Do you need a coach?

By Camilla Cornell | May 9, 2014 | Last updated on May 9, 2014
7 min read

Kelvin Krips’s business had plateaued.

Five years ago, the Red Deer, Alta. advisor with Everyone Benefits was consistently selling group RRSPs, but realized he needed to present a more cohesive image.

But he was too busy serving clients to get a clear view of his operations. Krips scoured business books in search of direction, but says he needed more specific help, preferably from someone who knew his industry well. When he saw an ad for coaching geared to financial advisors, he emailed the company.

“I do a lot of obstacle races, such as The Spartan and Tough Mudder, and have used trainers with great success,” he says. “I wanted to extrapolate that success [for] my financial practice.”

Krips met with April-Lynn Levitt of The Personal Coach for a complimentary one-hour needs analysis.

“She asked me how my business ran and what I saw as the issues,” he says. Levitt followed up with a summary letter outlining Krips’s challenges: he didn’t have a proper business plan, he wasn’t diligently tracking expenses, his marketing materials were inconsistent and his staff lacked clear client processes to follow.

Impressed by these insights, he signed up for a year of coaching. Levitt created a colour-coded calendar, blocking off time for business development planning, as well as for the usual appointments, paperwork and leisure time. Then, the two worked on the top priorities, such as tracking expenses on a monthly and quarterly basis.

“Analyzing my income statement on a regular basis made me realize I was running my own business and needed to treat it as such,” says Krips. “This included setting a budget and production goals for the year. It helped me with my vision and was easy to execute as I knew what my objectives were for the year, and I could discuss my progress with April.”

Krips and Levitt came up with vision and mission statements, as well as objectives, strategies and action plans to achieve them. They defined roles and responsibilities for staff, such as setting up appointments and calling clients in for periodic reviews.

“This freed up my time to grow the business and be in front of clients, rather than getting lost in day-to-day activities and administrative work,” Krips says.

They also created a series of quick reference books with steps to take in various circumstances, such as the arrival of a new client (what should be in the welcome package, what contact information and forms were needed). In addition, Krips ensured his marketing materials had a consistent look and theme, and he now keeps track of the number of appointments he makes, how many policies he writes, any new assets under administration, new group RRSP cases and expenses.

“I show her my numbers on a quarterly basis,” he says.

He’s renewed his contract with Levitt five years in a row, crediting her coaching with helping revenues double during the first two years of the relationship and their consistent rise since. “She gave me the confidence and the direction to do the things I needed to do,” he says. Things are easier for staff too. “We’re not so helter-skelter. We’ve got systems in place.”

But coaching isn’t cheap: Krips estimates he’s spent $30,000 over the past five years.

Fees tend to range from about $100 to more than $500 per hour. Although an International Federation of Coaching (IFC) survey indicates 86% of those who invested in services said they “at least got their investment back,” that still leaves 14% who said they didn’t benefit. Here’s how to ensure you’re not one of them.

Coach or consultant?

What’s the difference?

Coaches tend to guide you, but let you come to your own conclusions. “A consultant,” says Levitt, “is telling you what to do or giving you specific advice.”

For example, if a client wants to know which contact management system to get, Levitt will make a recommendation. A consultant, by contrast, will tell you what to buy and why. “In general,” she says, “coaches work on the assumption that people are more apt to buy into change if they’ve been part of the process.”

Do you need a coach?

Some advisors find they’re on the go all the time, but aren’t growing their books or revenues. Others seek help for specific problems, like hiring or time management. “I would say at least 80% start out that way,” says Levitt. “But many times we end up working with them for a number of years because other things come up.”

Simply having problems to fix isn’t enough, says Simon Reilly, founder of Leading Advisor Inc., a telephone coaching business based in Parksville, B.C. You have to block out time for calls and assignments, and commit to follow through on action plans. Reilly says he knows a relationship won’t work if, “before we’ve even done the needs analysis, we’ve rescheduled twice.”

