Do I need a small business coach?
Do I really need a small business coach?
If your best friend was a multi-millionaire, do you think you’d know how to make a few quid too?
What if the five people you spend the most time with had run successful small businesses, do you think they could help you to run yours better?
Imagine you had the phone number, email address, or could jump on a Zoom call with people who’ve built multiple businesses and generated significant wealth for them and their families, do you think they could help you avoid some of the mistakes they made along the way, and let you know some of the shortcuts they’ve discovered?
That’s the power of a good small business coach. But should every small business have a coach?
Important Disclaimer: I’m a small business coach.
Yep, I’m totally biased. I run a small business coaching group. But even if I didn’t, I’d still be encouraging most small business owners to hire a coach.
Most, but not all. You see, some businesses are so small and simple to run that they wouldn’t benefit from working alongside a coach. And some business owners simply aren’t coachable. They think they know it all, aren’t open to new ideas, and can’t take inspiration outside of their sector.
In my opinion, these people should (and usually do!) avoid coaches like the plague.
But if you run a reasonable-sized small business, and are coachable? Well, then you could see a very healthy return on your investment in a small business coach.
What is a small business coach?
No one knows your business better than you, right? After all, you’re on the front lines, day after day. You know all your processes inside-out, and most of your customers by name. What can a small business coach possibly do that you can’t?
The greatest advantage a small business coach has is that they’re not running your business. You see, you’re too close to it. That often means that you can’t see the wood for the trees.
You don’t know what you don’t know.
Tunnel vision is great for focusing on a task, but it can also keep small business owners stuck in a vicious circle. You get frustrated because you’re not seeing results, so you keep doing what you’re doing – only harder. To an outsider, it’s obvious that tunnel vision is the problem, and that a different approach is needed.
For decades, I’ve employed dozens of coaches and sought out a load of mentors – for this exact reason: I don’t know what I don’t know – so I want to be challenged by an outside perspective.
When I slice my golf drive for the umpteenth time and haven’t a clue what’s gone wrong because “that’s the swing I’ve always used”, it takes the outside perspective of my golf coach to tell me that I’ve forgotten to drop my shoulder, or that I’m trying to hit the ball too hard.
And that’s why it takes my Chiropractor’s outside perspective to know that my hip pain is actually being caused by tight hamstrings. I would never have worked that out for myself – you don’t know, what you don’t know.
And so it is with small business coaches. A good coach will help you identify the real challenges in your business, provide guidance (or signpost resources) to fix those challenges, and crucially – are not emotionally attached to the business as you are. Like my chiropractor, a good small business coach takes your description of the “pain”, identifies the true root cause of that pain, and gives you the plan to make everything better.
What are the benefits of a small business coach?
A good coach won’t just fix the problems you know about. Oh no, they’ll help you identify and resolve problems that you didn’t know you had. And in many cases, before they become a problem.
You don’t know what you don’t know – and you don’t know it all. Do you?
Legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden famously told all of his students:
“It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts the most. It is very easy to believe you have all of the answers, especially when you begin to enjoy some success.”
Coach Wooden was striving for the same thing I am – constant, never-ending improvement.
When I first started my business, I knew that I knew nothing, so I spent a lot of time reading and learning. But after a few years, I started having some success and naively thought I’d “made it”. As far as I was concerned, there was nothing any small business coach could teach me. I knew it all.
And then I got a kick up the arse. Overnight, Google took away all my traffic, killing every one of my businesses. Suddenly I realised I didn’t know everything after all – and that was the moment I sought out a coach.
Even then, I didn’t think they could help me that much (I wasn’t very coachable, back then!). I told my coach that I knew almost everything, but maybe they could help me squeeze an extra 20% out of my business.
Instead, they lit a fire underneath me. I soon realised that not only did I not know everything, but that I actually barely knew anything. I had tunnel vision and was far too emotionally engaged with my business. Once again, I couldn’t see the wood for the trees.
