Traditional coaching versus business coaching

Friday Night Lights Facebook fan art - business coaching
Friday Night Lights Facebook fan art

Business coaching is incredibly popular right now. And it can be hard to find the right business coach as a result.

If you’ve ever played sport, chances are someone somewhere coached you. You know the stereotypes. The much hated tough nuts PE teacher through to the Friday Night Lights Eric Taylor’s of the world. Whatever the case, we get a lot from coaching situations.

Business coaching is no exception. Trouble is, there’s a lot of rot in the industry, too.

You can almost spot the business coaches who will give you more grief than goodness. And there are a lot of them out there.  And the easiest test is by reflecting on how close to a sporting coach they are.

Let’s look at sports coaching in relation to business coaching and see if you can see the same cracks I do.

Coaches aren’t always kind to you

Nadine Champion is an amazing kick boxer and cancer survivor who speaks about the magic of having ten seconds of courage. She recently spoke about her coach at length during a Sydney TEDx talk that has since gone viral. She explained “Coach Benny isn’t always a nice man”. Nadine talked about the amount of times she faced challenges that seemed unfair.

She mentioned crying a lot.

But she also mentioned that Benny’s approach prepared her for tough battles in and out of the ring. That his phrase “change your thinking” not only got her titles and belts, it got her through the horrors of chemo.

Coach Benny’s choice to throw Nadine into situations where she had to fight hard and face failure strengthened her resolve. And prepared her for a hell of a challenge she hadn’t even foreseen.

To get the most from a business coach, your coach needs to be tough and brave. They need to care enough to teach their clients valuable lessons of this kind.

No, I’m not advocating for being hard on people. But let’s be real here. Business is bloody hard. Life is not rainbows and unicorns. It’s uncomfortable at certain points and downright painful at others.

Failure stalks 44 small businesses in Australia a day. 

90% of startups fail.

Burn out is all around us in all kinds of professional spheres.

Seems to me there’s a heck of a lot on the line when you look at it.

So having a coach that is willing to shape you into a resilient business person who can face difficult situations is paramount. And I’d add far more important than teaching you how to be popular.


  • Ignore the business coach that has testimonials that sound like teenage fan missives. Nobody hangs up testimonials that say “this person doesn’t know the arse from their elbow.” Read between the lines and look for substance to the claims.
  • Sneak a look at their clients – are they the sorts of businesses you want to keep company with? Are these businesses kicking goals? If they all look like they’ve come off the same conveyor belt, that’s a coach selling an out-of-box solution. You don’t want that, trust me.
  • Check for a product, not just a personality, on display. If it’s a whole lot of “I’ve helped thousands of business people realise their dream” pass them by. Chase facts and outcomes, case studies and proof.
  • Business coaching is not an exercise in flattery. Everyone has room to improve. Don’t hire the coach who doesn’t stretch you and only says fluffy stuff you want to hear.


Coaches nurture talent

You wouldn’t hire a football coach to teach you swimming. You don’t go to the local chicken shop and expect a 6 course degustation.

So why is business coaching an exercise in “once size fits all”?

I recently worked with three clients who had the wrong kind of business coaching experience before meeting me. The commonalities were:

  • The business coaching didn’t include basic problem solving based on the business’ current issues.
  • New and shiny was the order of the day. The cracks were papered over with a series of new ideas.
  • They’d paid big ticket prices for marketing and strategy plans that were light weight and useless.
  • The client’s workload increased as a result. So too did their doubts in their abilities.
  • Practical support wasn’t part of the program. This compounded the feelings of doubt through a failure to execute the remedies outlined.

These situations are the perfect storm for overwhelm and burn out. The light at the end of the tunnel remains as an oncoming train while the work load increases. Two out of 3 of these clients were suffering from analysis paralysis and ready to throw their businesses away.

Situations like these annoy the hell out of me because decent people with good business ideas are asking for help. What they receive in return is a big bill for a whole lot of nothing.

If the advice isn’t based on solving your pain points, don’t hire them.


  • A coach should be like a doctor. Ask them to spot the symptoms of your business issues and choose the one who nails it.
  • Check the health of your business foundations first. Only add layers to a business that has the strength to cope.
  • Business coaching is about reminding you of your strengths. A coach can push you to do things all they want. But it’s only if it comes from you that real change will occur.


