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Business Trends: Business coaching

In a slump? Maybe it’s time to consider calling in a specialist

Most business owners seek a business coach during times of transition or crisis.
By Joanne Friedrick
July 05, 2011

Business coaching is a lot like baseball, according to Lynda Martin, owner of Goodwin Growth Works in Atlanta. Teams have specialists — hitting instructors, strength trainers and pitching experts — but they also have an overall manager who sees to it that everything works together for the best outcome.

In her practice, Martin works primarily with small businesses with fewer than 50 employees. Life coaches tend to work with individuals, and executive coaches assist the CEOs and VPs at the corporate level, but the business coach “occupies the middle ground,” she says, “working on business systems and effectiveness and, when necessary, personal effectiveness.”

With small businesses, she says, it’s especially important to be efficient and effective.

“You can’t afford to take a wrong turn,” she says. Employing a business coach is like hiring an adviser who understands the basics and can point the business owner in the right directions.

Typically, there are two kinds of people who need the services of a business coach, says Kurk Lalemand, who heads up Next Level Business Coaching in Auburn, Maine. Technicians “are better at doing what they do than they are at running a business,” he says. This group may include a former restaurant manager who now wants to open his own seafood restaurant, or a fisherman who decides it’s time to get into distribution.

People who have been successful doing part of a bigger job or who are entering a new phase may not have all the skills necessary to set up and successfully operate their own venture.

The others who come to Lalemand for help, he says, are the people who want to take their business to the next level.

“It’s time to hire a business coach when a person realizes they are starting to hold themselves and their company back,” says Martin. “They can’t find or don’t have the time to look for the information that is important for that move to the next level.”

Martin identifies eight areas on which she works with clients: marketing, sales, customer service, leadership, human resources, financial management, gross profit and systemization, which includes areas such as computers and software. “Every area needs a process,” she says, although areas can often overlap or intersect.

Lalemand takes a similar approach, grouping these tasks into three areas: products and services, marketing and sales and administration and finance.

While it takes a very self-aware businessperson to bring in a coach when a business is starting up, says Martin, both she and Lalemand note that most people look for a coach during a period of transition or crisis.

“There is a burning understanding that the business is changing or needs to change,” says Lalemand. For some it may be the succession of the business from parent to child, or a troubled partnership that needs help with communication and reorganization of duties to keep the business solvent.

Usually it’s some kind of problem that pushes a person to seek a coach, says Martin. Maybe it’s a cash flow issue or an inability to find and retain good workers or a drop in sales.

“It takes a big person to say ‘This could be better,’” he notes. Sticking with the baseball analogy, Martin says while coaches are invested in the outcome, they aren’t “in the game. We’re on the sidelines. We use analytical tools to figure out the weak spots in the business” and then make recommendations as well as assign tasks for the business owner to carry out.

The business-coaching industry is a relatively new one, says Lalemand, growing out of the counseling field. Counselors who handled business owners therapeutically saw an opportunity to cross over to coaching them on their business. Lalemand’s background is as a consultant on workplace-violence issues, while Martin has worked as a project manager for corporations as well as with entrepreneurs.

“I work with people who come to me for answers, so I give them options,” says Lalemand. That includes weekly meetings with a to-do list that he reviews with his clients. While not a counselor, Lalemand does see his role “as a cheerleader when they are successful and someone to provide inspiration when they are down.”

Both Lalemand and Martin say the relationship between coach and client isn’t a one-day, quick-fix situation. Lalemand requires a three-month commitment, and has had clients for as long as four years.

“It often takes a year or more to implement change,” says Martin, who urges business owners to look for certified coaches. Both Martin and Lalemand are certified by the Professional Business Coaches Alliance.

“It’s unrealistic to think habits of a lifetime will change in a week,” says Martin. “Coaching is for people who want to be in business for the long haul.”

Costs can vary by a business owner’s needs, location and the time commitment, but rates typically run from $50 to $300 an hour.

Martin offers a free evaluation so customers can determine if coaching is right for them, she notes.

Coaches are needed in good times and bad, says Lalemand. “Every business needs to run as well as it can, whatever the climate.” When things are bad, he notes, they seek improvement, and when times are better, owners look to expand.

What it comes down to, says Lalemand, is priorities. “People get caught up in working in the business, not on the business,” he says. “But everyone who sits across the table from me is 100 percent invested in what they are doing. For me, it’s a pleasure to come to work everyday.”

Contributing Editor Joanne Friedrick lives in Portland, Maine

July 2011 - SeaFood Business 

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