In this video, Minnesota business attorney Aaron Hall speaks with Peter Coleman, a business advisor and executive coach with Vision Unlimited, LLC. Peter explains the common problems his small business clients face and how these problems can be diminished.
Aaron Hall: Peter, what are the common problems that lead your clients to you?
Peter Coleman: Usually, the clients have come to a point where they believe that their skills or technical ability has brought them to a stopping point. They can’t get over the specific problem, and they realize it’s time to reach out to someone else to help them on that.
Aaron Hall: What type of pain are those people feeling? Could you give me some examples?
Peter Coleman: Certainly. Most commonly in my experience, it boils down to five basic areas for most small-medium sized businesses, and those are cash on hand, sales challenges, people problems in management, time management and a loss of balance, and finally transition problems.
Aaron Hall: A lot of business owners can resonate those areas and the frustrations and the challenges and pain they may feel on that. What do you do then to help solve those problems and work with business owners?
Peter Coleman: My technique is one of what we call in our profession discovery issues. Our initial interview is all based on questions that we present to the business owner to obtain the information to where the pain really lies and possibly discover that the pain is a completely different area. Their answers oftentimes reveal a completely different situation that they may think is the real stopping point. It does come down to this information that I gather from the business owners. From my experience and my expertise, I’m able at the end of the discovery session to offer some critical path solutions for them to solve problems and achieve the dreams that they have for their business.
Aaron Hall: So after you have done this interview with the business owner, what is the next step in the discovery process?
Peter Coleman: Typically, it is a recognition by the business owner that what I have discovered in the session does resonate with them and that they feel unqualified either by themselves or the people that they have on staff to resolve them on their own. They then reach out to hopefully people like me and say, “Could you help me resolve that?” At that time, I can step in and offer my services now of my network of providers to bring practical and economical solutions to the problem.
Aaron Hall: What type of information and data do business owners need to give you so that you can analyze the situation accurately?
Peter Coleman: When we talk about matters like cash and sales, primarily, they come out of the data that is provided by the accounting system they have. Some of them do not maintain monthly accounting systems and really just have yearly tax statements, but they are generally prepared by CPA’s who have broken down those elements to retrievable data we can use. What we as business advisors and business coaches do is look for trend lines of those problems. We like to reach back at least three years because there are the ups and downs of business, but things tend to even out and show us good data after that kind of period.
Aaron Hall: What advice do you have for business owners in this situation? They’re not numbers people. They’re great technicians. They do well in what business they’re in. Like you said, they may have relied for financial reasons on their tax return. Maybe even the next step up. They look at their bank balance, and they say, “How much money is in the check book?” Once you get them on a system like QuickBooks, what do they do with the reports that come out? What are the key pieces of information that they should be looking at and monitoring?
Peter Coleman: Right. That is always the problem because of the old expression, my eyes glaze over, is the usual response of the business owner. What we do as business coaches is boil it down to…let’s say the top seven or eight critical numbers that are in those reports so that we can hold their attention for those areas and by demonstrating that there has been either positive trend lines in those eight areas, we have their attention. They get the picture and they then, if they wish to, take correction. Then we can drill down into the elements that make up the problem. We try not to overwhelm them with the data again and all those numbers because they say, “That’s my tax accountant’s problem. I don’t understand them, and I still have my problem.” We tend to extract the most salient and important parts from that data and give it back to them in a dashboard type format.
Aaron Hall: So you’re saying that the data you give to them is going to depend on the particular problem they’re facing. There aren’t just five to seven key aspects on those financial reports that every business owner should watch.
Peter Coleman: Exactly. Many times, we see where there has been consistent growth in sales, but their cash is in terrible condition. It’s like, “How could that possibly happen?” Well, that’s usually a process problem of collection and credit that is behind that that they have not addressed and have to take some action on. We can very quickly identify by looking at the balance sheet and the profit and loss statements where these problems are and then start to help guide them into how they can be easily and practically solved.
Aaron Hall: Like when a business owner is thinking of hiring an attorney, there may be similar fears about the expense of hiring a business coach. Can you give me an idea how the fees work? What kind of time commitment and financial commitment a business owner is looking at? How do you handle that?
Peter Coleman: There’s one of the advantages of working with a business advisor rather than a specific business consultant. Business consultants are, for the most part, very specialist focused. You have to have already identified the problem area to bring in the experts to do it. A business advisor or business coach is one who could take that much higher level view of the entire company’s performance, help to identify the problems, and know when an expert must be brought in. The way that is done, especially for a coaching relationship, is longer term. It is done with a retainer type basis where a monthly fee is paid so there is no taxi meter ticking there where it’s just an endless hours. It’s a known price upfront to get this kind of thinking and it is also offered with a complete with no contractual responsibilities on the part of the owner. It isn’t like, “You must know work with me for the next year.” We hope they do because it oftentimes takes at least that time. Six months to a year is the most normal engagement period for a business advisor, but it can go longer. Several of my clients are over two years already. Others, the problem is so specific, it can be solved in a few months, and the engagement is over.
Aaron Hall: Do you have any final advice for somebody who is considering hiring a business coach and trying to determine whether that’s right for them?
Peter Coleman: Right. I would say from both a personal preference and experience, reach out to a coach who is willing to adjust their thinking to your specific problems rather than to bring you in a cookie cutter or a prepared coaching program that tries to fit you into them and their system. You will gain what appears to be immediate benefit but in the long run, has no real benefit to you. You want to talk to a coach who knows how to boil this down to the specific areas of need. In other words, your specific problems and provide specific answers to those. That’s how we can be of best service to them.