Articles - 23rd August 2019

What is a business coach, and do you really need one?

Words by Fiona Thomas
Illustration by Jon McCormack

It seems as though everyone is a coach these days. The International Coaching Federations boasts now over 30,000 members, a huge jump from just 13,000 back in 2007.

With 5 million self-employed people in the UK alone, coaching seems to be the last piece of the freelance puzzle. Whilst being your own boss is great, where should you go when you’re in desperate need of constructive, impartial advice?

I spoke to Emma Ward who runs the successful Freelance Lifestylers Facebook group and is a trained coach. She explained to me that coaching isn’t about training, it’s about knowing how to ask questions.

“A mentor is someone who gives more practical advice like tools, systems and legal side of things… a lot of coaches to a bit of mentoring mixed in with coaching. A coach is more likely to say ‘would you mind if I made an observation?’ and this is a way of mentoring without shoving it down people’s throats.”

She also does work around limiting beliefs, internal and external expectations, imposter syndrome and negative thought patterns that stunt our personal and financial development as freelancers. Emma says coaching this way always leads people to find their own solutions which gives them more ownership over decisions and makes them more likely to succeed.

What qualifications should a coach have?

There is no legal requirement for a business coach to have any formal training or specific qualification. Anyone can call themselves a coach and take your money. So the onus is on you to decide if you’re happy with the level of training and experience that your coach has before your sign on the dotted line.

Emma gained her coaching qualification from In Good Company, which gave her in-person training and hands-on coaching experience:

“It was a smaller group so we got more one to one time. There were several weekends of training and between each session you were paired up with other coaches to apply what you’ve learned. We covered CBT, NLP, transformative self. You can do it online but I felt that training in person, we were really pushed and I think that has made me a better coach”

Where to find a coach

Although there isn’t one central governing body, there are lots of organisations which back up coaches who have relevant experience. Leaders and managers may opt to be assessed and accredited through the Institute of Leadership and Management. Coaches specialising in Neuro-Linguistic Programming can join the Association for NLP which requires them to comply with a code of ethics and an established complaints procedure. The European Mentoring and Coaching Council has a search function and so does the ICF.

How much does coaching cost?

Coaching can range from around £100 per session to £2k+ for packages that run over several months.

What to expect from a good coach

A discovery call

Most coaches offer a free initial phone call in order to test the waters and see if you’re a good fit for each other. Freelance digital marketer Bryony Cullin [] told me that the bond she had with her coach Bek Lambert was imperative to her success.

“I felt like she ‘got’ me straight away which was a relief. She really understood the situation I was in and gave me some brilliant advice. She didn’t try to upsell me into a continuing relationship and was happy for it being a one-off which actually made me more keen to work with her in the future.”


Some coaches will ask you to fill out a questionnaire before your first session. This is a sign that they’re going to do their homework before your session and they’ll show up prepared. You will likely be given a            contract to sign which should clearly set out what services you are paying for.


Bigger goals will be broken down into smaller tasks and your coach should check in with you regularly to see how you’re progressing. This accountability that comes with a business coach is often the most effective aspect of the process.


A good coach will know when the support your needs when it falls outside their expertise, so they may point you towards a therapist or a mentor if required.


So what’s in it for you? Well, there’s no shortage of positive stories when it comes to coaching, like former journalist Lucy Griffiths who’s coaching experience changed her life.

“We created automated systems that mean I wake up and I’ve sold hundreds of courses overnight and I now make more money in a month than I ever made from being a journalist in a year just from my online courses. I’m no longer on the entrepreneurial hamster wheel feeling burned out. This, of course, frees me up to take a few select clients for one-to-one  and to have more time to be a very hands-on mum”

Founder of Purpose PR Nicola Russill-Roy learned about email marketing, how to market yourself as a consultant and how to attract her ideal clients:

“In one launch I made £48k in seventy-two hours, I now only work three full days per week, went from a team of three to a team of 10”

Finding the right coach isn’t easy, but putting in the time and money to do so could give you the nudge you need to smash your freelance goals.

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