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TheStreet Open House

Why Small Businesses Need Coaching

CHICAGO ( TheStreet) -- In sports, coaching advice isn't limited to the superstars. Everyone on the team gets the benefit of a coach's leadership and constructive criticism.

In business, it can seem like coaching is reserved for the favored few: leaders-in-training who want to leap a few rungs up the corporate ladder. But the coaching process may be most valuable for those who aren't on a team, meaning small-business owners and entrepreneurs who have no workplace peers to turn to for advice.

Just as in any other personal relationship, you've got to find a business coach you click with. That might mean meeting with several until you find The One.

While coaching has gained recognition over the past decade or so, there's still confusion as to what exactly an executive coach does. So it's worth clarifying first what effective coaching is not. It's not psychotherapy -- a coach should not be asked to guide you through personal problems or dole out relationship advice.

Neither is coaching a form of consulting. Hire a consultant and you're paying someone to come into your organization, assess problems and tell you what to do. A coach is a facilitator, not a commander. His or her job is to help you analyze problems and find solutions for yourself.

Beyond that basic framework, however, coaching is a diverse field, with various approaches that appeal to different personality types. Just as in any other personal relationship, you've got to find a coach you click with, and that might mean meeting with a number of different people until you find The One.

"A coach is an ally," says Ed Modell, incoming president of the International Coach Federation, which runs a rigorous credentialing program. "You should be able to share your worst fears and biggest goals. Then, the coach should co-create the solutions that work best for you."

Most coaches charge by the hour rather than working on retainer; in general, you can expect to pay between $150 and $500 an hour. Modell recommends at least one in-person meeting to make sure you're comfortable with each other, saying "You have to create a trust environment." But once that's been established, phone meetings are just as effective -- and an easier commitment for busy business owners.

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