Thinking of Hiring a Coach? Why I Hired Five

Thinking of Hiring a Coach? Why I Hired Five

I like to take risks. For example, I derailed a perfectly good career as an associate attorney to become a salesperson. At my peak income I decided I was ready for a change, and became an in-house legal marketer. There’s been other moves, but you get my point. My early years had the potential for career disaster, and the risks I’ve taken have required a leap of faith and the belief that I could pull it off. Sometimes that’s not enough. To help pull me through these transitions, I could have relied solely on friends, my network, or even my bosses or colleagues. I didn’t. Instead, I’ve hired help – my secret sauce – to train me, to give me an edge, and to otherwise give me a swift kick when needed. Over the past 20 years I’ve hired five (yes, five!) professional business or career coaches. By accident I’ve become a bit of an expert consumer, so I thought I’d share a few of my experiences in this article.

In 2004 I jumped from practicing attorney (with a comfortable salary) to salesperson (100% commission). My friends and family thought I was nuts. I believed I could succeed because the job required that I sell a product I knew to law firms. I was wrong. After a few months on the job I realized I needed real sales training: how to make effective cold calls, fill a pipeline, manage a territory, and close deals. Sure, I landed a client or two as an attorney, but now my sole job was to meet, and hopefully exceed, my quota. Enter Merit Guest, my first coach. Merit and I met through a presentation she made at a company meeting in Chicago. Her presentation focused on the right mindset and having a written plan to succeed. After an introductory phone call, I hired her.

I went on to work with Merit and her colleague Bob Sinton at his Sandler training center for several years. The program involved weekly one on one accountability coaching and weekly live classroom sessions with Q&A. With my commute to the training center in the suburbs of Philadelphia, the hours invested in my training were similar to a part-time job. It was well worth it. I met or exceeded my quotas in most quarters and made more money than I ever did practicing law. More importantly, I learned the fundamentals of selling (in the pre-digital age) and how to grow a business. A couple of years later, “making my number” would have a lot to do with being promoted to an account executive for some of our biggest customers. In that role I was exposed to strategic account management and enterprise selling at the C-level. I had no prior professional sales experience and worked in a corporate culture of highly experienced salespeople. The competition was intense. Fortunately I don’t need to wonder what would have happened had I not invested in my training.

My move back to the law firm world in 2007 was also a bigger challenge than anticipated. As a business development manager in a huge firm, it was my job to help the attorneys position themselves and the firm for more matters and clients. After chasing a quota and managing accounts for years as an individual contributor, I needed a new framework for working with practice group chairs and attorneys as a strategic consultant and also as an external business developer. While the sales experience was valuable and a reason why I landed the role, it didn’t transfer as neatly as I had expected. That familiar feeling of being on a boat without an oar had returned. Luckily I caught a presentation by Tracy LaLonde early in my tenure at an industry conference. She talked about her years of experience helping lawyers with their marketing and business development, which seemed to be exactly what I needed to ramp up quickly in my new role. She developed a “train the consultant” program to impart her knowledge and processes. After just a few months of work with her, I added a set of proven best practices to my existing toolbox.

My current coach, Mo Faul, has helped me navigate some of the biggest changes I’ve made to date, including leaving a comfortable position I held for nine years. Mo is a certified career coach and also has years of executive-level experience in healthcare. Among other things, she’s challenged me to honestly assess my skills and talents and how it makes best sense to monetize them. During her 16-week career management course I became a managing partner of a small law firm and have started my own business. I’m now part of her mastermind group, which is made up of highly successful and motivated women who are earning promotions, growing their businesses, and otherwise inspiring me to be better. The group setting has forced me to stay focused while continuing to take measured and thoughtful risks.

Working with coaches throughout my career wasn’t a planned strategy. I simply knew I wanted the support and was determined to get it. Coaching requires serious cash, and I’ve chosen to foot the bill because I believed I was doing my part to meet my employer’s (and my own) expectations. A free and effective option I’ve also tried is to work with an open-minded colleague who may be facing similar challenges. Set up a weekly or bi-weekly discussion to work through issues, troubleshoot, and to knowledge-swap. Yes, there are many resources available online, but in my experience, change happens in real life. Having involved and helpful managers along the way will also play a role, but someone outside of the company to troubleshoot provides a perspective that, in my experience, is worth every penny.

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