Weird segue. My husband and I are keen snowboarders. Once, on a trip to Scotland, we decided to hire an instructor to help us brush up on our skills. Unfortunately the guy who met us on the mountain was so far behind our level of ability, there was nothing he could teach us. We were polite, he was embarrassed, it was over quickly.

In that situation the only real cost was the guy’s dignity, so it was easy to chalk it up to a simple dislocation of expectations. He should’ve been more honest, we could’ve been more clear. But when the same thing happens in business, the damage can be much greater – not only for the business owner, but also to the reputation of a whole profession.

And so, if I was going to write a list of questions to ask yourself before selecting a business coach (we both know that’s exactly what I’m going to do), one of them would definitely be…

Are your expectations aligned?

Or put another way, are you both working towards the same goal? You probably can’t answer that for certain until you’ve chatted, but you should be able to get an idea of what they stand for from their newsletters and the content they post online. Is their approach consistent? Do they offer a clear programme or process? Are they promising a particular outcome? A promise with no process should raise a red flag around how they plan to deliver.

Back to me again. Years ago I hired a business coach to help me grow my digital agency. He had a programme, but there was no timeframe of expectation. It turned out his goal was to make me consciously incompetent and dependent on him. He was keeping me as a meal ticket. When I found him out, I actually flipped the boardroom table (I really did that. Luckily it was Ikea, so basically cardboard). 

A coach should be there for you, not for themselves.

What have they done?

Anyone can create a website and call themselves a coach. Which is a huge part of the problem our industry faces. So interrogate their bio. Does your coach have real-life business experience? Have they done things such as hiring, firing, or nurturing a team? ‘Real life’ really is the kicker here. Talk isn’t enough. You need someone who’s got the t-shirt, earned the battle scars, and understands at least some of the crap you’re going through every day.

Of course, the other thing you absolutely must judge them on is results – their own, and those they’ve got for others. Don’t just focus on what they achieved, the how is also important. When you’re hunkered down together in the trenches, you don't need surprises. You need someone who practices exactly what they’ve been preaching to you about.

Are they respected?

Going with a well-known coach is definitely going to shortcut many of the potential pitfalls. A prominent profile, though, isn’t the only way to separate the tested from the untrustworthy. Accolades and accreditations from credible and legit organisations like Forbes Coaches Council (ahem) should ensure at the very least you’re dealing with someone above board.

Just beware. If they’re touting an accreditation as their main credibility point, make sure it’s not from some cowboy franchise that scoops up randos and turns them into coaches with a few videos and a multiple-choice test. 

Last week I nearly, very nearly signed up to a programme called 'T + F'. Luckily I hesitated after asking a more technical question they couldn't answer. I contacted three of the people on their testimonials and only had one reply. That got me thinking fake, so I went to TrustPilot… and hot damn the reviews are bad. Do your homework.

Does it feel like a good fit? 

Your coach isn’t your BFF, but you will need to be open and be vulnerable with this person. If you’re not comfortable doing that, it’s not going to work.

I have my 'cross-the-road test'. After I’ve met someone I ask myself, if I saw them on the other side of the street, would I avert my eyes to avoid saying hello, politely wave in a non-committal sort of way, or would I cross the street to chat?

If I wouldn't cross the street for them, I certainly wouldn't start a business relationship with them. 

Can you 'try before you buy'? 

I don't believe in asking people to do free work. But does your coach have a short course or a small low-ticket product you can try before you commit to the full package? I do this. Not everyone is right for coaching, or right for me, so I provide books, courses, and content they can try out first. If they like what I say, they may come back and we can take things from there. Slowly. If a coach tries to close you on the first call you’ve had with them, I’d be careful.  

And so, circling back to the question is business coaching one big scam?

No, I don’t think all coaching is a scam. But some ‘coaches’ will certainly take you for a ride. The good ones among us can call them out, but it’s really up to you to kill them off - in a survival of the fittest kind of way. I mean that in the evolutionary sense, not the Hunger Games sense. Although that would be fun.

More from Sian

View all
  • Chat with Airbnb founder, Joe Gebbia

  • Could you be charging a lot more for your services?

  • Get extra mileage out of your content marketing strategy