Steve Jobs had Bill Campbell.

Jodie Foster leaned on Robert De Niro.

Andy Murray has Ivan Lendl.

High performers in any field typically have a coach or mentor. A great coach provides you with the benefit of their experience and asks more questions than they answer. They force you to think about your business in ways that you wouldn’t do on your own.

Your business sensei is also the person you go to for perspective at a point of crisis - just like Mandy & Brent Manning did back in 2010.

The Mannings had recently started Arkansas-based NWA Towing & Recovery Inc. and their worst nightmare had just come true. They had invested $50,000 to get into the tow truck business without any prior knowledge of the industry, and their only employee - the person who knew about towing cars -had just quit.

The Mannings turned to Barbara and Chris Taylor of Synergy Business Services (full disclosure: Barbara Taylor is a licensee of The Sellability Score, our company’s software), a husband-and-wife business brokerage team, to try and sell the towing company and recover some of their upfront investment.

Barbara Taylor’s assessment was blunt: “You’re never going to sell this business. Anyone can spend $50,000, buy a truck, and call themselves a towing company.”

But Taylor’s said the Mannings could learn to build a valuable enterprise out of their fledgling business, and she offered to coach them.

An Outsider’s Perspective

Taylor admitted she knew nothing about the towing industry. She did know plenty about business, having started a few of her own, including business broker Synergy.

As an outsider, Taylor held the stereotype of the typical tow truck driver: a greasy, aggressive, overweight guy who had not seen the sharp edge of a razor blade in weeks. Taylor’s first recommendation was to differentiate NWA by focusing on the appearance of the tow truck operators. 

The Mannings set about hiring drivers who would follow Taylor’s strict rules around appearance. They insisted that drivers show up for work in a tidy uniform with their name clearly displayed on the front. Drivers needed to be clean-shaven and the trucks needed to remain immaculate, inside and out. If customers rode in the truck’s cab, they were offered a bottle of spring water.

If Taylor had been a towing industry veteran, these things might not have mattered to her. But because she was looking at the towing business from the outside, she was able to see the opportunity that beckoned.

Next, Taylor suggested that the Mannings join the Chamber of Commerce and the Better Business Bureau and build a Facebook fan page. She asked why tow truck drivers insist on being paid in cash, and recommended that the Manning’s start accepting credit cards.

“The towing business was stuck in the year 1988,” says Mandy Manning, “and Barbara helped us see how we could bring it up to the year 2013.”

The results have been impressive: revenue has grown from $35,000 in 2010 to an estimated $450,000 in 2013. NWA just won a five-year contract to handle the towing for the entire city of Fayetteville, Arkansas, which the Mannings estimate will be worth as much as a million dollars a year in revenue.

The greats from all walks of life use a coach to get even better. But don’t obsess over finding a mentor from your own industry. Sometimes the very best coaches know nothing about your industry. It is their status as an outsider that makes their perspective so valuable.