grow your small businessAs you work to grow your small business, you may at some point feel stuck in a rut and unsure of how to get out. Luckily, whatever the issue—sales have plateaued, for example, or team morale is low—there are business coaches who specialize in helping small business owners propel themselves to the next level.

So how do you figure out if you need a coach? And, if you do need one, how do you choose a coach who will deliver results? Here are a few questions you should ask to help decide:

What advisors do I already have at my disposal?

The help you need may already be right under your nose. Most business owners have a few trusted paid advisors, including a public accountant and a personal financial advisor. Ask them to help you identify gaps in skills or professional development that might require the investment of a coach, and analyze the things you may be able to take care of in house.

For example, if you want to get better at financial management, you probably don’t need to hire a coach—you likely can absorb those skills by collaborating more often and more closely with your accountant. On the other hand, if stagnant sales are the issue, a business coach may be able to bring a new perspective to your sales and marketing efforts.

Is it networking I really need?

Before hiring a coach, consider whether you simply need to expand your network. In addition to their paid advisors, most entrepreneurs also rely on a small circle of trusted peers, often called a “kitchen cabinet.” A kitchen cabinet comprised of other business owners with complementary business skills and experience can challenge you to think differently, grow professionally, and assess risks and opportunities more astutely.

If that’s the kind of round-table kitchen cabinet you crave, check out business networking groups. Peer mentoring groups are often offered through local chambers of commerce, economic development groups, and university-affiliated business incubators.

What should I look for when I’m ready to hire a coach?

Coaches abound, and it won’t be easy to sort the winners from the wannabes. Experienced coaches say that the multitude of coaching certifications just make it more confusing. You can’t simply count on a certification to guarantee a minimum standard of coaching ability.

Instead, you will have to rely on recommendations. Ask for a potential coach’s references, and ask those references exactly how the coach:

  • Helped identify trouble areas
  • Developed a plan
  • Set milestones for progress

Finally, ask the coaches you are considering to explain how they have used their own advice to build their own practices. If the techniques didn’t work for a particular candidate, they are not likely to work for you.

A good coach will be comfortable with setting a clear goal to be met by a certain date. Beware of coaches that claim to have such a secretive, unique process that they won’t tell you where your money will be going.

Joanne Cleaver doesn’t just write about entrepreneurship and finance for national publications and websites. As a longtime freelance writer and editorial project manager, she lives it. Her most recent book is “The Career Lattice“ (McGraw Professional, 2012), which shows how lateral moves power career growth.