Encouraged by my coach to embrace constant, never-ending improvement, I started consuming books by the dozen. I attended training courses, and listened to podcasts and audiobooks. I’d book one-to-one training sessions, sought out a mentor, and crucially, implemented all that I’d learnt.
I didn’t squeeze an extra 20% out of my business. Instead, I grew it by 400% over the next 18 months, taking it to a level that I never ever dreamed of. And all by doing things that I never even knew existed.
After all, you don’t know what you don’t know.
What happens if you don’t work with a coach?
In short, nothing. You’re in complete control – answerable to no one. Brilliant, eh?
Except that without smart people questioning you, holding you accountable, and helping you think objectively and dispassionately about the key decisions that decide your fortune, you could very well be in complete control – driving 100mph in the wrong direction.
Back in 2020, I recorded a special episode of the Ambitious Lifestyle Business podcast, in which I took listeners on a whistle-stop tour of my first twenty years of running small businesses.
From y2k bugs, dot-com bubbles bursting, and the shock of 9/11 to the 2008 financial crisis, nervous breakdowns and of course a global pandemic – it’s been far from plain sailing over the last two decades.
During the episode though, I made a startling discovery – my best years were almost always when I was working with a coach. Success came from constant, never-ending improvement – accepting that I didn’t know it all, and with a determination to learn, implement and grow.
By contrast, those “low” years were when my ego got the better of me. When I truly thought I “knew it all” and “didn’t need” a coach, a mentor, or to be learning anything new.
Of course, no one “needs” a small business coach. But twenty years of experience has shown me that it’s still a bloody good idea to have one. Or maybe more than one?
What does a small business coach do?
Confession time: I don’t have a small business coach. In fact, I have several.
You see, I’ve got a coach who specialises in marketing, one who works exclusively on my mindset, and another who grills me on my metrics and numbers. I’ve also got a coach who helps with personal finances, and another who I can go to for help writing copy or creating funnels.
The key thing for me is specialisation – I wouldn’t want to work with a generalist small business coach. I want to work with specialists.
If you’re dipping your toe in the water of hiring a coach, however, then finding a decent generalist is better than the alternative – winging it all by yourself.
A good coach won’t tell you what to do. They’re not there to give advice. Their job is to ask you the tough questions. You want them to play devil’s advocate, to help you see the wood for the trees. To know what you don’t know. A coach’s job is to help you discover answers and strategies for yourself. They’re not there to hand you the right answers on a plate. Give a man a fish…
Should I hire a small business coach near me?
No. Oh hell no. Why on earth would you do that?
Your number one criteria when choosing a small business coach should be skills – not location. After all, you want to work with a really good coach, not one who happens to live near you.
You want a really good coach, with a track record of helping dozens of people just like you before. Ideally, you should be able to build rapport with them. They must also be able to have tough conversations with you, and truly get to know you and your business.
Ideally, they will be a specialist – either in your sector or for the specific skill(s) you’re hiring them to coach you in. That could be copywriting, marketing, leadership, financial, or, in the case of my own coaching group: ambitious lifestyle business design.
My group coaching platform, the One Percent Club is online – with members all over the UK. I don’t live within 200 miles of most of my coaching clients. Yet I can still deliver the results they’re looking for – helping them design and operate their dream lifestyle business.
By contrast, I’ve met many small business coaches who live near me – and I wouldn’t let most of them near my business with a very large bargepole. Of course, they’ve read a couple of business books. They may have done a little self-employed work (which is very different from running a small business), and think that qualifies them to coach on the front lines. You see, they’re theorists – and theory can only take you so far. I want my coaches to be the expert in their field, not a generalist who’s read a few books.
As the saying goes – those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach. (and I’m married to a teacher – I get a dead arm every time I repeat that saying!)
How do I find a small business coach?
When hiring a coach, I would always recommend… a recommendation.
