Business coaches have gone from the C-Suite to the gig economy. What are they offering?

TRIBUNE PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Yoga therapist Kate Holly (L) consults with her business coach Ashley Dahl about how bring her best self to her business Yoga Refuge. Business coaching is a booming business and is spreading from the C-Suite to the gig economy. Business coaches are everywhere. No longer a coy secret (like online dating 10 years ago), people are proud to talk about their business coaches.

But what do they do?

They seem to be somewhere between an executive coach and a life coach.

According to the International Coach Federation’s 2012 ICF Global Coaching Study, there are approximately 15,800 professional coaches in the United States. 52.7 percent of survey respondents from the United States identified a business coaching specialty as their main area of coaching.

While there are accredited courses in business coaching, you don’t have to be certified to hang out your shingle as a business coach in Oregon. (Nor to be a counselor here either.)

Not just for the C-Level

The ICF hands out accreditations and generally tries to keep the industry above board. It defines coaching as “partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential.”

“There are many kinds of coach — life, wellness, business, executive, marketing,” says Feroshia Knight, CEO of Coach Training World, an accredited school for coaches in Portland.

Knight has been coaching for two decades. “Business coaching used to be primarily for C-Level executives,” she told the Business Tribune. “I’d get hired for conflicts, speaking and strategy, usually by the company owner. Now it’s extending to different people in the organization, it’s more widely embraced.”

“A lot of people are hiring coaches. I see dentists, doctors, alternative professions...Most of them want to improve how they are in their business, become more confident as a leader, more relaxed...”

Knight cautions against coaches who are good at one thing and then agree to “coach” in other areas where they are out of their depth.

“That’s like hiring someone you love to paint the house, instead of finding someone who can really paint the house.”

Who becomes a coach?

“In Alaska I had a woman who was a senior manager in a financial institution. She wanted to coach around health and wellness. It worked because she had credibility in her industry.”

Knight also had a 28-year-old woman who ran a florist but became a good business coach on the side, running popular workshops.

Michele Greco was a producer of TV ads and photo shoots for 20 years. Six years ago she became a Mindfulness Based Certified Professional Life and Business Coach. She formed the Portland Coaching Collective two years ago with four other coaches, mainly for support and company. They share a pretty office and consulting room on the ground floor of the Olympic Mills building in inner southeast, using an online calendar to schedule their visits.

Life comes at you fast

Greco concurs with Knight about how business coaching grew out of executive coaching. Those coaches came out of a psychology background and were trying to improve productivity at work. “Life coaching takes that model and applies it to anybody trying to perform, to up their productivity. In today’s world, just running your life is more like being an executive than ever.”

There’s the pressure from technology to communicate more than ever.

“Things we used to have time for are now a luxury, and that has been proven to impair our ability to function.”

“Empowerment” is one of Greco’s key working words.

“Coaching comes with a set of protocols around unfolding and discovering what creates disempowerment,” she says over a brew at Steven Smith Tea.

Look around any coffee shop and you will often see a pair of white-collar workers either informational-interviewing each other, or having some kind of mentorish heart-to-heart.

Modern business coaches pride themselves on their media flexibility: Skype, phone, email, face-to-face, side-by-side while hiking...

But Greco stresses it goes deeper than a tall coffee with room. “Coaching unravels your belief system, but you gain awareness about yourself that is impactful. Then you can choose to keep or reject it.”

She sees coaching as the kind of care that will soon become as natural as seeing the chiropractor and acupuncturist.

So how woo-woo is it? Maybe not all out woo-woo, but quite touchy-feely.

“As a coach you help them get clearer on their core values, you enliven some of the experiences that made them come into being and you help support them in deciding the new way they want to show up.”TRIBUNE PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Business coach Michele Greco (L) chats with her client Cathy Chang at the Portland Coaching Collective in SE Portland. Chang, a writer and editor, sought help with her self doubts when she went into business.

90 percent of success is showing up

Greco’s coaching starts with a free 30-minute “fit” session where each party decides if it’s a good fit.

Goals might be going to a business reunion (like a high school reunion, but with more at stake) or dealing with an annual review or promotion.

