A great business coach can help a company clarify objectives, save months in launching a new product or process, and open doors to valuable networking opportunities. However, this often comes with a steep price tag many small businesses may find unaffordable. Enter the online business coach who works with clients through a web interface (Skype, webinar, phone, email and file sharing), and offers services for far less than in-person coaching.
How Online Coaching Works
Online versus in-person business coaching offers unique benefits as well as some drawbacks. Besides a lower price, online coaching can be more convenient to schedule for both the coach and client. The coach-client relationship, however, can often be strengthened quicker by in-person meetings; therefore, it is critical for both parties to commit to the process, share openly with two-way communication, and find common ground to facilitate the relationship.
While there is no standardization in online business coaching, a client should expect to receive generalized strategies and tactics in any situation.
The Coaching Difference
Whether delivered online or in person, business coaching differs from consulting or mentoring. The coach doesn't necessarily have specific industry experience, but instead seeks to bring out the best from the client through self-discovery and accountability. In contrast, consultants or mentors are hired for their knowledge in a particular industry or discipline, and they're expected to identify or solve a problem. This distinction is especially important for startup companies that may be inundated with tactical challenges which require specific expertise.
The Initial Assessment
Before accepting an assignment, the online business coach should find out why the potential client feels he needs coaching and what outcome he expects. This is accomplished most efficiently by having the client complete a preliminary online questionnaire; the coach may then decide if his qualifications will meet the client's needs.
Ongoing Assignments and Homework
Once the relationship is established, the coach and client schedule online appointments using live webinars or video conferences. Meetings may include a review of past activities, planning, skill building, role play and feedback. The client should expect to see some of his own blind spots revealed, and to be pushed out of his comfort zone.
Most important, a client must understand working with a business coach means making both financial and time commitments. The coach will expect the client to attend coaching sessions and complete homework assignments including research, practice, and self-assessment, and the coach will hold the client accountable for doing his part.
Most online coaches require a down payment before starting a business relationship and will collect ongoing payments as the work progresses. If the money doesn't arrive, the coach is free to notify the client that sessions will resume once payment is made; this provides another point of client accountability.
How to Find a Good Online Business Coach
Anyone with an Internet connection can call themselves an online business coach, and plenty of scammers sell services while delivering little if any value. Finding the right online business coach takes legwork, so start with these tips.
Check With Your Existing Business Network
Reach out to your networking colleagues from organizations such as the local Chamber of Commerce, your church, or neighborhood. Ask for recommendations about any good online business coaches; perhaps someone knows a person who uses such a service.
Search LinkedIn Connections and Groups
When you search LinkedIn for online business coaches, you'll get several hundred hits. Narrow down your search by finding second level connections; this means that you and the potential coach have at least one colleague in common. Check out the coach's credentials through your direct connection. You can also search LinkedIn's groups to find online coaches who engage with others in the profession; monitor the group chatter and see if any of the members seem like a good fit.
Research through coaching organizations such as the Worldwide Association of Business Coaches (WABC). Coaches must pay a fee to join; this gives the client some level of comfort in the coach's credibility.
Most online business coaches have a website which describes their work philosophy, and some coaches include a client list. This search takes some legwork, and you can shortcut the work by starting with a membership-based coach directory which lets you view many coaches at once. See if a coach provides any free training or information and do a test drive before you buy. Many coaches will ask you to fill out a form before you download a free white paper, so expect to be put on an email list when you take advantage of these resources.
Becoming a Coach
Think you have what it takes to be an online business coach? Get the right training and consider certification to further establish your credibility. Visit the WABC and Association of Coach Training Organizations for ideas in this area.
Online Business Coach Benefits
While the prospect of finding a good online business coach may seem daunting, the rewards can be tremendous. Businesses owners have long found they get products to market faster, communicate with employees better, and balance work and personal demands through thoughtful coaching. The online aspect adds convenience and saves money too.