Specifically, a recommendation from someone who has actually worked with that coach firsthand, and ideally achieved the same (or similar) results that you’re looking for. Even better, multiple firsthand accounts of people vouching for them. There’s a reason my One Percent Club sales page is full of testimonials and case studies. I’ve got a track record of delivering results for dozens and dozens of clients all over the UK.
That’s why I share that abundance of evidence with potential new clients. I encourage any potential new One Percenter to seek out any of the clients I’ve worked with, and ask them what it’s like to work with me.
Ask your network who they would recommend – with ONE important caveat. The question you want to ask is this: “Can you recommend a small business coach, who could help me with this specific goal, or to help me overcome this specific problem?”
Unfortunately, most people seem to answer this question instead: “Does anyone know a small business coach?”
It really annoys me when people confuse “who can you recommend?” with “who do you know?”. I see people recommending businesses that I know they’ve never worked with. And all because they’re in the same networking group, they’re friends on Facebook, or their kids went to school together.
I’ve been part of networking groups where referrals are anything but optional. If you want to stay in the group, you have to use the group’s accountant, the group’s printer, and the group’s web designer. I’m sorry, but that’s not a network. That’s a cartel.
Prospective clients end up choosing the wrong product or service, just because lots of people know them. Knowing someone is not the same as knowing, liking, and trusting them! Even I’ve been recommended as a small business coach, by people who I’ve never spoken with, let alone coached. Which begs the question: how can they possibly risk their reputation and vouch for me, when they’ve never actually worked with me?
If I find myself being asked to recommend someone I’ve not worked with first-hand, I will always add a caveat: “I’ve not actually worked with them, but I’ve heard good things about Company A”, or “You could try Company B. I’ve not used them myself though, so can’t vouch for them”.
In my mind, when you recommend someone, you risk your reputation. When someone recommends you, they’ve risked their reputation, and you hold that reputation in your hands. So, treat it well.
What’s the difference between small business coaching and mentoring?
A coach doesn’t necessarily need to have achieved what you’re looking to do. After all, the world’s best tennis coaches could never play at the level the players they’re coaching can.
Jose Mourinho was a decidedly average footballer – playing a mere 94 games in the lower leagues of Portuguese football. But an interpreter job led to “the Special One” being promoted to the coaching staff at Barcelona – and going on to become one of the most successful football coaches in the world.
For a coach, the ability to coach is far more important than their ability to do what they’re coaching. Beware the coach who can’t pay the rent though. Whilst their past success isn’t as important as their coaching ability, you still want them to know what success (as well as failure) looks like.
For a mentor, however, you would normally expect them to have been there, done that, and sold the T-shirt business for several million pounds. Whilst coaches can talk a good game, mentors should have walked the walk as well as talked the talk.
A small business coach should grow the business owner – which in turn grows the business.
A small business mentor can provide the blueprints to follow in their footsteps – to achieve what they already have, and to replicate their success.
How to ask someone to be your mentor
How do you ask someone to be your mentor? You don’t.
Do you know how many times successful business owners are asked to mentor someone? It’s pretty much a daily request for anyone prominent. I’ve been fortunate enough to learn from dozens of different mentors – and I didn’t send a single “will you mentor me?” begging letter to any of them.
What I did do was:
- Learn everything I could from them before contacting them. Read all their books,. Watch their YouTube videos, and listen to their podcasts. Know them inside-out, so you’re not asking them the same entry-level questions that every other wannabe-mentee is asking.
- Implement what they teach before contacting them. Demonstrate that you’re worth their time because you’re an implementer. This works, because most people aren’t.
- Make the first dozen (at least) contacts about “digging the well”. Don’t pitch a mentor/mentee relationship. Don’t ask to “pick their brains”, “grab a quick coffee” or “have 5 mins of their time”. Just thank them for the content they’ve produced, and let them know what action you’ve taken. Once again demonstrating that you’re smarter than the average bear – you’ve taken their advice AND implemented it).
- Find ways to help them first. Make intelligent comments on their social media posts. Introduce them to people in your network who can help them achieve their goals. Invite them on your podcast, or write about them in your latest blog post.