“Other times, people just ask, ‘Why am I stuck? ‘ Maybe they’ve been passed over for promotion. Companies are always reorganizing and you can feel lost in shuffle, not being seen or heard.”

Greco doesn’t coach people in a direction, rather she hears them and makes suggestions.

“A coach operates from a firm understanding that my client has the answers, they have the agenda, and they have something in them keeping them from seeing that. Most people have blind spots. We’re living in a blinded reality.”

She also has a somatic element to her work: “I understand the wisdom that is held in our nervous system. If you are feeling nervous in your body, that’s accessing information which provides a new way of learning for you.”

The collective charges on a sliding scale from $95 to $125 per session, with discounts for a packet of 10. “Like a coffee punch card,” Greco says merrily.

TRIBUNE PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Business coaches are a cross between an executive coach and a life coach, but they are nothing like therapists. Ashley Dahl seeks to explore Kate Holly's feelings that may be holding her back, with a view to supporting her in good habits of mindfulness towards positive outcomes.

A writer writes

Cathy Chang is one of Greco’s clients. They met though a networking group, Community Inspired Professionals. What did Chang get out of it?

Chang was starting life as a writer and editor, rejoining the workforce after having kids, and going though a divorce. She had self-doubts.

“The whole process is very experiential: closing your eyes, and speaking in a stream of consciousness. It’s a little bit like therapy. I was skeptical — she’s very touchy feely and I’m not.”

Chang had eight sessions over six months, filling a notebook with ideas and homework.


“She helped me pay attention to the signs in my body. In the first session, about doubts, I learned to do power poses, make yourself big, command poses, so you feel better about yourself...You’ve seen the TED talk.”

She learned to acknowledge her negative voice, call it a gremlin and dismiss it.

“I say ‘OK you’ve done your job, tying to protect me from failing, thank you,’ and now go about my biz, taking risks.”

She doesn’t think about her gremlin much now since she has survived and is doing well, half time as a freelance technical writer, half time at ad agency Creative Management Direction.

She paid for four sessions then bartered the rest, editing Greco’s e-newsletter.

Greco asked her what she loved doing, which his cooking for loved ones, and had her apply it to her business and have the same mindset.

Pack up your troubles

When she was feeling overwhelmed, Greco suggested she take a 15 minute break just for herself, on the way home, in a coffee shop or park, and just reflect on her day, take a mini vacation.

Also, she should celebrate little steps toward a success every day — a commission gained, a chapter edited. She used Canva, a visualization tool, to map these success steps.

Chang really wanted to go camping alone. “So on Friday night I could go to a yurt, and wouldn’t have to tell anyone.”

Greco had her pack a mini backpack and keep it on her desk as a symbol that she could. “Just by having it around, then I didn’t have to.”


As part of the feminization of the workplace, coaching seems to have taken off and found a voice, with its language of feelings, the body and aspiration. This is not your father’s C-suite retreat.

Another business coach, Ashley Dahl, takes a “coach/consultant hybrid perspective,” specializing in small business with one to five employees, often artists, designers and yoga teachers. In her part time job as Executive Director of the four Eight Limbs yoga studios in Seattle, she manages staff, coordinates the brand and marketing, and functions as a consultant.

“As a coach people come to me because they’re doing something they’re passionate about, but they’re feeling overwhelmed or tripped up on the business side, they’re not meeting their potential.

While a consultant directs, as a coach she’s “sidling up alongside” clients and “helping them find their own answers and path.”

Passion statement

She takes them back to basics: “What is their passion, their mission, and how do they want to show up in work, aligned with their values? Then we set some goals so they can see themselves in that. We can control how we show up.”

Some people come to Dahl, convinced by social media, that everyone but them knows what they’re doing. “I put it in perspective that no one is doing everything on their own.”

Dahl’s sessions range from one hour to three hour “strategy labs,” typically ten sessions in six months. They write a coaching agreement and keep it in a paper file.

“I’m trying to not have them depend on me,” she says. “I’m like a manager who is always on your side. My personal agenda is they’re thriving. They appreciate unconditional support, we ask tough questions, and there’s no shaming, no blaming, no negative consequences.”

Monkey mind

Dahl teaches mindfulness techniques, such as “how to create a pause, such as deep breathing or going for a walk, doing intentions before a meeting, making contact with one’s feet on the floor before responding.”

