. It seems to be a common trait of most entrepreneurs, gazing into the great beyond for the next buzz. But where one idea starts, another one gets left in the dust. Great success comes with taking a good idea or concept to the finish line. Intense focus, persistence, and iteration are some of the key ingredients to a successful endeavor. Rich was there to guide us back on track when we needed it. Any good coach helps the coachee focus on what needs to be done right in front of them so they achieve what they want five steps ahead. A business coach is no different.
2. Golden Nuggets of Opportunity
At times we landed ourselves on the doorstep of some big opportunities with little to no clue on how to proceed. All we needed was a few tips from someone that had been there and done that to help us navigate said opportunity. I remember when we landed our first major client project at over $1M. 4 times any previous engagement to date, it was the little things we discussed with our coach that landed the deal. Say this, not that. Focus on this, highlight that. We walked through the sales presentation, essentially practicing, just like a quarterback does before the Super Bowl. Walking through different scenarios and objections and how to respond in a constructive way. Each time we encountered a new opportunity that looked promising, we would go through a similar exercise.
3. Navigating Many a Difficult Situation
Running a business brings upon many new experiences to say the least. From our first hire to our first fire there were so many treacherous pitfalls to navigate. Handle a delicate situation the right way and there is minimal unintended consequences. Handle it the wrong way and the collateral damage is widespread. I don’t know how many of these situations came up, a great deal of them were related to employee management. I can say we wouldn’t have gotten through it without someone with the experience that had been there before. And not to mention advice from someone that didn’t bear the weight of the emotions of the situation either. If you’ve been in business long enough, you’ll never see it all but you will have seen enough to know how to deal with most anything and this is what our business coach did for us.
4. Connections Galore
My “network” in the early days of the business didn’t add up to more than one hand of a three fingered man. I didn’t come from the digital industry and was a fresh from the midwest immigrant to the DFW metroplex to boot. To make matters worse, I don’t think I’ve ever been much of a networker to begin with. Our first “real” accountant, was referred by my business coach. So was my first lawyer, my first financial advisor, and my first HR consultant. In addition, 15-20 other business owners that were also his clients, offered me the ability and privilege to connect with peers on a semi-regular basis. Among many things, these discussions included ideas on how to run a better business and some group therapy on how not to lose your mind in the process . You might not believe it but even a digital agency can get some priceless advice from a plumbing company.
5. Confidence Abound
I once heard a saying that the worst thing you can do is “run enthusiastically in the wrong direction.” I might tend to agree and disagree with this statement. It is often hard to tell what the “right direction” actually is when owning a business. I believe in running enthusiastically AND confidently in a particular direction. As long as I am willing to change course as needed, then I expect to fare alright. Having a coach gave me the confidence to navigate difficult situations. While also giving me the invaluable experience that I could continue to leverage time and time again.
I would probably cringe if I watched a video of the first time we had let someone go. Now days (and I still feel this is the worst part of being a business owner), I can at least maneuver the situation in the best way possible. I have confidence in the decision, and confidence in the way it is handled. A business coach can be a crutch of sorts to help you gain your balance. When you are ready to walk on your own, you’ll have the confidence to be able to do it.
A final thought…
There are probably numerous other ways that a coach helped me learn the nuances of business and life for that matter. However, why is it more of a rarity than a norm for owners to have a business coach? Why is it that so many business owners are intent at “rolling their own,” instead of engaging with an expert that can help them navigate the many pitfalls likely to take a business under? The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that roughly 50% of small businesses make it 5 years and around 33% make it up to 10 years or more.
This calculation is only on the number of businesses that exist. I’m certain the number gets worse if you create objective measures to determine the determine the difference between failure and success versus simple existence or survival. I’ve long said that with a couple of wrong moves or misfortunes at the wrong time and I’d be writing this blog post from the position of a failed business owner rather than a successful one.
As a society we hire teachers, trainers, and other various coaches for ourselves and our kids for just about everything. The business of business is business. You can be the best at your craft in the world, but if you aren’t good at running a business, you are going to be a BLS statistic. If you are a business owner, find a good business coach, they can probably save you or earn you their fee in three minutes.
Thanks for reading.