- Then, ask one question – and make it a good one. Don’t write War and Peace. Take the time to make your request as short and sweet as possible. The key is to allow them more time to answer your question than read it!
- Respect their time. Don’t bug them if they don’t reply immediately, or as in-depth as you would like.
- Keep “digging the well” – the best mentor/mentee relationships play out over years. Keep helping them wherever you can – and keep being the sort of student they would love to help in return.
You can even be your own mentor.
For the last twenty-two years, I’ve been mentored by Warren Buffett. Buffett is the most successful investor of all time, and one of the richest men on the planet. At the time of writing, Buffett has a net worth in excess of $110bn.
I have been mentored by Buffett. He just doesn’t know it.
Warren Buffett and I have never met – and likely never will. After all, he’s 91 years old, famously protective of his time, and lives 4,175 miles away in Omaha, Nebraska. But I’ve studied Buffett (together with his partner in crime Charlie Munger) for more than two decades. I’ve read every book and every newspaper article ever written about him. Not only that, but I’ve devoured almost every interview he’s given, and every documentary about him.
You could say I’m a bit of a fan-boy. If you’ve read any of my books (or had a conversation with me), you’ll have heard me quoting Warren Buffet at some point. Warren Buffett is my business hero. I’m modelling myself on his blueprint.
Sure, I’ve no desire whatsoever to amass a 12-figure net worth as the Oracle of Omaha has done in his lifetime. Having said that, I do want to fully embrace Warren Buffett’s down-to-earth, common-sense, plain-English view of the world.
I’m also keen to leverage his greatest weapon (compounding), and live a life that’s even half as enjoyable as his. I want to be as grounded and true to my roots as the guy worth $110bn, who lives in the same house he bought in 1957, drives a 20-year-old rustbucket, and who’s favourite gourmet meal involves a cheeseburger and a Cherry Coke.
“Long before Dad became America’s economic oracle, adviser to Presidents and writer of op-eds reassuring a depressed nation that all is not lost—my father was a supremely successful but largely anonymous investor.
He was a regular guy who was known and revered only by the kind of folks who go to sleep with a copy of Graham (Benjamin Graham – Buffett’s mentor) and Dodd (Graham’s co-author David Dodd) under their pillow.
And he’s basically the same guy now.”
Peter Buffett (Warren’s Son)
Because I’ve read, watched and listened to so much of Buffett’s thoughts and commentary over the last two decades now, I’ve got an insight into how the great man himself thinks.
Whenever I’ve got a business problem, opportunity, or choice, I ask myself one question, leveraging the greatest mentor I never met:
“What would Warren Buffett do?”
You can do the same with your favourite authors, TED speakers, podcast hosts, and business heroes. Want to join a Mastermind with Richard Branson, Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk? Create your own “virtual mastermind”. Once you know these people inside-out, their thought processes, attitude to risk, self-talk etc – you can simply ask yourself that question:
What would Richard Branson do?
Which path would Jeff Bezos take?
How would Elon Musk approach this?
Meet your heroes ONCE – and they can mentor you for LIFE.
If you manage to get some time with your dream mentor and can ask them the right questions, they can continue to mentor you virtually for life. Every year, Warren Buffett auctions off a three-hour lunch date to raise money for a homelessness charity. In 2019, cryptocurrency investor and BitTorrent CEO Justin Sun paid $4,567,888 for lunch with Buffett. Now, that’s an expensive lunch by anyone’s standards. But as I write several years later, Justin will still be reaping the rewards of that three-hour meeting.
If Justin asked Buffett the right questions, and truly got to understand how the great man’s mind works, he could summon that conversation and the many highly-leveraged lessons that he will have taken away from the lunch – for the rest of his life.
I had one, very quick conversation with former Dragon’s Den star Doug Richard back in 2009. But that conversation took part at a pivotal point in my career. I’d recently become a parent and wanted to ease off the accelerator pedal after almost a decade of growing my business – growth for growth’s sake. I said to him that I quite liked the idea of a lifestyle business, but that I was concerned about what people would think – and specifically mentioned Doug’s former Dragon’s Den co-star Peter Jones, who it appeared to me, was always particularly disparaging of lifestyle businesses.
