Business coaches and business mentors are extremely valuable assets to small business owners.
Business mentor: A business mentor, primarily, is relationship-oriented (therefore a long-term commitment). Mentors tend to be concerned about the growth and success of the business owner as an individual. Their first role is to listen to the goals, dreams, and challenges of running the business and provide wisdom and advice that will shape both the individual business owner and how they run the business.
A mentor is a must-have for any small business owner who wants to grow and run a successful business. Nonetheless, a mentor is not a substitute for a business coach, and they each accomplish very different—very necessary—objectives for your business.
Business coach: A business coach helps your business tackle specific tasks and objectives (for example, helping through the process of bringing on a business partner or managing a software implementation). The coach helps set the objectives, determines the number of sessions needed to meet the goal, and charges a fee for the service. The relationship with a business coach is most often short-term, and you could make use of several different coaches over the life of your business.
Business coaches, too, are must-haves for small business owners. But when many entrepreneurs see that fee, they cringe. The gut reaction might be to hunker down and solve the problem on your own, just like you've done for so many other areas of your business. But don't worry about how you can't afford to hire a business coach because the truth is, you can't afford not to hire a business coach.
How will a business coach help your business?
As an entrepreneur, you started as a specialist: You had a great idea for a business, and you launched. As a newfound business owner, you're now stuck with the job of the generalist. This can work for a while, but you'll soon realize that you don't have time to stay on top of all the things you need to do or challenges too complex for your experience. You can continue to hack it, or you can get some help.
1. Strategy and planning
A coach will challenge you to think differently, stretching your goals. Sure, you have lofty expectations for your business, but to rebound your strategy off someone who's walked this road before—pointing out pitfalls, areas you need to strengthen—this is invaluable. Someone with a unique but proven wherewithal strategy will push you harder while also keeping your approach on course.
Technology plays an ever-increasing role in small businesses, and it can be tough to keep up. Tech helps small businesses gain a competitive advantage by communicating better with their employees, customers, and prospects, saving time and improving efficiency by automating their processes, and improving business performance through business analytics. Coaches have the skills needed to successfully deploy new technology, manage integrations, and consult on the best options for your unique situation.
Coaches and mentors help improve your management and leadership skills. As your business grows, your role will evolve into a greater and greater management capacity. Coaches will help you navigate complex business problems and decisions and help set a foundation early on to handle some of the big, inevitable management storms that lie ahead.
4. Marketing advice
Especially in the early stages of a small business, the entire marketing strategy and effort falls on the business owner's shoulders. Coaches can help you see what you're not seeing. A seasoned business coach who has experience with branding, marketing strategy, and tactics can lift your sales numbers and keep you from spinning your wheels on what doesn't work.
5. Grow the business
It doesn't matter so much where you are now, as long as you're clear on where you're headed. A coach will help you address the areas of your business that need nurturing to ensure you stay on track to healthy growth. Perhaps the most important factor to staying on track is having someone to be accountable to. It's easy to let yourself off the hook. A coach can serve as an accountability partner, helping you push through the challenges to meet your goal.
Bottom line: When you run out of time in a day to “learn while doing,” or when the margin of error for learning from your mistakes is gone, you look for expert help to provide guidance and work through complex problems quickly.
To be clear, coaching and mentoring is two-way street. You get the most from it when you put effort into the relationship. You still have to run your business, and you're responsible for what happens.
As with every relationship, you can't expect that there will always be a perfect fit. The small business owners interviewed for our report warned that not all coaches or mentors were effective or worth their fees. But they found that the internet made it easier to find and vet qualified coaches who add value to their firms. These same businesses went on to say that good coaching was extremely valuable—indeed, it was more than worth their investments in these areas.
The business environment continuously grows in complexity and at a rapid pace. Keep in mind that as your business moves through stages of growth, your key business challenges will inevitably change. Also, recognizing those new challenges will require changes in managing your business. If you want to stay competitive during growth and change, don't be afraid to ask for help along the way.