Warning Signs To Look For When Hiring A Business Coach

Coaches are everywhere these days. Coaching is a recognized discipline used by many professionals.  However, as a distinct career it is relatively new and there are no set regulations.  Government bodies have not found it necessary to provide a regulatory standard for coaching and do not govern the education or training for the coaching industry.

Australia has no industry group or association of business coaches and no accreditation is required. You simply set yourself up as a business coach and let your work speak for itself.

Deciding to hire a business coach is a big decision. One that could mean the difference between brilliant success and utter failure. If you don’t know what you’re looking for and the qualities you need in a coach, you may end up wasting a LOT of time – and money – and end up no further ahead than you were when you started.

Life coaches are not therapists, nor consultants, therefore psychological interaction and business analysis are outside of the scope of their ability.  Some critics claim that life coaching is similar to psychotherapy, without restrictions, oversight or regulation.

So hiring a coach sounds simple enough, but you may need coaching yourself just to learn how to get the most out of a coach!  The key to success is understanding that you are largely responsible for keeping your coaching experience on track and on target.

The coaching industry is very crowded. You need to identify the right one for you. A professional who can deliver quality coaching services.  Anyone can claim to be a “business coach,” but only the top small-business coaches have skills, abilities and aptitudes and personal characteristics that make them stand out and worthy of consideration.

Here are some of the warning signs to look for when selecting a business coach:

  • Inexperience

When interviewing potential business coaches, experience counts. The experience needs to be coaching related if you want him or her to make a difference for you and/or your business. Having run a business does not a coach make.

  • Not results oriented

Many business coaches are about making you feel good so you like them and won’t fire them. You need someone to tell you “like it is” rather than what you want to hear. He or she can claim they produce results – how do they track and quantify it? Does he or she provide a results-based guarantee?

  • Does not listen

Good business coaches listen more than they talk and are mostly expert listeners who are trained to hear your ideas and clarify your thought process. Outstanding coaches use the Socratic method of asking questions, take you through a process so that you learn to ask your own questions and come up with increasingly better answers. Just listen to the interview or introductory session’s syntax and vocabulary.

  • Focuses on one or two issues

A novice business coach will get fixated on one or two issues he or she is comfortable with regardless of the impact on your company. He or she is usually desperate to prove himself or herself and needs a quick win to convince you the fee is worth paying. Be wary of this approach and take note as a a big warning flag.

  • Neglects life issues

An inexperienced business coach will focus on only one dimension – your business, often to the detriment of your personal and family life and in some extreme cases even your health. The military “bootcamp” approach is fine for a 3-day intensive event, but if you are feeling “under the gun” all the time, something’s going to give. Personal development is about raising the bar within your comfort zone, expanding and stretching it so that it’s enjoyable and not a burden of stress, worry and anxiety.

  • Does not understand your industry

If the business coach you are considering cannot relate to your specific industry, profession or marketplace – keep looking. All businesses have things in common, but every single industry has particular nuances and idiosyncrasies that can’t be ignored.

  • Over priced rates

Business coaching fees vary quite widely. Every dollar you pay should earn a return that you can measure quantitatively or qualitatively. For instance, if you work less to get the same results you were getting – that is an intangible result, but you must allocate a value to that and track what it means to you. If you feel less stressed and anxious, that too has a value. When all is said and done though, for a business coach, it is fundamentally about growth in sales and profits. Keep your eye on the bottom line at all times. Just remember that it’s not what you pay that counts, but what you get in return. If you keep focusing on the cost, a good business coach will tell you (rightfully) that your focus is misdirected.

  • Personality conflicts

You may have issues with a business coach who has ideas and opinions that differ widely from yours. You have to ‘click’ with your coach for your relationship to work. You need to be comfortable with your business coach, but you also need to remember you’re not buying or renting a new best friend. Your business coach needs to play the role of coach, advisor and/or mentor. He or she must be able to tell you what you need to hear in a way that doesn’t offend you, but pushes you as far as you want to be pushed. Be careful asking to be pushed and then having an adverse reaction to the ‘punishment’. Often clients claim they want to be pushed, but on the first instance of pushing coming to shoving (I am referring to a mindset shift here…) they crumble and fail the test. When that happens, I am happy to be rid of them because if they fail the first test, it’s best for both of us to move on.

