The Ugly Truth About Business Coaches: How to Hire Smart & Avoid Getting Burnt

Every day, hundreds of new coaches hit the scene. Armed with sky-high promises about how they’ll help you transform your business, they fill their coffers with the dollars of hopeful business owners who desperately need help getting back into the driver’s seat of their company.

The problem? Most of these business coaches are wildly underqualified. They can’t back up their claims with tangible client results, and they don’t understand the range of levers at play in your business well enough to make strategic recommendations.

These coaches aren’t bad people. But they’re part of a majorly screwed up system that bleeds business owners dry of millions each year. Almost every entrepreneur knows someone who’s invested in coaching, only to be left with a floppy strategy and a lot of the same issues they had coming in.

So, what’s the truth about business coaches? Is there even such a thing as effective coaching these days? And how can you tell which coach might be right for you before hiring one?

It’s not always easy to discern which coaches can provide genuine, strategic support vs. which ones are full of hot air—but the good news is that there ARE still some truly fantastic coaches out there supporting ambitious business owners.

In this article, we’re going to explore the ugly truth about business coaches—and the questions you need to keep in mind before hiring someone to make sure you don’t get burnt.



Having spent more than 20 years supporting business owners as a strategist, coach, and corporate leader, our Founder & Head Coach Cullen Talley created Exit Momentum as a response to a major problem he saw in the coaching market:

“Coaches seem to come out of the woodwork during economic boom times. Simply put, it’s easy to be a “great coach” when the market’s overall trend is up and to the right.

The problem? When macroeconomics lead to meaningful business slowdowns, these fairweather coaches—who are really just cheerleaders taking credit for your natural success during an upswing—become blatantly DANGEROUS.”

Following the wrong advice during a season when business is a little rocky already can tank a previously successful company.

If your business is seeing a material change in your industry…
If you’re seeing a consistent decline or stagnancy in profits…
If you’re bleeding from ongoing hiring and staffing issues…
A cheerleader isn’t going to cut it.

You need a real pro with boots-on-the-ground business-building experience to help you navigate the choppy waters and get back to smooth sailing.

Equally as important, if you have had success and are in a solid cash position like many of our clients, there are big opportunities to take advantage of right now. As we say, expand as opportunities show up and doors open, but do that work with discipline and decisiveness because timing is critical.

So… how to go about finding the right pro for you?


What to Look For In An Effective Business Coach

When you’re looking for the right business coach, it’s important not to get wrapped up in fancy branding and exciting promises. Anyone can hire a social media team to make them look great on Instagram, and that’s why knowing the right questions to ask during the vetting process is so important. It will save you money and, often more important, eliminate wasted time and energy.



Have they worked with other businesses similar to yours?
Have they navigated problems similar to the ones you’re facing and at similar magnitude?

A great coach should be able to provide examples, testimonials, and case studies about how their services have helped others achieve the goals you’re looking to achieve.

One key note to mention here is that it’s not enough for a coach to provide quotes from past clients with no context. Remember: anyone can be a great coach when the market is on the up-and-up.

Instead, look for in-depth context. Ask pointed questions about their process and exactly how they supported their clients to create the results they’re sharing. Most true experts will be eager to share more about their unique system and exactly how they can help you get from Point A to Point B.



What is an example of them leading a client through a hard challenge or decision?
How do they prepare themselves to coach at the highest level?

Especially during times of economic turbulence, pulling your business up by its bootstraps is likely to include making difficult choices and leading challenging conversations. Sometimes, this means redefining offers, systems, or processes. Sometimes, it means making extremely difficult moves like:

  • Laying off team members to avoid financial collapse.
  • Restructuring a decades-old business model that’s become irrelevant.
  • Acknowledging when family team members aren’t fulfilling their duties.

…BIG issues with the potential to create BIG ripples in your organization.

Beginner coaches may be able to ask you guiding questions, but ultimately, most will leave you to handle the dirty work on your own. This is one of the main areas where strong coaches differentiate themselves. Questions are an effective way to coach, but at some key moments, your coach needs to provide answers, and if they can’t or won’t, what’s the point of having them?

When we support clients through challenging periods, for example, we’re not just there to guide, but to truly understand and empathize with their struggles. We’re fully prepared to roll up our sleeves and get into the thick of it with them. Our coaches have their routines to prepare themselves—physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually—for what are often emotionally taxing sessions… because we expect to be just as “in it” as our clients are.