“He’s wrong, ” Doug told me. “You see, he wants to invest in top-line businesses – with huge turnover and small profits. Lifestyle businesses focus on the bottom line – with small turnover and (relatively) large profits.” Doug went on to blog about this a year later, including the classic line “Personally, I run a lifestyle business and he can f**k off”. Thus, my own ambitious, lifestyle business was born – and that lesson (from a ten-minute conversation) has stayed with me for more than a decade.
I can still picture Nigel, one of my early mentors giving me the evil eye and asking “what have you done today to get any new customers, John?”. I recall Terry, who I spent a weekend working with – expanding my comfort zone with a hula hoop. Any time I feel low on confidence, I summon Terry from my memory banks and recall the lesson.
In the last year, I’ve been lucky enough to meet highly successful business owners such as Neville Wright and Gerald Ratner. Despite only being in their presence for a few hours, I was able to ask the right questions and gain lifelong lessons from them.
Those lessons will stay with me forever: The “simple strategy” of a lifetime collecting assets, and the source of true happiness beyond “making more money.”
I think of those lessons often and can summon Neville or Gerald in my mind, any time I need to ponder an opportunity or issue that their lessons could help me with.
Surprisingly, I only met them once, but they’ll be mentoring me for life.
Will you mentor me?
I’m busy running my own ambitious, lifestyle businesses – so I don’t have the capacity to mentor anybody 1-2-1.
Nor do I have hours of spare time, where I can “grab a quick coffee” with you or let you “pick my brains”.
If you read everything I’ve written, listen to everything I say – and follow my advice – do you think you’d be successful?
Yes, I am a small business coach – you can find more information about my group coaching platform here. But I only open the doors twice a year – in March and September, and I always advise that you do your homework first – read all of my books. Start getting my weekly emails. Listen to every episode of the ALB podcast. Download podcasts where I’ve been a guest. And then – crucially – start doing what I talk about in those free (or low cost) resources before you join my coaching group – you’ll really hit the ground running that way, and I can coach you far better if you’re not starting from ground zero.
Conclusion: Is a Small Business Coach worth it?
- Do business coaches really work? If you’re not coachable – no.
- If you choose a lousy coach – no.
- If you choose the wrong coach for you and your goals – no.
- If your goals are small or unambitious – no.
- If you don’t do what your coach tells you – no.
But if you’re willing to listen, follow a plan, accept difficult or uncomfortable truths, work hard and choose well – then hell yes!
Choosing a small business coach could well be the best investment you ever make.
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DON’T YOU WISH GROWING YOUR BUSINESS COULD BE LESS STRESSFUL?
Could you improve your business by just 1% this week? Note: I said “improve”, NOT "grow" your business - growth might not be what you need.
More customers, more leads, more staff, more stress might be the last thing you need.
You might actually need more profit. more margin. more leverage.
More time, less stress, and a business that relies less on you as the "font of all knowledge and the godlike genius through which everything must flow".
For you, the answer could be a smaller team, less customers, and fewer products.
The One Percent Club won't help you grow your business. It'll help you IMPROVE it - 1% at a time. Baby steps. Steady, predictable improvement - towards the kind of business you wanted when you first started - one that delivers a fantastic lifestyle, and serves you rather than you serving it.
John released his first book “Big Ideas… for Small Businesses” in 2017, and it shot straight to the #1 bestseller list for Small Business and Entrepreneurship on Amazon, outselling books by Richard Branson, Alan Sugar and Duncan Bannatyne combined.
Since then, it’s sold thousands and thousands of copies all over the world, and attracted more than 100 five-star reviews. But more importantly, it’s changed the lives of small business owners all over the world, who now understand that running a lifestyle business isn’t a bad thing.
I think you’ll like it…
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