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Hiring a Professional Business Coach

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Kevin Rains, owner of Center City Collision in Norwood, Ohio, learned to grow his business and decrease his work time—from an overwhelming 70 hours a week down to just 10—with the help of a coach.

Rains bought his shop in November 2003. It was a small business that brought in only $250,000 in revenue the first year. But the business grew fast.

Revenue doubled by 2006 to $562,000. Unfortunately, as the business grew, so did the workload.

Rains wanted to continue that stream of growth without having it consume his life. “I didn’t go into business to become a slave to my shop,” Rains says. “I wanted to find a way for my shop to grow, but not be dependent on me.” So he hired a professional coach—which cost him about $3,000 a year for a two-year program—in 2007.

Professional coaches help business owners look at their organization and leadership behaviors to improve their performance and get better results for their company, says Tim Shepelak, owner of The Growth Coach in Cincinnati, Ohio. Coaching helps business owners identify organizational weaknesses, develop their strategic thinking and ultimately to become better leaders.

I didn’t want my shop to own me. I have several other interests in life, and I don’t want to get trapped by my own success.
–Kevin Rains, owner, Center City Collision

“My coach taught me how to disentangle myself from the operations of my shop,” Rains says, noting how he learned to delegate daily work that constantly distracted him. With Shepelak’s help, Rains was able to do what many shop owners only dream of: He began working on his business rather than in it. For Rains, that meant focusing on getting more customers through the door.

Since hiring Shepelak, Rains has nearly tripled his annual revenue to $1.5 million, while decreasing his time in the shop by about 85 percent.

Get Coached, Get Better

Being a business owner can be lonely, and even organizational decision makers need someone to bounce new ideas off, says Rich Phillips, business coach at ActionCOACH in San Diego. Having an outside perspective often leads to better results, especially when that outside perspective helps owners recognize and make personal changes that will ultimately benefit the business.

A coach helps you see things differently, think more deeply and broadly, and identify areas of improvement that have been overlooked. “We help you commit to changes in behavior,” Shepelak says.

Coaches see things about business leaders that they could never see—or admit—about themselves, Rains says.

Right from the start, Shepelak challenged Rains’ mindset on sales. The coach recommended leveraging personal contacts for referrals—even at church. It sounded strange at first, but Shepelak showed Rains how he could help people in his church by being a trusted neighbor for car repair—in an industry where trust often runs low. Rains admits he never would have taken that approach on his own, but he’s glad he did: He now sees a church friend in his shop every couple weeks.

That mindset of helping people find a trusted repairer led Rains to build relationships with insurance agents, to connect with a local Volkswagen dealership and to join a business-networking group. Rains credits those relationships with his tripled revenues. The business networking group alone sent numerous jobs to his shop, including one that totaled $14,000.

Business Roadblocks

Every business owner comes across roadblocks from time to time. But it’s often tough for them to understand why those challenges are happening, let alone find strategies to overcome them.

“It’s difficult to see things by yourself,” Shepelak says. Business owners often discover things about their business they’re not happy with; coaches help them discover the solutions.

In April 2009, Tony Carrillo, owner of Carrillo’s Auto Body in San Diego, noticed his revenue was down 37 percent from the prior year. He couldn’t figure out what was happening, so he brought in ActionCOACH’s Phillips.

“Sometimes I feel lost in my business, like I have my head in the sand,” Carrillo admits. Through coaching, he realized distractions at home were taking his attention off the things that kept his business numbers up.

Upselling repairs and monitoring material costs fell to the wayside, Carrillo says. Materials—especially paint—were being wasted, and that was taking a good chunk out of the shop’s net profit.

Phillips helped Carrillo “get back to the basics.” “Having a coach makes you accountable, and reminds you what made you successful to begin with,” says Carrillo, who paid $1,600 a month for coaching services. Carrillo says he needed someone to keep him focused on those essential aspects of his business.

After realizing the roadblocks his shop was experiencing, Carrillo made up for the huge decrease in revenue he experienced in the first quarter of 2009, going on to nearly match the previous year’s $3 million in sales. Better yet, gross profit actually increased by four points, to 40 percent, even with the added expense of a monthly coaching fee.

Carrillo, who continues to pay for coaching, says the financial benefits of that guidance and accountability far outweigh the cost.

Less Work, More Money

With the right policies and procedures in place, a business should be able to function normally without constant oversight from an owner. The owner has to be able to focus on other areas of the business for the operation to grow, Rains says.

Hiring a coach made that a reality for Rains, who says, “I became more of an air-traffic controller and less of a pilot.” Here’s how he did it:

Set quarterly goals. Rains set standards for both sales growth and time management. “[Shepelak] helped me think strategically about my shop, and provided a structured environment where I could record—and be accountable for­­—specific goals,” Rains says, noting that it’s something he never would have done on his own.

Delegate less-important work. Rains was constantly bogged down by the shop’s estimating and bookkeeping tasks. He hired an employee to handle those aspects of the business, and set up weekly reports that kept him up to date with sales and profit numbers. “I learned to implement and trust the systems and people I put in place to get things done in my absence,” Rains says. He began to oversee the shop from a distance without being directly involved.

Leverage business referral partners. Rains worked hard on finding—and nurturing—referral partners to snag more business. “I found that rather than focusing on closing the sale from each customer that came through the door, I could develop relationships with key people in the community who were sending business my way,” Rains says.

Take Time for You

Perhaps Rains’ greatest thanks-to-coaching accomplishment is that he’s attained the shop owner’s ideal: He works on his business, rather than in it.

“I’ve met some shop owners who have no freedom at all,” Rains says. “They can’t leave their business for any length of time, even to take a vacation, with confidence that it will run well without them.”

For those who feel chained to their shop—and feel like nothing happens unless they are there to do it themselves—a coach could be the answer, Rains says. Professional coaches don’t just help your bottom line; they provide a framework to balance all aspects of your life.
“I didn’t want my shop to own me,” says Rains, who now enjoys a healthy balance between the personal and the professional. “I have several other interests in life, and I don’t want to get trapped by my own success.”

Along with the business goals set during coaching, Rains set personal goals—like reading books, exercising and being outdoors. “I went into business with the hope that it would give me freedom of time and money to do the things I want to do in life,” he says. Through coaching, Rains improved his leadership, took on a reduced role at the shop and achieved his personal goals right alongside his professional ones.

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