Through thick and thin, a seasoned coach should be able to strategically advise you on the right steps to take, even in the darkest moments. They should be able to help you clearly see the purpose behind each step and how to show up as a leader for your organization during moments when it matters most



Where does compassion fit into their coaching practice?
How does their past business experience position them to lead with empathy?

On the flip side of this conversation, a seasoned business coach should be able to bring genuine compassion and empathy to the table. Not only should they be able to help you navigate in the dark and lead difficult conversations—but they should be emotionally invested in your journey.

The best business coaches have, themselves, been successful business owners and business leaders. They know how high the stakes are. They understand the stress you’re under and what you’re really up against. Because of that, the level of compassion and connection they’re able to bring to the relationship is far beyond what someone working in hypotheticals can offer.

An unqualified business coach, on the other hand, will be most comfortable in the middle. Not only do they NOT have what it takes to walk into a firey battle with you—but they won’t be comfortable sitting in the vulnerable moments with you either.



Do they possess a deep understanding of ALL of the levers it takes to run a business – or only a few?
Is their understanding grounded in real-world experience and leadership?

Too often, we see specialists and experts pivot into coaching… would be totally fine, if they stayed in their lane. A copywriter could become a messaging coach. An accountant might become a money coach. An executive assistant might become an operations coach. All good and well.

The problem comes when subject-matters experts try to rebrand themselves as business coaches—even though they have ZERO understanding of most of the levers it actually takes to run a successful company at scale.

That former copywriter turned coach might be able to help you come up with eye-catching content and a great messaging strategy… but what can they, as a longtime solopreneur, really teach you about managing a team or your cashflow?

And the money expert who’s promising to transform your business? Sure, they may be able to help you rework your business budget and even increase your profits… but what about retaining team members? Training leaders? Systemizing your operations?

Frankly, we’re sick and f*ing tired of seeing single subject matter experts pretend they understand what it means to run a business from a holistic, all-levers-pulled standpoint. The reality is that most coaches don’t understand the psychology of marketing, the full client journey, the mechanics of business finance, AND the semantics of developing strong, customized systems.

This is one of the biggest reasons why we recommend ONLY hiring a business coach who has themselves run a successful company. They might be well-intentioned, but less qualified business coaches simply don’t know how much they don’t know. Working with an expert will ensure that you’re making decisions from an extremely well-informed, strategic position every single time.



What is their approach to creating accountability?
Do they have what it takes to be radically honest and tell you the truth as a leader?

If we had a million bucks for every time we’ve heard a business coach promise to hold someone accountable—and then drop the ball entirely… each of our coaches would own their own private islands.

After decades of real-world experience, we know:

  1. You cannot hold a person accountable who doesn’t want to be held accountable.
  2. A business owner who wants to see true transformation has to be willing to be honest about their challenges.

This is why we start all of our conversations with a Fit Meeting. We simply are not willing to work with business owners who need us to hold their hand baby step by baby step. We only agree to work with clients who are committed to their own success and who are genuinely ready to put in the work.

This is also why we encourage radical honesty and introspection with our clients. We develop close personal relationships because simply “checking in for accountability” isn’t enough to keep a business owner consistently moving forward week by week, month by month. We want to know the truth of what obstacles and fears our clients are up against so we can see the whole picture… because THIS is the only way to develop a plan that they’ll really be able to follow through on.


Sick of Investing In Coaching That Goes Nowhere & Ready to Work With a Real Pro?

At Exit Momentum, we’re proud to share exactly how our proven process has helped hundreds of business owners create life-changing results in their organizations—and we’d love to help you do the same.

But first—we want to put our money where our mouth is.
So go ahead. Vet us. Do the deep dive.

>> Click here to get a step-by-step overview of our proven process + exactly how it transforms our clients’ businesses. 

>> Click here to view real-world stories and tangible results that we’ve helped our clients create across a variety of industries.

>> Click here to meet our Exit Momentum coaches and see for yourself the wealth of boots-on-the-ground experience these strategists and mentors bring to the table.

And then—if you’re ready to find out exactly how we can apply all of this to your company—book a strategy call with us here, where we’ll have a custom-to-you, in-depth conversation about how to breathe new life into your business.


Want an even deeper dive into how to you can vet a business coach before investing? Check out this conversation with our Founder & Head Coach, Cullen Talley, where he shares his personal take on the ugly truth about business coaches.

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