The Complete Guide to Hiring an Online Business Coach

Getting started with any online business is complicated. You have to have a working understanding of literally dozens of different topics including web design and hosting, social media, email marketing, affiliate marketing, lead conversion, and much (much!) more. Hiring an online business coach is a potential shortcut to success. By leveraging their knowledge and experience, you can save yourself a great deal of time — and maybe even some money, depending on how much “catch up” training you’ll be able to avoid.

Choosing an online business coach is a big decision. Picking the right one can help keep you heading down the road to success. Pick the wrong one, and you’ve wasted your time and money.

But then there’s the question…

Do You Even Need an Online Business Coach?

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Are you setting income goals and rarely achieving them? Are you having trouble growing your social media following or mailing list? Do you find it difficult to make the connections you need to get noticed? These are all things a coach can help you with.

If you’re brand new and just looking for information, consider lower cost training programs. Books, online courses, and webinars are some of the cheapest and most valuable information you can buy. While the advice won’t be customized to your specific situation, the costs are often a small fraction of coaching programs. In fact, many coaches also sell ebooks or courses for much less than the cost of their coaching programs.

If you’re just looking to network with like-minded entrepreneurs and get new ideas, there are other less-expensive options. Check to see if there are MeetUps for online entrepreneurs in your area. Another option is to find a online business mastermind group (which is kind of like an organized brainstorming session), though availability is limited and many are by invitation only. A third option is simply to participate on various Internet forums for online entrepreneurs like Reddit or the Warrior Forum (while interesting, both have their share of questionable information).

If you’re not serious about becoming an online entrepreneur and are a “dreamer” instead of a “doer” — a “wantrepreneur” not committed to following through on your coach’s advice — then paying for a coach is a total waste of your time and money.

If you need someone to help you formulate a plan, provide strategic advice, and hold you accountable for completing the individual actions needed to reach your goals, then hiring a coach may be for you.

How Do You Find an Online Business Coach?

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Like finding everything else online, Google is your friend. There are very few online business coach directories out there. Many of these directories charge coaches to be listed and some feature disreputable coaches.

The very best way to find a competent online business coach is to get a referral from a friend of business acquaintance. I’m a big fan of the personal referral — you get to ask questions that other references might be hesitant to answer.

If the coach has authored a book, search Amazon for reviews. While not fool-proof, it’s another way to get a less-biased sense of the quality of their advice.

Most importantly, however, let’s talk for a minute about how NOT to find on online business coach.

There’s an old saying that when an online business opportunity “finds you,” it’s more likely than not to be a scam. I think the same rule applies to online business coaches. Avoid hiring coaches who “find you” via spammed email.

Another HUGE “red flag” is a coach with a website featuring clients spending their days driving Ferraris (especially a red ones), drinking alcoholic beverages on tropical beaches, lounging about in million-dollar mansions, and/or hanging out with swimsuit-clad friends. This is not realistic and creates false impressions.

A more realistic portrayal of every highly successful online entrepreneur I’ve ever known would show someone working on a laptop in bed past midnight finishing a blog post, editing a podcast, answering emails — or something similar (if that scares you, this business isn’t for you — but really successful online entrepreneurs thrive on it).

How Much Does Online Business Coaching Cost?

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The cost of online business coaching varies and no real industry standard exists. Simply put, the market drives rates that experienced online business experts can charge.

You should spend some time researching the average rate for the type of coaching you need. This allows you to better gauge a coaches experience versus how much they’re charging. Don’t waste your time (and theirs) interviewing a coach who charges $500 per hour if your coaching budget is only $250 per month.

On the other hand, beware of cut-rate coaches. If they’re charging too little, it isn’t going to work — and it’s definitely a sign of a problem. Depending on the type, good coaches and consultants can get several hundred dollars per hour and their clients keep coming back for more. Bottom line — right or wrong– if they can make more money elsewhere, that’s where their mind is going to be. If you’re hiring a true professional, you’ll get the most dedicated service when you’re paying their going rate.

