Coaching: the Best Kept Secret as an Entrepreneur

Coaching: The Best-Kept Secret to Growing as an Entrepreneur

A good coach can turn raw talent into refined expertise and refined talent into renowned success. But how do we bridge “the coaching gap”?
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Sometimes, a change at the top can be the difference between a perennial loser and a surprise contender. For proof, look no further than the Los Angeles Rams, a team which less than a year ago wrapped up a 4-12 season that included a midyear coaching transition.

New coach Sean McVay appears to have energized his players, helping the Rams capture momentum that was completely absent when the team lost seven consecutive games to close out the 2016 season.

And the news there is good: Due to the competitive advantages entrepreneurs enjoy from expert coaching, the marketplace for coaches has started to swell. According to the 2016 Global Coaching study by the International Coach Federation and PricewaterhouseCoopers, global coaching revenue was estimated to be about $2.4 billion in 2015, besting 2011’s figure by a substantial 19 percent.

Not to mention what’s happening with the bigger guys: Up to 40 percent of Fortune 500 companies now work with executive coaches, according to consulting firm Hay Group.

Yet, while executive coaching has gained traction, many startup founders lack access to high-quality coaches. The paradox? They can’t afford an experienced coach, but need one to be able to build their companies to the point of being able to do just that.

What separates a coach from a mentor

posted about this coaching paradox on LinkedIn a while back, and my post attracted a flood of comments. After reading them through, I realized that many people don’t understand the distinction between a mentor and a coach. While these positions might seem similar, there’s actually a world of difference between the two.

“Mentors,” for one thing, don’t usually follow a fixed schedule or require payment. They help with strategic issues, answering questions for founders without actively participating in company operations.

“Coaches,” on the other hand, are not afraid to get their hands dirty. They are typically paid, and operate on, a fixed schedule to help entrepreneurs make themselves better. Mentors offer great advice; coaches ask great questions.

Based on the comments my post attracted, founders of new startups are hungry for a coach. There’s a huge gap in the startup community as it relates to coaching; everyone needs it, but relatively few people are willing to provide it for free. So, what to do?

How to bridge entrepreneurship’s coaching gap

The question is, how do we solve the paradox and match enterprising, young CEOs with talented coaches? The answer to this coaching quandary rests in the basic ecology of entrepreneurship. By studying the interactions between entrepreneurs and their physical environment, a cycle of mutually beneficial coaching exchanges begins to emerge. Here are its three steps:

1. First-time founders: Barter for coaches. Young founders probably can’t afford to shell out more than $1 million a year for coaching sessions with Tony Robbins. Instead, they must find coaches willing to offer their services for a low cost. They also might be able to trade their own services for coaching.

My first coach, James, was also one of my clients when I was running my first company in Ohio. James was a sales coach who asked us to build his new website. When I initially met with him to discuss the project, I accidentally went to the wrong Starbucks. I arrived 15 minutes late for our meeting, which prompted his first lesson: “Be on time when you meet with people. You’re young, and you need to do the little things to ensure that others take you seriously and treat you as a professional.”

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