  • No formal business coaching training

Because there are no regulatory requirements to be a business coach, most have no formal training even if they are part of a coaching organization. Most business coaching franchises are structured to make the franchisor a fortune to the detriment of the clients who wrongly think they are buying a methodology, framework and process. Many business coaches are executives or former managers who can’t get a job, have been sidelined or kicked off the corporate ladder and can’t start another business because of lack of capital. Very few have a university degree or other formal accreditation. In such situations, you must be mindful of the risks associated with dealing with such a person. They can get you into a whole heap of trouble because they give the advice, but you’re the one responsible for the repercussions. I know of several extreme situations when incompetent business coaches gave advice that had serious devastating consequences to their clients. One sad case lead to a law suit that shut down the client’s profitable operations and wound up the company in less than 6 months.

  • Lack of interaction

Your business coach is unable to interact with you one-on-one or otherwise and has a poor communication style that makes it difficult for you to communicate your targets, goals, needs and desires appropriately. In the initial selection process, you need to ask what methodology he or she uses, what frameworks the strategies and advice is based on and most importantly the process that is used for the coaching service. If the business coach doesn’t have a clearly articulated explanation of these – that is a big red flag that you can’t afford to ignore.

  • No specialised expertise

When you select a business coach, you want to hire someone who can coach, advise or mentor you, but you also want to get access to knowledge, expertise and experience that you otherwise would never get on your own. This is very important when justifying the fees charged. You get what you pay for and you should be willing to pay almost any price if the expertise is exclusive and valuable. Time and effort is money. The right business coach or mentor can accelerate your career or boost your sales substantially, the wrong one can set you back thousands of dollars or worse. Make sure the coach’s expertise is real, legitimate and most importantly he or she can ‘translate’ it into practical terms, tactics and strategies that make sense to you and that you feel can be deployed in your career or company

Business Coaching Definitions and Explanations

  • Business Consultant - Someone you hire to get something specific done for you. There is no coaching involved, this person is all about doing and producing ‘deliverables’ such as reports and analyses. Make sure you are precise about what you want and how it will be billed. Consultants are notorious for scope creep and creating dependencies – buyer beware!
  • Business Coach – Someone who knows something you don’t and can help you improve as long as he/she knows more than you do. (Most business coaches don’t know more than you do, in fact many have failed in business and their careers – so beware!) Make sure they have academic or other legitimate credentials – the school of hard knocks = failure.
  • Business Advisor – This is someone who is more than a coach because he or she has expertise or specialist knowledge. Once again – make sure he or she can exhibit this level of mastery and that it’s not all “fluff and puff”.
  • Business Mentor - When you want ultimate results, you want to be coached by a mentor – someone who’s been there, done that. Someone who has achieved and surpassed what you seek to achieve or accomplish. Make sure he or she walks the talk in ALL aspects of his/her life. An obese, multiple divorced person does not exhibit personal mastery. You don’t want success at ANY price, you want success via sustainable and long-lasting strategies – ideally someone who walks the thought -  Exponential Mindset Thinking.

Did you know?

  • According to BRW Magazine, the average Australian Life Coach makes less than $80,000 before travel and other expenses?
  • According to the Australian Institute Of Management’s Management Today Magazine, the average Australian business coach doesn’t have a university or any other formal degree?

1 Response to “Warning Signs To Look For When Hiring A Business Coach”


  • Great advice Marc,

    there is a similar issue in the are of Electronics Design, Embedded Software Development and Low Cost Electronics Manufacture. Everyone claims they can deliver the project or product and yet the statistics show that 80% of projects are at the very least a partial failure and some are complete catastrophies. This is especially true in the area of Embedded Software.

    One of our more popular blog posts in on Improving Product Development Outcomes where I look at some strategies to ensure projects are successful and achieve their full commercial potential.

    Ray Keefe
    Successful Endeavours Pty Ltd
    Casey Business of the Year 2010
    Award Winning Electronics Design and Embedded Software Development

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