While it’s important to invest in yourself and your online business education, it’s also important to make wise financial decisions. If you’re already in debt, do not put your online business training costs on a credit card. You should only risk money you can afford to lose — not that losing it would be pleasant, but it wouldn’t sink you financially if it happened. Work overtime, do freelancing gigs, get a second job, get a weekend job — just get out of debt before you start your business. The is twice as true if it’s your first business.

Good Coach, Bad Coach

Since it’s easy to set up a coaching business, lots of people do it. Your grandmother can sell a sweater on eBay today and call herself an online business coach tomorrow. There is no standard and no strict definition of success.

If you’ve never hired a coach before, you may have no idea about what factors make a “good” versus a “bad” coach.

All good coaches do these three things: They assess where you are right now, where you want to go, and then they make a plan for how you’re going to get there.

You want to hire a coach who has credibility — they’ve at least attained the level of success you’re hoping for. This will be different for everyone. One person might be happy with an online business coach who can show them how to make enough extra money to let their spouse quit their job. Another person might not be happy until they break the seven-figure per year mark. There are a lot of coaches out there who have the experience to help you get to the first goal. There are far fewer who can help you get to the second one — and the good ones get paid a lot of money.

So, what traits are you looking for and what should you avoid?

A good coach:

  • Listens carefully before they make their recommendations.
  • Makes a plan that includes specific, actionable advice.
  • Puts the time and effort in between your calls to do their “homework.”
  • Takes good notes, tracks your progress and milestones, and is always “up to speed.”
  • Shares their personal experiences — good and bad — in order to give you better overall perspective.

A poor coach:

  • Assumes they already know your situation and starts right in with their advice before they’ve listened to where you are now, and where you hope to go.
  • Wanders around unfocused in conversation and appears to come up with most of their ideas “on the fly.”
  • Still doesn’t have the answers they said they’d get for you “next time.”
  • Has to constantly be reminded of what step you’re supposed to be on and what’s coming next.
  • Never shares valuable lessons from their mistakes because they’re afraid of looking incompetent

What to Look for When “Interviewing” a Coach

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It’s important to ask to have a quick conversation before making a coaching commitment. Like any relationship, some people’s personalities just don’t mesh well. Ask your prospective coach if you can speak to them to explain your situation and determine whether or not THEY think you would be a good fit for each other. The reality is that this conversation is allowing YOU to determine if they’re a good listener, whether they believe they can help you, and if your personalities are compatible.

In your initial interview, you’ll have a chance to get a sense of the coach’s general behavior and philosophy. While you can’t completely vet someone in half an hour, you should be able to get a good sense of the good and bad:

  • Are they engaging and friendly?
    You’re going to be spending a lot of time talking with this person. Make sure you’re not going to dread each session.
  • Are they accessible?
    If they’re hard to reach before you give them your money, it’s not going to get better after you’ve paid them!
  • Are the passionate?
    If they’re passionate about online business — blogging, podcasting, social media — you’ll be able to feel it immediately.
  • Do they seem to be focused on the future, not “backward looking”?
    We’ve all made plenty of mistakes in our lives — we don’t need to be reminded of them at every turn. Being a good coach is not about telling you how they would have done it differently, or trying to make themselves look smarter than you. That’s not what you’ll be paying them for!
  • Do they lead the call, or are they just along for the ride?
    A good coach takes control of the call in a respectful way. There shouldn’t really be a lot of “dead air” — this isn’t supposed to feel like an awkward first date!
  • Do they seem unfocused?
    There’s nothing worse than getting on a call with your coach and having them say, “So, what would you like to talk about this week?” Each session should never feel like the movie Groundhog Day. You shouldn’t have to wonder what it is you’re supposed to be working on — your coach-created roadmap will have already spelled it out.

One important thing to mention is that you shouldn’t use the introductory session to fish for free advice. It’s just not respectful. Use the time to tell them about where you are and what you’d like to accomplish. When it comes to getting advice, however, they deserve to be paid.

