The Value of a Business Coach
I (Matt) didn’t set out to start a graphic design business after college. I completed my film degree in 2003, and I wanted to travel the world and shoot video, or figure out a way to travel the world indefinitely.
After various jobs in the non-profit and corporate world, I went full-time with DayCreative in the fall of 2012. I had no formal entrepreneurship experience, education or mentors, but I was fortunate enough to have built enough side design work and enough courage to give it a shot. Shortly after I started, the “no idea what I was doing” aspect became something that had to be addressed. I learned that business coaches existed, and figured that would be the way to go. I began searching for one, and met with a few around Norman and Oklahoma City.
What I learned, initially, is that there isn’t just one type of business coach. There are several variations. Most of us are familiar with the “private consultant” business coach, the one associated with large corporations and hefty price tags, but I also learned during my research that there are other (more affordable and helpful) options as well.
For example, the Small Business Administration of the federal government, in the interest of funding economic development, fuel a few business “incubators” in each state, which you can usually find in business/technology centers. Low cost or free business coaching is often a part of these incubators.
I reached out to one such coach, named Henry Dumas, through the Moore/Norman Technology Center, and I am 100% convinced that I am still in business today because of that decision.
At first, the guidance I needed was pretty broad. (“Help me!!”) Henry started by asking me the questions that many entrepreneurs don’t ask themselves before jumping into business ventures.
“What are your margins?” “What services that you provide have the best margins?” “What has your actual production turned out to be, compared to your pre-planned estimates?”
My knowledge and experience was so limited, I didn’t even understand a lot of what he was talking about. (“What’s a margin?”)
The first year or two was simply me tracking things. I didn’t enjoy it (to put it mildly), it wasn’t exciting, but it was necessary, and Henry helped me see why.
Keeping data about the margins for each type of project helped me see which were most profitable. By looking at all of the various services we offer– logo design, printing services, website design, social media–I was able to see how our time was best spent, and how we could keep the most money. Those things guide the direction our business is going now, in 2020.
The projects that drive the best revenue, that we’re best at, are the ones that build our success.
If you’re considering starting a business, or if you were like me, and have already started a business but instinctively know that there are some things you’re missing, or steps you need to take that you might not fully understand, and you’d like someone to get in the trenches with you, I strongly recommend engaging a business coach.
A technology center in your area will likely have a business incubator that offers some amount of free coaching, if finances are a concern or if you’re in a time where you need to be frugal. You’ll get solid, foundational guidance that can mean the difference between life and death for some businesses. And a partner that is committed to your success.
If you have the revenue to afford private coaching, you can consider it an investment in your business, one that could pay important dividends in the future. The high level strategy a private business coach can provide is well worth it. (Vet them by looking at references, case studies, etc., of course, just as you would before hiring any professional). They should have significant corporate experience in a variety of sectors, even if they specialize in one area. (Sales, accounting.)
Initially I met with my business coach every month. Now, 8 years in, it’s dialed back to check-ins every few months. Quarterly progress checks once you’ve gotten the basics down might be enough, but as a business owner, you should ideally consider your development ongoing, even if you’re flourishing. There’s always more insight and coaching, no matter what level you’re at.
Every time I meet with Henry now, he asks a question. “At the end of this meeting, what should have happened for you to feel like it was a successful meeting?”
My go-to response? “That’s easy; I just want you to solve all my problems and do all the work for me!”
All kidding aside, just knowing that if you need specific help is available in areas of business that you don’t understand…that can be a huge relief.
The life of a business owner can be a little daunting (and lonely) sometimes. Even if you’re not reinventing the wheel, or you’re in a business segment that’s well-established, this is still new to you. In addition to finding out what you’re missing, you may be encouraged to hear what you’re doing right, and a business coach can provide that encouragement as well.
The question isn’t really, “Why Do I Need a Business Coach?”, it’s…why wouldn’t you want one?
If you’re in the Oklahoma City metro area, here are a few suggestions for finding business coaching: Moore Norman Technology Center, Francis Tuttle Technology Center, REI (Rural Enterprises Incorporated), OSBDC (Oklahoma Small Business Center), Action Coaches (business coaching franchise).