And, for advisors shopping for a fit, if a coach won’t let you talk to previous clients, asks for a lot of money up front or fails to detail his process, “that would be a big red flag,” says Levitt.

She sends out a formal letter of engagement that outlines what she’ll do for the client and how often they’ll meet. “You want there to be a way of measuring results,” she says. “Otherwise, it can be a waste of money.”

That’s also a risk because the coaching industry isn’t regulated: anyone can read a business book and hang up a shingle. If you want some assurance that your coach has training, as well as experience, says Levitt, look for someone who is an ICF. The organization won’t accept candidates unless they already have at least 60 hours of training in approved programs.

Do your styles mesh?

Credentials aside, you still have to suss out whether someone’s a good fit, says Reilly (see “How to avoid a scammer,” below). In Krips’s case, Levitt’s experience clinched the job, rather than a specific designation. She’d also been a financial advisor.

“I wanted someone I could bounce ideas off,” he says. When it came to social media marketing, for example, Krips made suggestions and Levitt offered feedback. “Someone who wasn’t familiar with our compliance protocol could have been off-side,” he says. “She knew the boundaries of what we could actually use.”

With Levitt’s encouragement, Krips went live on Twitter and learned to use LinkedIn to reach out to potential clients. Many business coaches offer free initial consultations, and Levitt suggests interviewing at least two (unless it’s a referral) before choosing.

How to avoid a scammer

Coaching quality varies dramatically, from knowledgeable professionals who can nurture your business to scammers.

So ask questions, including:

  • What experience, training and credentials do you have?
  • Are you a member of an association advisors respect?
  • What is your process, style and philosophy?
  • How many, and what type of, businesses and professionals have you coached?
  • Who is your ideal client?
  • How long do the arrangements typically last?
  • How do you charge for services?
  • How much time will I have to invest?
  • Will you come and see me or will coaching be over the phone?
  • Will you give me follow-ups in writing?
  • Do you have experience with coaching for specific areas of concern, such as hiring and time management?
  • Can you provide articles, testimonials and references to demonstrate your expertise?

Also call references. Use open-ended questions, such as:

  • What has your experience been working with a coach?
  • What value did you get dealing with this coach?
  • What changes have you seen in your practice?

Some take collaborative approaches to assessing business challenges and deciding how to handle them. Others tell you what to do.

When determining whether a coach’s personality fits with yours, Levitt advises, “think about how you’ve responded to other mentors in your past, whether a favourite athletic coach or a respected boss. Which qualities worked for you, and which didn’t?”Advisors with dominant personalities may need coaches with similar traits, she adds, while someone less assertive may feel bowled over by boot-camp aggressiveness.

And an unsuitable approach could leave you more stressed, says Carol Jackson, CFP, an executive financial consultant with Investor’s Group in Edmonton. Jackson has long advocated coaching. She started off by attending business seminars and group coaching sessions in Vancouver and Calgary.

Then she had kids. The group sessions involved time away from home and hiring babysitters, which was a hassle. What’s more, the seminars weren’t personalized.

They covered time management, but failed to deal with how to manage a family and work. “You can delegate everything else, but you can’t delegate your children,” Jackson says.

Jackson first saw Reilly speaking at an educational seminar in 2011. She knew she needed help with strategic planning, but couldn’t carve out the time. “He helps you figure it out quickly,” she says.

Reilly’s process involves coming up with a mission statement and a one-page business plan based on core values. Then, he helped her set specific and measurable goals: increase investable assets per client by 10% this year, rather than just “making more money.”

Action plans focus on strategies, such as asking wealthy clients for referrals or holding a meet-and-greet for prominent community members. If you’re clear with coaches about what you want to achieve, and are open to the process, you’ll gain value.

But if you’re not ready to commit, consider starting with a mentoring or peer relationship. For instance, you can take on an accountability buddy to share goals and ask each other about the number of client calls made in a week. It’s a start.

Camilla Cornell is a Toronto-based financial writer.

Camilla Cornell