Selecting the right small business coach matters.What is Small Business Coaching? A Definition

By Karyn Greenstreet

Small business coaches partners with their clients to help them grow and run an efficient business. There are two ways of looking at small business coaching: the "official" version and the "way most people think about it" version. Let’s discuss:

Small Business Coaching – The Way the ICF Sees It

The International Coach Federation (ICF) is the professional organization of all coaches: small business coaches, life coaches, career coaches, executive coaches, etc.

According to the ICF website, here is their definition of coaching (the bolding/highlighting is mine to draw your attention to key phrases):

ICF defines coaching as partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential.

The focus of coaching is to discover and align with what you want to achieve, and encourages self-discover and client-generated solutions and strategies. The client-generated part is crucial, because this helps separate coaching from consulting. Coaches help clients uncover possible solutions that the client identifies; consultants offer possible solutions and advice. Coaches see their clients as the best expert in their own lives.

You’ll note that the ICF does not indicate that coaching is consulting. In fact, when I took classes at CoachU, they were very insistent that the coach never gives advice or leads the client to come to any particular conclusion or decision. It’s completely client-led and directed by the client.

But what do you do, as a small business owner, when you don’t have the information you need to make the right decision, or you need a coach to teach you how to do something?

Small Business Coaching – The Way Most of the World Sees It

When you mention the word “coach” to nearly anyone who has never heard of the ICF, they immediately think: mentor, consultant, advisor. After all, our model of a coach is that of a tennis coach or a football coach.

When we think of a famous football player, a famous swimmer or a famous tennis player, we think their coach teaches them, helps them maintain discipline, and mentors/advises them about their skills, strategies and about their careers. A sports coach improves the athelete’s performance with tried-and-true systems and processes they’ve developed over the course of their professional lives.

I’ve been coaching small business clients since the late 1990s, and nearly every client comes to me asking for advice and brainstorming (aka consulting). They rarely come to me asking for a coaching relationship as defined by the ICF. Instead, they’re looking for a consultant, someone who can give them answers, help them think through big projects or big decisions, and work with them to solve problems and grow their business. They’re looking for another set of eyes and ears paying attention to their business and marketing.

That’s why I encourage small business owners like you to get clarity on exactly which type of help you are looking for.

  • Are you looking for a coach in the sense the ICF talks about?
  • Or, are you really looking for what I call a “coach-consultant:” someone who can wear both hats and help you grow your business using the best tools, skills, knowledge and experience available?

A coach-consultant will sometimes wear the coaching hat, and sometimes wear the consulting hat – and is savvy enough to know when to shift from consulting to coaching and back again.

If you’re still confused about what small business coaching is compared to small business consulting, check out my article: What's the Difference Between a Small Business Coach and a Consultant?

Here’s a 15-point checklist for How to Select a Small Business Coach or Consultant for you.

Choosing the right consultant or coach for you will lead to a productive and inspiring relationship. Take your time and do your homework, and you'll certainly find the right coach for you.


copyright © 2019, by Karyn Greenstreet. All rights reserved.

Karyn GreenstreetIncrease Revenue and Reach
Without Feeling Overwhelmed

Karyn Greenstreet is a small business consultant and mastermind group expert. She shares tips, techniques and strategies with self-employed people to increase revenue and reach, create a clear business vision and plan, and implement it without feeling overwhelmed. Visit her website at

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