I am constantly pestered by business coaches that are offering to almost guarantee to grow my business, help with employee engagement and make me more money. For a day rate of X or for a “special discount” delegate rate of X you can attend their seminar, they can impart all of their knowledge, experience and get me to the place of having a successful business.

I finally snapped at one recently, whether fed up of being pestered by people who I never gave my email to in the first place or just having three pester me in the same day, I am not sure, but I snapped in an email back.
Against all of my usual nature, I (embarrassingly) very arrogantly replied to say I have various successful business interests, all growing, all profitable – Excalibur being a £1.5m EBITDA business that is also a Times Top 100 Employer – so therefore after looking at their own coaching business with a nominal balance sheet, growth or profitability, why would I pay £100 delegate fee to offer me that advice?

After my rant went onto Linkedin and had over 90,000 views, it showed just how hard it is for business owners or leaders to know where to turn for that magic formula of employee engagement and a growing, profitable business.
My personal experience of business coaches has been a mixed one, generally I have found them to be extremely poor value for money if involved in government funded “general” schemes that are good at textbook relaying but lacking in the understanding of running an actual business or the industry in which you work in.

They are lifestyle businesses which rely on a few days a month work only at £1,000 day rate to sustain themselves. More than enough willing victims in the marketplace to keep that going for a while.From previous experience, I have used companies like Vistage to lead specific and timed team and individual coaching programmes and it was hugely beneficial to a new leadership team at a personal and leadership team level. I have also used specific sales coaching programmes which again were helpful in changing the dynamic or process a sales team had in order to create more focus and make better use of their time, with both companies very helpful. People like Simon Sinek, I would encourage all of you to watch his videos and read his books as valuable investment of time to any business leader, I have digested their messaging and really used that to give me a different perspective.

But the two largest influences on the success I’ve had have been support groups and non-exec board members. Leadership is a lonely place sometimes and to find people who truly understand the pressure (if you are a business owner the responsibility of various staff mortgages on your head I found a tough one to carry at times) is hugely valuable.

Actually, support groups like Academy for Chief Executives (ACE) I found incredibly helpful, taking a day out a month, to think about the business, not being in it. With no mobiles allowed for the day and the use of a “board I could never afford” of similar size and non-competing business leaders meant I found the advice given genuine, sometimes brutal but ultimately trustworthy.

I have met several business leaders who say they cannot justify the cost each month, my challenge back to them is how can you not afford to do it? Non-Exec directors have also been incredibly helpful and I talk to so many SME’s who really see them as something for much larger businesses or large cost with little gains. My experience was if you can get somebody who is sector specific in experience it is helpful as you can gain insight and get the strategic decisions right.

I had a chairman at Excalibur in Nicky Alberry who was nothing to do with the sector but that was her strength. She was my personal support pillar, and to others in the leadership team over time, and also, from a position of mutual trust and respect, challenge me and the team regularly.

What we ended up with was a business that has grown from a £1 million EBITDA to £1.5 million EBITDA in three years and a Times Top 100 employer that has won various awards. This is defined as successful no matter how you look at it.

The industry non-exec has now taken over as CEO and led a management buyout. The business and myself as it’s leader could not have done it without them but it was a cost and out of my comfort zone, you cannot grow unless you invest and if you can get the big decisions right, with the right advice, you will never go far wrong in my experience.
I always think as business leaders we can always do with people around us that give us insight, wisdom, support and that you can ultimately trust. If you have found a business coach that has done that, cherish them as I still feel they would be in a minority of the ones out there and I have yet to experience one, but if not don’t engage one out of desperation as they can do more damage than help.

I went to some sessions with the Bishop of Swindon; you can sometimes find the insight and wisdom in places you never realised were there so keep looking as if you get it right the rewards are endless.