Dear Today's Coach
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
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 --
His approach is to be the coach of the company, NOT
the coach of the owner. Yet, he coaches the owner as
Here's a simple model of his approach...
Richard's approach in a nutshell.
Here's what Richard has found to
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
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
4. The owner comes to
trust that the coach is there for their business -- this leads to long
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.
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
Two side benefits to the coach...
Richard's company-as-client approach has two side
1. Richard can position himself as the advocate of a
This is a fresh way to marketing coaching
services which will appeal to a segment of business owners.
Richard will have more credibility with banks/lenders because they'll
refer him to companies who are having financial trouble.
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
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?"
things about that...
1. Coaching is quickly becoming the larger,
over-arching term -- larger than consulting.
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.
approach, if you will, that causes that. This, given the front-door,
head-on approach usually doesn't work that well with
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
If you are intrigued by this
topic, here are some ideas...
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 this issue around your network and ask for
ideas/feedback from your colleagues. Just hit 'forward' and send it to
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Future of Coaching: Small Business Coaching.
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Thomas J. Leonard