When, Why, & How to Hire a Business Coach | Mark MacLeod

April 15, 2024 - Mark MacLeod

When, Why, & How to Hire a Business Coach

why hire a business coach

I bought my first book on business coaching in 2002. For some reason, I was intuitively drawn to it. I knew I wanted to do it. I didn’t become one till 2020, but I never lost the desire to be one.

Back then, there was a stigma to hiring a business coach. If an investor or friend suggested you get a coach, you felt like something must be wrong with you.

Thankfully, that is no longer the case. 

CEOs and other leaders realize that in order to achieve their full potential they need a support team. They need mentors and advisors. They need to learn from their peers. They need coaches who are dedicated to their success.

In this post, I would like to explore when, why, and how to hire a business coach for your high-growth startup.

When to hire a business coach

Back when I was a VC, I invested at the seed stage. I typically wrote the first check. I would remind the founders that we didn’t yet have a company. 

It is only once you have product-market fit and have an initial repeatable growth channel that you begin truly company-building.

Until then, the CEO role is not really CEO, but product manager. Any time spent not finding product-market fit is a distraction.

Other coaches may take a different approach. But this is my view. 

Since I only coach CEOs, I suggest that CEOs wait to hire a coach until they cross these milestones. Until they have validated product-market fit and found a channel for repeatable growth. 

If you need input and guidance before that, go get it. But if you have the right focus (product), then what you need is product mentorship. Not a CEO coach.

Why hire a business coach?

It is easier than ever to launch a startup today. All the tools exist. Open source, in the cloud. Whatever you need, it is there. 

But, it is harder than ever to go all the way and win a market. The stakes are high. The competition is fierce.

I only work with CEOs who have raised venture capital. Many of my clients have raised hundreds of millions of dollars.

I compare these CEOs to professional athletes. To achieve the returns that are expected from all that capital, they need to be the best. They need to achieve mastery. 

Think of the athletes that you admire. They have teams around them to help them achieve greatness. Someone makes them healthy food. They have performance coaches, and sports psychologists. Whatever they need to achieve peak performance they have it.

This is what the CEOs of high-growth startups need as well. 

The biggest outcomes in the startup world are founder-led from start to finish. There is a 100% correlation between your performance as CEO and the value of your company. 

This is why you need a coach: To help you always grow faster than your business and lead it all the way to a MASSIVE exit. 

If your company is doubling every year, then you need to double in your leadership capacity. If you don’t you will fall behind.

This is the purpose of coaching. 

How to find a business coach

This is the toughest part!  Let’s talk about what to look for and where to look.

What to look for in a business coach 

I am a CPA by training. A CPA is a CPA. There is a uniform (and rigorous) process for becoming one. Coaches, however, come in all shapes and sizes.

Anyone can call themselves a coach.  Some are former operators. Some come from therapeutic backgrounds. 

Venture-backed startups are a unique beast. As a result, the leaders of such companies need to look for particular things in a potential coach:

Qualifications: This is table stakes. The right coach should be committed to coaching. It’s not something they do on the side. It’s not a thing to do till they start the next company.

A commitment to coaching means a commitment to learning.  There are infinite layers to the human onion. The best coaches are perpetually curious. Always investing in growth and knowledge so they can best serve their clients.

To me, this begins with a coaching accreditation.

The most widely recognized body for this is the International Coaching Federation. This is where I got my initial certification. Anyone who has done this is committed to the craft of coaching. 

Context: Startups are not “normal”. 

It is not “normal” to take millions of dollars and set it on fire in the pursuit of growth. 

It is not “normal” to burn the bridges and take company-betting strategic moves.

I believe that anyone coaching startup CEOs needs to come from that world. If you don’t, your instincts will be all wrong. You will waste the CEO’s time asking questions that don’t add value. 

Startup CEOs don’t have time to waste. Speed matters more than anything.

I have been in the VC-backed startup world since 1999. I have been on every side of the table. I was a CFO for some of the biggest SaaS companies around. I was a VC funding these companies. I was an investment banker funding and selling them.

That context, scar tissue, pattern recognition, and deep network are my superpowers. This is what you want in a coach.

Where to find the right business coach

The best coaches likely have a full roster and are not cold-calling you. You need to find them.

The best way to find the right coach is through a referral, ideally from CEOs who have been coached by that person. There is no better validation. 

Your investors are another great way to find the right coach. Almost 1/2 of my clients have come through VC referrals. 

Some coaches put themselves out there. They share their knowledge.  This is a great way to get to know them and see how they think.

I write almost every day. I have a podcast for startup CEOs (as you might expect, it is called The Startup CEO Show). Very original, I know…

I do this because there are only so many people I can coach. This helps extend my impact. I also learn from this. This helps me be a better coach. 

Many of my clients began as readers, and then got in touch. 

If there is a coach you admire that is sharing her knowledge, get in touch.

To achieve your full potential you need the right business coach. 

I guarantee you every CEO/ founder you admire has a coach. If you want to follow in their footsteps you need one too. 

But, you need the right coach. One that deeply gets your context and deeply understands your journey.

Find that and you will keep achieving great things!

Your journey is never done

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    If you’re curious about my coaching and deal work you can learn more here.

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