Why you need to hire a coach to spur business growth
As a CEO, I hire coaches so that my team and I can learn and grow faster than we can on our own.
By Bob Ruffolo
When I started IMPACT in 2009, it was just me, working out of my condo.
At first, it was just a side hustle: I’d build websites for businesses that needed a new or updated web presence. It was months before I was ready to quit my day job and hire an employee.
Today, IMPACT employs more than 70 people, and we service hundreds of clients.
I’m not sharing this to pat myself on the back for hustling and growing my small business. I’m not trying to show everyone that I’m unique. Actually, it’s for the opposite reason.
My story is the same story that so many business owners know to be true: As we grow, the work we do today is completely removed from what we did when we were getting started.
I started as a web designer but I haven’t done any client web design in years.
This is often the way it is. You start a business because you have a skill or a focus, but you eventually hire your own replacement as you grow and the company needs different things from you.
Instead of a frontline worker, you become a manager (then, in many cases, you become a manager of managers). Maybe you become a course-setter, too. Anyone who’s had this experience knows how different it feels.
Embrace the idea that there’s a lot you don’t know
A new role requires new skills. There’s no other way of saying it. If you were hiring a developer or you were hiring a CEO, you’d look for different resumes.
So, the big question is: How do you learn those new things? How does a developer become a CEO?
I didn’t go to CEO school or take time to get an MBA in executive leadership.
For me, those lessons came from my bookshelf, from my day-to-day experiences (that is, the hard way), and most importantly, from coaches.
Many of the most respected business leaders use coaches to get ahead, and I wanted that same competitive advantage.
As we’ve grown in size and had more resources at our disposal, we’ve invested more and more heavily in coaching — for our leadership team and for our whole company.
This is for a simple reason: I’ve found coaching to be the surest, fastest path to reflection, growth, and mastery.
I loved EOS, but couldn’t afford a coach when I needed it most
When we were growing rapidly, I was drawn to EOS, or Entrepreneurial Operating System. I had read Traction by Gino Wickman. The book really spoke to me. It offered me a path forward to becoming a purpose-based leader.
For our growing business, this framework helped us focus on culture, routine, and processes to give us a clearer structure and goals, which were just what we needed to mature.
We used EOS extensively. Still, I knew I wasn’t getting all I could out of the EOS framework because we were doing it on our own.
Any time you’re guided by self-reflection, you're limited by your own blindspots. That’s a truth you can’t get around.
There’s a reason the best athletes in the world hire multiple coaches, trainers, nutritionists, and more. Those experts can see things that the athletes can’t see themselves. They can provide discipline, organization, and accountability in a way that is otherwise impossible.
At the time, we couldn’t afford to hire an EOS coach, so we went without. As a result, our outcomes were not what they could have been.
We grew more slowly. We made more missteps. We had less productive conversations.
Here’s why we invest in coaching
Now, years later, we have more capital at our disposal, and we choose to invest some of it to work with coaches.
When I read Scaling Up by Verne Harnish, I knew how big an effect this business model could have at IMPACT. I also knew, from my EOS experience, that we’d get the most out of it if we hired experts to guide us through it.
So we did.
Today, we meet regularly with our coach from Petra Coaching to help us align around our objectives.
Next, it was Donald Miller’s Building a StoryBrand. The same thing happened: We hired a StoryBrand guide to lead us through the framework. Even though we do web design for our clients, we found that we were just too close to our own company to create a clear marketing message.
With outside guidance our conversations were richer, our outcomes were greater, and our progress was faster.
For learning to stick, it has to be active and interactive
IMPACT is located in New Haven, home of Yale University. Yale offers dozens of courses for free on a platform they call Open Yale Courses. You can click in and see every lecture from “Frontiers of Biomedical Engineering,” for example. You have the syllabus, the required books, and even the final exam.
Although you’d definitely get a lot out of watching a world-class teacher explain cutting-edge technology, the experience cannot be the same as being an actual student. Because one is active and the other is passive.
The power of working directly with an expert is that the expert is going to grade your papers, respond to your comments, correct your exam, and give you a score — all while telling you exactly what you need to work on.
The expert is evaluating your progress and spurring your growth.
Open Yale Courses is passive. You can watch every lecture, read every book, and take the exam, but you won’t ever really know how you’ve done, how much you’ve grown, or what’s the best path forward in your learning.
For learning to stick, for growth to happen, it has to be active — and interactive.
The true goal of learning is independence
When you think about it, all education is aimed toward independence. Whether you’re taking a business class in college or you're apprenticing to an expert, you're learning so that you can eventually do it on your own.
As IMPACT grew and became an agency, we became frustrated with the way most clients were treated by agencies. In almost all cases, education was absent. Agencies were not teaching clients to update their own website, write their own content, gather their own data, or schedule their own emails.
Instead, the client was dependent on the agency for success.
We imagined a different model, one that went beyond the too-common "hire a coach and wait" approach:
- What if agency experts trained their clients to become self-sufficient?
- What if they coached client leaders on goal setting, culture, and communication?
- What if the goal was client excellence, not a steady check?
Our Mastery program is designed to empower sales and marketing autonomy. You give us 18 months, we’ll give you the knowledge and skills to succeed on your own — from leadership coaching to tactical training in marketing, sales, HubSpot, video production, and more.
When you finish, you’ve graduated. You’re ready to succeed on your own.
There’s a reason everyone celebrates graduations and sees them as a major life event. It’s a symbol of independence and freedom. That’s why everyone is smiling.
Why do coaches hire coaches?
In order to provide the coaching and training businesses need to take control of their sales and marketing, our staff is filled with experts who train weekly to hone their knowledge and delivery.
At the same time, we contract coaches from Petra and StoryBrand to help us grow and improve.
Is it hypocritical for expert coaches to hire other expert coaches? Aren’t IMPACT coaches supposed to have all the answers?
We are learning all the time. Each quarter, we’re striving to be better than we were the quarter before. Sometimes we stumble, sometimes we triumph. As a result, we’re always taking stock and evaluating our growth so we can chart a course forward.
There is no better way of doing that than with a coach.
We’ve built IMPACT+, an online learning platform that spreads our message to thousands of users. We did this because, like Yale, we want to give people access to great teaching. We know that our framework can truly change peoples’ lives and transform their businesses.
But IMPACT+ is like Yale Open Courses. The resources we’ve put together are amazing — from courses to keynote recordings from industry leaders — but there is simply no way they can compare to personalized, interactive coaching.
Coaching helps you move fast, avoid blind spots, and supercharge your progress.
When you’re serious about growth, a coach can show you how to get there.
Wondering where to begin?