Even if you love your coach, don’t make a commitment during the introductory session. Coaching is a big ongoing financial obligation — sometimes costing as much each month as a car payment. Sleep on it before you commit!

A good online business coach can be invaluable, but watch out for coaching scams. It’s important to pick a coach, not a coaching company. Make sure you’re going to be able to work directly with the expert, not one of their “associates.”

11 Questions You Should Ask a Potential Coach

  • Do you have recent experience helping clients with similar goals?
    Creating and marketing a successful blog and or podcast share some similarities, but there are very important differences. While an expert blogger may know something about podcasting, it’s best to find a coach who has done exactly what you’re trying to do (all things being equal).
  • Will you doing all of the coaching sessions yourself?
    Sometimes very successful Internet entrepreneurs are featured, but the actual coaching is done by an associate or employee. This is not ideal. At the very least, you want to know upfront that not all of your coaching will be done personally by the expert you think you’re hiring.
  • How many clients did you coach last year?
    There’s really no “right” answer here, but it can serve as one more piece of information when making your decision. An online business coach who only worked with a handful of clients may be perfect, especially if their primary business was actually DOING what they’re TEACHING. On the other hand, a coach who had a busy practice of 300 clients last year is probably mostly an expert in the coaching business! Ask your prospective coach if they limit their practice to a certain number of clients. A coach who coaches 100  clients every week is not going to be able to service them effectively, in addition to running their own online business.
  • Do you regularly publish a blog or podcast? Have you published in any print publications? 
    Communication skills are a must. If they can’t communicate effectively, they won’t be a great coach. Looking at their writing is a good way to judge the clarity of their thoughts.
  • Which influencers do you know personally? Do you attend conferences to network?
    While it’s not fair to expect coaches to use their extensive list of contacts to rocket you to the top, they often do leverage their connections to help their clients. A well-connected coach can help create opportunities for you and help you make valuable industry connections. This is important.
  • What will you expect from me?
    Life happens and schedules become busy, but you need to make time for your coaching sessions. Many coaches will not be interested in working with someone who doesn’t make the coaching sessions a priority. Ask about your coach’s policies about late starts, missed sessions, etc.
  • How do you conduct your coaching sessions?
    In-person? Telephone? Skype or FaceTime? Email? All have their pros and cons, and it’s good to know which one your coach prefers.
  • What is the minimum contract term?
    You should ask this question, but be super careful not to come off as looking to cancel the contract before you even start. There are ups and downs in every coaching process. Like with weight loss, sometimes the biggest breakthroughs come after a period of sustained effort where it really doesn’t seem like things are going anywhere. Commit and don’t give up too soon — but if the relationship isn’t working for whatever reason, at some point you’ll need to end things.
  • Can you customize a package specific to my needs?
    How flexible are the terms of their coaching packages? Can you buy additional hours at a reduced rate, if needed?
  • Do you get a commission or referral fee if I buy products and services that you recommend?
    There is no question that you will need to buy additional products and services, and a good coach should recommend their favorites. By asking this question directly, however, you put the coach on notice that you’re aware of this (very common) practice and expect them to disclose it.
  • Can I record the sessions to listen to later?
    It’s hard to write down everything you talk about, and it can be difficult to come up with good followup questions if you’re trying to write continuously during a coaching session. Ask your prospective coach if it would be OK for you to record the session (with the understanding that you won’t publish the content, of course).

Do Your ‘Due Diligence’

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Before you hire an online business coach, do your due diligence — a reasonably thorough check of the person you plan to hire. Any professional coach or consultant will be more than happy to provide you with references from former clients who have agreed to be contacted. Ask for at least two, preferably clients who have worked with the coach in the past year.

When you speak with these references (and you need to!), ask good “open-ended” questions. People are often reluctant to speak poorly about someone else unless they had a very bad experience. If former clients feel like they’re able to give a balanced answer, you might get more information. Ask questions like, “What do you think the coach’s biggest strengths and weaknesses are?” It might give them the opening they need to be more candid with you.

