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Tuesday, November 19, 2002 

ear Today's Coach Reader:

When you are coaching a small business, should the owner be your client, or the business be your client?

Both are viable; here are some suggestions about having the business be your client.

Ever since I started coaching 20 years ago, I've always felt that the owner of a small/medium-sized business should be my client, not his/her business.  After all, isn't all coaching personal?  

That's how I felt for the longest time... And here's a simple model of it.

Until recently, that is.  That's when I met Richard Reardon, a small business coach based in Pasadena, California. (

Richard's approach is -- for many of us -- revolutionary.

His approach is to be the coach of the company, NOT the coach of the owner.  Yet, he coaches the owner as well.

Here's a simple model of his approach...

Richard's approach in a nutshell.
Here's what Richard has found to work....

1. The owner is more open to coaching when his company is the client.
If you try to coach the owner/entrepreneur directly, you'll likely get pushback, especially if you are asking for personal, style or system changes. But if you can stand shoulder-to-shoulder with your client and both of you focus/look at the business, there is far less pushback because there is nothing personal to push back on -- both of you are focused on the same thing -- the success/growth of that business.

2.  When the focus is on the company, the owner pays attention.
It's in the best interest of any owner/entrepreneur to improve how his/her company is organized, managed and leveraged.  When, for example, the focus is on making structural changes in order to improve profitability, the owner looks at his/her company in a fresh way instead of feeling the pressure to change personally.  Yet, the owner does/will change when they can see that it's best for the company.

3.   Most entrepreneurs benefit from shifting from the entrepreneurial model to the leadership model.
And, having the coaching focus on the company instead of the owner, the owner naturally 'grows up' and looks freshly at what must be done in order for the company to do better.  Bottom line is that the owner begins to work for the company instead of the company being an extension of the owner.  This is a significant change in orientation.  And a life-changing one.  It's a shift from "my business" to "the business."  With that cutting of the self-referencing tether, the owner becomes more open to making the changes they need to make in order for the company to grow/operate well.

4.   The owner comes to trust that the coach is there for their business -- this leads to long term contracts/relationships.
After all, any entrepreneur will start several business over their lifetime and once they know that the coach is there for THE GOOD OF THE BUSINESS, they'll always want the coach around -- because the advice/strategies are targeted toward the project, not the person.

5.  The owner will know that the coach will root for what's best for their business.
This is important because most entrepreneurs really want their business to do well.  They want someone who will stand up for what's best for the business, even if it means the entrepreneur will need to change.  (The entrepreneur usually won't change for themselves, but they often will make significant style/personal/management changes for their business.  Sounds funny, but it's usually true.

Two side benefits to the coach...
Richard's company-as-client approach has two side benefits:

1. Richard can position himself as the advocate of a business.  
This is a fresh way to marketing coaching services which will appeal to a segment of business owners.

2. Richard will have more credibility with banks/lenders because they'll refer him to companies who are having financial trouble.
The lenders will know that Richard is there for the business vs getting too chummy with the owner.

Hmmm, but isn't this just consulting packaged as coaching?
Agreed, it does sound that way, doesn't it?  After all, isn't coaching about the person -- the "who?"  And isn't consulting about the company, the "it?"

Two things about that...

1. Coaching is quickly becoming the larger, over-arching term -- larger than consulting.  
It's not there yet, but it's getting there in terms of use/awareness. The line is becoming less necessary.

2. The reason to focus on the business directly as the client is really a clever way to get the owner to change, grow, evolve and become more of a leader.  
A back-door approach, if you will, that causes that.  This, given the front-door, head-on approach usually doesn't work that well with entrepreneurs.

That's all very interesting, but I think I'll keep coaching the owner directly and not go this direction...
That's cool, too.  This isn't an either/or situation.  One approach isn't better than another -- it only matter what is best long-term for the client.  By presenting this newer/other approach, you can now give your client a choice as to how the coaching will be structured.  And choice is what affords the client the opportunity for buy-in.  And buy-in leads to greater results in coaching.

Now what?
If you are intrigued by this topic, here are some ideas...

Try this approach with a current or potential client...
Next time you have a discussion about what you do or how you work with a client, bring up the notion of coaching the business (vs coaching the owner) and see how the conversation unfolds.  You might be surprised how this new approach might work!

Pass the word...
Pass this issue around your network and ask for ideas/feedback from your colleagues. Just hit 'forward' and send it to your network.

Add your thoughts on this topic at the Discussion Board...
To add your thoughts and read the thoughts of others (no log in or password needed), visit: You can create an account if you wish to post or just ignore that step and post a comment or reply by clicking on New Thread after you click on Future of Coaching: Small Business Coaching.

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Thomas J. Leonard


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