Hiring a coach for yourself or your business can feel like a daunting task, but it doesn’t have to be. By implementing a few practical steps, the process of selecting the right coach can be made straightforward.
The first step is to identify the goals from a coaching engagement. Second, gather referrals and recommendations, ideally from within your extended network. Third, narrow this list down through research, ultimately creating a shortlist of coaches to be interviewed: the final step before choosing your coach. We will cover each of these in turn.
Step #1 - Identify Your Coaching Needs
To find the right coach for your situation, it’s crucial to have a very clear idea of your goals and problems you are trying to solve. Even the “best” coach may not be ideal for your specific situation. For example, wellness expert Chelsea Hamilton of Simple Jane began by identifying finance and sales as functions in which her business could improve. Armed with that knowledge, she found a coach who ended up being “a game-changer.” Her advice: “Before you search, ask yourself what specifically you want them to help you improve and then search from there."
This specificity is crucial, as relationship expert and founder of Her Norm, Sonya Schwartz, explains: “It’s important to identify the area you think needs improvement. For example, if you need to improve on handling finances, you will get a financial advisor. On the other hand, if you need to develop on a personal level, then you hire a life coach.”
One best practice in this area is to “measure twice, cut once.” In other words, one can save a great deal of trouble down the road by rigorously thinking through your needs at the beginning of the process. eMarketing Coach Michele Davis of Marketing Gem Solutions explains further:
Coaches and consultants are not one-size-fits-all. The first step to finding the right coach is to determine the reason you are looking for a coach or consultant in the first place. Get really specific about what you need. Are you seeking help in marketing, sales, mindset, lead generation, building organizational systems, establishing teams, growing your online presence, or other specific needs? Once you narrow down your problem, you can then search for a coach or consultant specializing in that area of expertise.
This needs identification process should extend beyond industry and/or functional areas of expertise. Communications expert Laurie Gilbertson of Tribeca Blue Consulting advises those considering hiring a coach to “make a list of what you seek to get out of the coaching relationship, for example around budget and time frame.”
Once you have a clear and specific idea of what you are looking for, it’s time to proceed to the next step: developing a list of potential coaches and/or coaching organizations.
Step #2 - Develop a “Potentials” List of Coaches
There are two broad ways to find potential coaches: research and referrals. For the former, Nick Valle of SEO agency Restoration Rocket found LinkedIn to be the most effective place to start:
Using LinkedIn, find experts in your field of interest and connect with them with a simple message saying you appreciate their content and thought leadership. Tell them that you are looking for a coach, and ask if they can recommend any good resources. Be specific about what you're looking for. Do not use Google to begin your search for a coach. Turning to Google only tells you which coaches have invested the most in search engine optimization and public relations.
Samantha Moss, content ambassador for Romantific, also favors LinkedIn, combining her search on that platform with soliciting recommendations from trusted contacts: “Use LinkedIn, which can easily help you discover people who are in the coaching industry. However, the hard part is identifying who can help you and has the same values as you, and that is where referrals from colleagues take place.”
Business strategist Sean Douglas emphasizes the importance of referrals and recommendations in this process: "Get recommendations from people who worked with a certain coach and get their testimonials. Don't reinvent the wheel. The person who referred you will give you the unfiltered tell-all about that coach."
The best referrals and recommendations usually come from people close to you or your organization. For example, Megan Swan of Megan Swan Wellness finds that “the fastest way is to ask for recommendations within your inner circles - via social media or directly.”
Professional organizations and message boards can also be helpful. Using both will provide additional ways to find more appropriate coaches. They also offer the opportunity to network within your specific industry and find people who have had similar issues to yours.
Step #3 - Create a Coaching Shortlist
Now that you’ve gathered referrals, recommendations, and personal selections, it’s time to do your due diligence and create a shortlist of coaches to interview. Business growth expert Baron Christopher Hanson, owner of RedBaronUSA, explains his research and consulting process:
The best way to identify the right coach and the right coaching fit is to examine their industry experience and published articles. The key is to find a coach who possesses a relevant background and series of client engagements that resemble your industry challenges or the types of hurdles your business is facing.
Look for results. It’s important to make sure that a coach or coaching organization can actually deliver on promises. Jacob Irving of Willamette Life Insurance advises those hiring a coach to “look at the coach’s track record and dig into results that they have helped others achieve. In this day of social media, anyone can pay for an ad and make themselves look like a guru. Do your homework, and ask to see results."
Once you have done your research and due diligence and compiled a shortlist of coaches who have a track record of solving problems similar to yours, the next and final step is to examine personality and fit. While you might get some sense of who a coach is from their online presence, there is no substitute for interviews and live interaction at this stage of the process.
Step #4 - Interview Candidates and Choose Your Coach
Even the best credentials and track record won’t help if you don’t feel aligned with your coach. That’s where interviewing comes in. Utilizing your narrowed list, it’s time to begin the interview process. Entrepreneur Mike Falahee advises that “you should call and interview a few different prospects. Tell them what you are looking for, get feedback on how they think they can help, and trust your gut.”
The importance of interviewing cannot be ignored. Direct personal contact can help both parties involved see if personalities fit and if their expectations match. Best-selling author Dawn Landry advises those hiring a coach to “meet with several partner candidates before making a decision. Just as your company is unique, so are your partnering needs. Interview candidates to ensure that they are a good fit and are able to customize a program specific to your goals/expectations.”
Step one of this process is focused on being clear and specific about your coaching needs. That work pays off again here. Landry continues: “Make sure that you have clear expectations regarding what you hope to achieve. If you are unclear, then be transparent with your coach at the onset. A great coach will guide you in understanding realistic, achievable results within a particular time frame.”
Finding that great coach takes patience, also. You may have reservations after conducting your interviews. Megan Swan believes finding a coach is “just like dating, in a sense. You have to go a little with your gut at first in terms of red flags. If they say something that rubs you the wrong way right off the bat, it’s probably a sign that it isn’t a good fit. You want to feel comfortable, supported, but not overpowered. A good coach is there to coach you to find your own answers and path, not to dictate it.”
Be careful not to force a square peg into a round hole. If you have reservations about everyone when you get to this stage, use the red flags you’ve found to revisit your criteria in step one, search process in step two, and due diligence in step three, and then begin again.
This four-step approach is a proven process for hiring a coach or coaching organization that is qualified to address your needs as well as being a great fit.
To recap: identify your needs; find candidates from referrals and recommendations; narrow this list down through due diligence research, and then interview as a final check on capabilities as well as to assess fit. At this point, you should be well-positioned to choose a coach - as well as some backup options if your initial choice doesn’t work out.