When reviewing their bio, don’t pay a lot of attention to fancy credentials. All the “wallpaper” in the world doesn’t really matter. Degrees, association memberships, etc., don’t tell you a whole lot. The only vital metric is whether or not your perspective coach has reached the level you hope to reach. Period.

Searching for the coach’s name plus “coaching” (or something more specific, like “ecommerce coaching” if that’s their specialty) can be a quick way to find posts from current and former clients. While not every client will be happy with their coaching experience, a slew of poor to mediocre reviews should be cause for concern. Be on the lookout for complaint similarities as a sign that the same upset client is posting on several different message boards and forums.

Watch out for Conflicts of Interest

There are two big conflicts of interest that arise in a online business coaching relationship: “cross-sells” and “upsells.” Neither is inherently bad, but as a coaching client you should fully understand when someone’s recommendation may also benefit them financially.

There’s a great quote from Andrew Lewis: “If you are not paying for it, you’re not the customer; you’re the product being sold.” Read that quote again and think about it carefully.

Coaching that has a “too good to be true” price is often nothing more than an attempt to “cross-sell” you into buying other products and services, or “upsell” you into the coach’s more expensive books, courses or “premium” coaching products. Don’t fall for this trap.

Cross-selling used to be common in every professional field. For example, real estate agents would get a commission for referring you to a certain home inspector or title attorney. Legislation in recent years, however, has made this practice illegal.

Would you visit a doctor offering $5 office visits, but will only recommend medication she gets paid to prescribe to you? Of course not. You want an unbiased opinion. But when financial incentives are involved, it’s very hard for someone (even a professional) to remain truly unbiased in their recommendation.

You want to find an online business coach who gets compensated fairly and who will give you their best advice. If they’re getting paid for recommending a product or service, they should disclose that to you (check your contract!).

Plan, Package, or Per Hour?

Understand the pros and cons of the different payment options. Some online business coaches offer only one choice, but most advertise different “packages” of services. For example, programs where you have daily access to your coach will be the most expensive — and not always the most efficient. Most people find an hourly session once per week to be the most cost-effective arrangement. After you’ve learned the ropes and you’re making significant progress toward your goals, you might decide to switch to an “office hours” kind of plan to help you work through the challenges that inevitably pop up.

Wait, I’m Committing to What?!

Your online business coach may ask you to sign a contract covering things like the minimum term of the engagement, fees, refunds, the coach’s expectations, non-disclosure, and more. While your attorney should review any contract before you sign it, it’s especially important if there’s something in the coaching contract you don’t understand.

Don’t be afraid to ask the coach to change the terms — they’re not cast in stone!

I Just Hired a Coach! Now What?

Congratulations, you’ve taken the first steps to realizing your online business goals! Here’s some advice to get you started and help you get the most from working with your coach:

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  • Make sure you both understand the plan for getting to your goal
    Taking a couple of sessions to formulate the roadmap will help keep everyone focused on the end result.
  • Make sure you’re setting (and re-setting) goals on a regular basis
    At the end of every coaching call, set a specific (and realistic) goal for what you plan to accomplish before the next session.
  • Make sure that by the third session you have a plan to get from point A to point B
    A good coach will lay out how they see you getting to your goal, and the specific actions you’ll need to take to make that happen.
  • Be prepared to use your coach’s time time wisely
    Yes, you’re paying them. Yes, there’s no such thing as a “dumb” question. But, they’re going to take you more seriously as a client if you are prepared and use their time wisely. Don’t waste time asking a question that a 30-second Google search would have answered.
  • Consider hiring several coaches if you can’t find one that completely meets your needs
    For example, there are several great self-publishing coaches who will help you get your ebook published. But there are also coaches who specialize in Kindle fiction. Even when it comes to online business coaches, it’s important to “niche down.”

Good luck with your new online business and please reach out if you have any questions! I’m here to help you succeed.

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Matt Thomas

As a successful online entrepreneur since 1999, I'm happy to offer you my personal experience and practical expert advice to help you start and grow your online business. Contact me or follow @insidersecrets.

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