I spend a lot of time at my sports startup, CoachUp, thinking about, well...coaching: from what makes a good coach to how coaches deliver criticism and build relationships with their athletes. But one thing that's become clear to me over the years is that finding and working with a great coach is an imperative not only for athletes but for anyone with career or personal development goals.
A friend of mine, Brian Balfour, the VP of Growth at Sidekick, swears by his business coach.Brian has started multiple VC backed companies, including Boundless and Viximo, and has grown user bases to millions of daily active users.
I sat down with Brian to discuss the benefits of having a business coach and how up-and-coming entrepreneurs can find their own mentors.
JF: What are the reasons someone would work with a business coach?
BB: Honestly, there are a multitude of reasons for anyone who is serious about their career. As the old saying goes, "Even Michael Jordan had a coach." No matter what profession you are in or how experienced you are, a coach is invaluable. They'll make good times in your career even better and help you get through the rough times.
JF: What are the benefits of having a business coach?
BB: There are a lot of benefits, but I think the most powerful ones are:
- They can offer an unbiased opinion. You'll face a lot of decisions, big and small, in your career. Those decisions will shape the path of your career. The challenge is that everyone around you is biased in some way regarding your life or your company. Your manager, investors, parents, friends, co-workers. That is where a business coach can come in. They can provide an opinion with no personal bias to help you make the best decisions possible.
- They can provide better answers. The best business coaches don't give you answers; they help you find better answers than you would on your own. They do that by asking really insightful questions that you may not think to ask on your own. The most insightful conversations I've had were ones spawned from incredibly good questions.
- They can help you see the bigger picture. When you are heads down working your ass off day in and day out, it is easy to focus on only what is in front of you. A business coach gives you a dedicated time and dedicated person to take a step back and look at the bigger picture. Half the time, my business coach helps me realize that the thing I'm worried about is such a tiny detail on a much larger path that it isn't worth the energy.
JF: What's the relationship like with your business coach?
BB: I first met my business coach over ten years ago when he was my manager. We both left that company and went our separate ways but stayed in touch. Years later, when I realized the value of having a coach, I approached him about establishing a more formal relationship and he agreed. Have a structured meeting format is really important. We approach it with the following structure:
- We meet once every 45 days typically in person for 90 minutes.
- Three to five days before meeting, I write up notes updating him on the things we discussed in the last meeting, current issues and talking points about challenges I'm currently facing. This gives him time to digest the notes so we can maximize our time in person.
- After we meet, I type up a recap of the most important points and outline anything I'm going to send an email to follow up on.
The best business coaches want to help people who will help themselves. This format helps show them that you are serious about the working relationship and that you aren't wasting their time.
JF: How can someone get a business coach?
BB: This is the toughest part. It takes a lot of investment to find the right business coach. There are professionals out there that do it for a living. The really incredible ones are very expensive. In the case you don't have that type of money, you need to put in some major work. There are many experienced professionals out there that want to share what they've learned and make an impact on people earlier in their careers--you just have to find them. More importantly you have to find the right one for you. Some tips:
- Network. But do it authentically. Seek to build a relationship with the person before approaching them with an "ask." A good way to get in touch if you don't like networking events is to send a simple networking email.
- Ask around (friends, coworkers, etc.) for the best manager they've ever had or met. Incredible managers (from other companies) make great coaches.
- Seek out people who ask incredible questions.
- Ideally look for someone who has experience on the path you want to take. Want to become an executive at a public company? Look for someone who has done it.
Remember that you shouldn't just pick anyone to be your coach. While other people may have recommendations, you must also have your own criteria for what you hope to find in a business coach. If you're looking to start a business, run a business, or just get ahead in your career, a business coach will help guide and accelerate your development.