Coaches love dedication

Not every kid has that talent or gift. Some, like my partner, have to work super hard to get to a reasonable level. He’s spent the better part of 6 years devoting evenings and weekends to karate, judo and jujitsu. He worked his butt off in the gym when he first started with karate because he admits he was the worst in the class. Even his Sensei wondered if he was in the right sport.

Now he’s a black belt and working on the same for judo and jujitsu. He competes in competitions. Occasionally, he comes home with a medal.

Six years is a hell of a lot of time spent getting good at something. And a heck of a lot of time spent at the physio fixing busted muscles and joints.  Let’s just say there has been a lot of washing of sweat soaked clothes.

His story is proof you don’t need natural ability to be good at anything. But you do need dedication.

For every photo of a belt graduation, there are 1000’s of hours of hard work, failure and sweat you don’t see.

That’s what it takes to kick serious tail. It doesn’t matter what kind of tail you want to kick.

If your business coach measures the smallest step as pure Instagram gold, run. And don’t stop running.

The only way to reap the rewards of hard work is to put it in.


  • Look for the coach who is preparing you for the long haul. If you’re thinking 3 months or 6 months is all you need to succeed, think again
  • Treat your business like an iceberg. 10% of cheering will need a lot of work, heartache, learning and sweat that goes into your business
  • Seek out the coach with the right attitude. If everything is polished and pretty, that’s not the coach you want when the chips are down


Coaches start small and build big

The trend at the moment is to diversify and build an empire. It’s common place in business because it means more fingers in more pies, more recognition and more profit. But things don’t start that way.

Expansion too early and trying to be too big is detrimental to business operations. Ask most of the businesses that burst along with the 1990’s tech bubble. They suckered themselves in with a mantra of “get big fast” and it blew up in their faces. And they took the economy with them.

Modern day business coaches often push their clients to diversify. Expansion is a popular idea.

But it doesn’t make it smart.

Remember the Karate Kid and “wax on, wax off”? You have to start at a place where your understanding grows from polishing old cars through to defending yourself in the title fight.

Your business needs to work well before you produce extra layers. Your business coaching experience should be mindful about ensuring you understand the baseline. And can weather the storm for an extended period.


  • You’ll get sick of your business long before your customers do. You have to be smart enough to hold steady until it’s the right time to move to the next big idea
  • Acquiring new customers only gets you so far. Think about your customers as a long term relationship. Look for opportunities to grow the connection, to gain referrals and to upsell.
  • Nothing encourages failure more than spreading yourself too thin. Spend your energy wisely


Coaches challenge you and help you grow

Being in business for yourself isn’t what you do because you don’t like your current boss. Or you want to be cool and hip and work out of cafes all day. Being in business for yourself is one of the hardest things you can do.

So what of businesses that don’t want to work on actual business? Or business coaches who haven’t been in business outside business coaching?

There are a lot of people seeking popularity through business. They believe they’re taking a short cut through business coaching.   It’s another way to become famous without being an actor or a newsreader. Only with a bill for a weekend seminar and a website that looks like everyone else’s.

Your business coach shouldn’t be perfectly groomed for popularity. In fact, they (and you) should be tough enough not to like them on occasion.

Above all else, admire the sweat and the hard work, because nobody gets anywhere in business without it. 

Want to discover some HONEST BUSINESS COACHING? Get in touch now! 

1 Comment. Leave new

  • Hi Bek, This is the first time I’ve popped by your blog, although I see you on Blog Society regularly. I love this post. I am a coach in two different roles (one in a NFP incubator and one in my own biz) & nothing drives me more insane than coaches not delivering the tough messages. It’s wasteful and irresponsible to not be honest as a coach. I don’t know if I agree with you that you shouldn’t hire a coach who hasn’t worked in the biz – I have had my own business, but I’ve also consulted to and coached businesses in about every industry and biz type you could name, and then some. I think it’s about the coach. Sometimes people who have run fantastically successful businesses are crap coaches, as fantastic football players can be crap football coaches. It’s about the coach, the individual and their ability to see the insights, cut through the crap and be honest & develop a trusted relationship. Thanks Bek – I’ll definitely be back for more of your writing. KT


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