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Hiring a Professional Business Coach

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Lisa Russell and her husband, Paul, had all the knowledge and experience to open a successful shop—at least they thought they did. Lisa spent 18 years working in sales, while Paul grew up in a family-owned shop and had a bachelor’s degree in marketing. Combining direct industry knowledge with sales and marketing experience, they thought, would be key to building a sustainable business.

But growth didn’t come as expected 10 years after opening Five Star Collision Center Inc. in Cincinnati. The shop remained small due to extreme ups and downs in business.

That was a problem, Russell says, because she planned to eventually turn the business over to her four children. But not just any business—a successful, profitable one. The Russells needed to develop more consistent work volume to create a healthier bottom line and achieve that ultimate goal.

That meant they needed help creating a vision for the future, and someone who could hold them accountable to business goals, priorities and action plans for growth.

“Although we had those prior business experiences, we needed someone who could help us grow, and maintain our sanity in the process,” Russell says. “We didn’t want to be just any other body shop. We wanted to run a truly professional business—an organization focused on the quality of service we provide with well-rounded operations.”

Hiring a professional business coach was the answer. Russell says it helped to improve her entire outlook on shop management. But that only happened because she found “the right coach.” Choosing the coach that best suits your business is the key, she says. It’s what helped Russell grow revenue throughout 2013.

What’s a Coach?

Hiring a professional business coach is about learning how to be a better businessperson, says Russell’s certified coach Drew Schwegman of Northern Kentucky ActionCOACH Business Coaching. Professional coaches work alongside owners to offer critical analyses of business performance and personal goals to help implement strategies that allow shop owners to realize their fullest potential.

“Coaches look at all areas of the business and focus on high-level initiatives to take a business from chaos to control,” he says. “They assess strengths and weaknesses and offer guidance throughout the business—financials, sales processes, marketing plans, and business leadership—to help owners fine-tune their methods, find efficiencies in weak-performing areas, strengthen their workforce, and develop strategic thinking to improve moving forward.”

You don’t need to be a struggling shop to find value in a coach. Even shops that are doing very well can be taken to the next level by getting a fresh, outside perspective on the business.
Knowing when it’s necessary to hire a coach comes down to three main areas—time, team or money issues. You need time, a great team, and strong finances in order to free yourself to work on your business.

“If growth is stagnant, if money is tight, if you don’t see a clear path for growth, if you feel that you’re only working in the business and putting fires out, or if you’re just struggling to take things to the next level, then it’s time to bring somebody in,” Schwegman says.

Choose the Right Coach

There are thousands of professional business coaches available throughout the country. But you don’t want to just search “business coach” on the Internet and start calling random people. The right coach will help shape the future and sustainability of your business, so you need to assess your options and make a thoughtful decision.

“Hiring a business coach is similar to hiring an employee,” says Rick White, profit guardian of automotive coaching firm 180 Business Solutions. “You have to make sure it’s going to be a good fit.”

Here are 13 factors to assess:

1. Industry Experience: Professional coaches should have intricate knowledge of your specific industry, White says. Even though some of the business concepts they teach can apply to any industry, their advice may not be entirely accurate without understanding the complexities and key metrics of collision repair.

2. Coaching Certification: Business coaches don’t necessarily need high-level degrees such as an MBA or Ph.D., says Jill Meeuwsen, CEO of collision industry coaching firm Synergy Management Consultants. But they should be trained and certified through a business coaching certification program. Every qualified coach should have earned a formal coaching certification through the International Coaching Federation (ICF).

3. Leadership Experience: Coaches should have sufficient work history in ownership or senior-level leadership positions, Meeuwsen says. Coaches with that experience can better understand and relate to your daily challenges, which allows them to offer stronger advice.

4. Verified Past Performance: Schwegman says many coaching organizations provide online bios for each of their coaches. Read through that information to assess the results they’ve achieved with previous clients to identify a competent person who you trust.

Check the coach’s references, too. Don’t just take the coach’s word for the impact they can have on your shop, White says. Initiate discussions with a few of the coach’s previous clients to gain a deeper understanding of their abilities and results. Ask each reference what they liked best about the coaching engagement, what they liked least about the coaching engagement, and what they would do differently if they were to do it again.

5. Specialized Feedback: Every business is unique and has different variables that impact performance, White says.

Make sure your coach doesn’t use the same cookie-cutter approach for every client. Coaches should understand there is no “one-size-fits-all” improvement strategy, and the goal should not be to train you on their own specific business model.

6. Published Work: Identify whether the coach has any articles or professional work published to verify their credibility and expertise, White suggests. Read through each article and decide whether the information resonates with you.

“You’re trying to get to know the person by assessing whether the coach’s messages match your mindset,” White says.

7. Personal Insight: The business management skills that coaches offer can also be applied to the personal lives of shop owners, White says. Coaches should be willing to spend time understanding your personal life as well to uncover issues that might be hindering business performance.

8. Blunt Communication: Coaches should be able to look at the business from a detached perspective, and offer a truthful, unbiased opinion. They should be extremely blunt so there is zero chance for miscommunication or misinterpretation of advice.

“You don’t need a friend,” White says. “You need someone who cares enough to tell it as it is.”

9. Business Resources: With coaching, you’re buying a package of services and resources in addition to business knowledge, White says. Coaches should be able to provide various business tools and resources, such as spreadsheets, business documents, financial tools or customer agreement forms.

10. Trial Period: Good coaches offer a money-back trial period to their clients, White says. That allows shop owners to try it out for a period of time to assess the relationship risk-free.

11. Coaching Agreement: Understand the terms of the coaching agreement. Some coaches want you to sign extended contract agreements so they can put you through a full program. If that’s the case, White says there should be a way to opt out if the coaching relationship isn’t working or producing the desired results.

12. Interview the Coach: Schedule a preliminary meeting with the prospective coach and conduct an interview, Meeuwsen says. Ask about their training, credentials and work history to get a feel for their expertise and the chemistry you have with one another. During the interview, the coach should prove to be a good listener, ask several questions without dominating the conversation, and make you feel comfortable.

13. Assess the Results: The quality of your business coach comes down to the results they’re able to generate for you, Schwegman says. Regularly assess the impact that the coach’s suggestions and guidance have on your operation to determine the return on the coaching investment and the significance of new strategies you have implemented.

Realizing Potential

Russell’s main goal in working with the business coach was to triple the shop’s weekly car count and hire a larger staff to start building the strength of the business.

“You need more employees to fix more cars, but you can’t hire more employees until you have the cars to fix. That’s the biggest problem we were faced with,” Russell says.

Russell’s coach assessed the shop’s marketing plan, car count goals, strategies for generating leads, profitability and margins to identify a strategic action plan for improvement.

The biggest change the coach facilitated, Russell says, was implementation of a customer tracking method. The coach instructed Russell to document all customer data to generate solid, factual information to base new business decisions on.

Schwegman helped structure and organize the shop’s customer database so Russell could market to and contact past customers. She now diligently tracks the number of incoming phone calls, how customers heard about the shop, where every customer comes from, and how many jobs the shop closes.

“[The coach] had us write everything out so we could physically see hard information in front of us, rather than just making assumptions about things we thought were happening,” Russell says. “It’s really revealing when you have written facts to assess.”

Russell says that information was key to understanding the main causes for low car count. She used the data to better tailor the shop’s marketing materials and messages to the types of customers it was attracting. 

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