She calls the inner critic their “monkey mind.” When someone is taking a risk and feels nervous, they learn to ask, is this their monkey mind or their inner wisdom speaking? And how does one tell them apart?

“Different tones, different sensation in the body. One makes you anxious, the other is inspiring.”

Dahl says she is not interested in getting accredited, and that her background speaks for her worth. She also teaches meditation and has a degree in philosophy. TRIBUNE PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Business coach Ashley Dahl makes notes as part of ther work with freelance writer Kate Holly.

“Coaching is asking provocative questions and asking them to get information about themselves. Some people think coaching is bossing people around in a nice way, or that it’s guiding and supervising respectfully. That’s not coaching.”

“I’m a confident leader who shows up with clarity and ease”

Kate Holly is a yoga therapist and founded Yoga Refuge in Montavilla in 2014. Dahl is her coach.

She got the $500, five-week intensive package of coaching to boost her yoga business, which was proving difficult because she felt alone. They worked on Holly’s feeling of being overwhelmed.

“I realized I was feeling like I can’t do everything alone, and no one will help me,” she says. “Ashley made me see that there is evidence for that, and how it makes me show up, and how others see me show up.” The goal was to replace that evidence with some that made her feel more positive.

Holly also had to write down her core values and aspirations on a card and consult them every time she makes a big decision. “I tell myself ‘I’m a confident leader who shows up with clarity and ease.’ ”

Dahl seemed reasonably priced. “One coach was charging $1,000 for four sessions a month. Another had a three day retreat in Vancouver BC for $10,000.”

Holly was a videographer and ran the Fever Theatre Company for ten years. She has also has taken business foundation courses with Mercy Corps Northwest, which is where she wrote her yoga studio business plan.

She stresses she was not looking for a business consultant, although Dahl could offer that based on her Eight Limbs experience.

“Being an entrepreneur is a creative process. I’ve done the books and podcasts, but like any type of one-on-one, you make more progress with someone who is outside of you but has your best interests at heart.”


Maria Nemeth is based in Sacramento, California, is one of the gurus of business coaching. A licensed clinical psychologist, she trains coaches and has been one for 35 years. Her book “The Energy of Money” got her on Oprah.

She makes it clear that coaching is not therapy.

“The metaphors we use in therapy are all around healing. A well-trained coach knows when to coach and when to refer someone to a therapist. That client may not be resisting – they may be depressed,” she cautions.

A coach’s metaphors should be all about personal contribution, dreams and visions. “What are

the personal purposes and intentions that fire you up, and why do you want to be in business?” Entrepreneurs are different from people working for a company.

“As an entrepreneur, if I want to eat fish today I have to catch it. Entrepreneurs are very courageous and need lots of support.

Nemeth says the coaching movement was from the start geared toward “anyone who wanted to create goals worth playing for.”

Volleyball coach?

Kathleen Doyle-White, President and Founder of Pathfinders Coaching, was an executive recruiter for 20 years. In 1997 she trained at Coach U.

“Back then, when I’d tell people I was a coach they’d say, ‘Volleyball?’”

She says coaches are good at helping people through transitions.

Life came into being when there started outing new sign up

Doyle-White has a theory. “I think life coaching came in around 2004 when therapists were seeing what coaches getting paid, and decided to add “coach” to their title.”

She hadn’t heard the term Life Coach until she saw on one the plastic surgery drama Nip Tuck in the early 2000s.

“She as a real piece of work,” she says with a laugh.

The better companies understand the importance of emotional intelligence and self-awareness.

Doyle-White is trained in the DiSC sytem, which measure personality types. “It’s like Myers Briggs but easier to remember,” she jokes. Leadership guru Marshall Goldsmith is another of her influences.

She doesn’t call herself a life coach because she works with individuals and teams, executives and non-executives. “Most of the people I work with are business people, and they are usually transitioning something to do with their business.”

There’s been an explosion in coaching – not all of it good. “The profession has struggled, so many people are calling themselves coaches and never did any training. At least now you have to have a certificate to join the ICF.”

Many people find their coach they way they find their counselor or yoga teacher – a card on a coffee shop bulletin board.

“Counseling is really about healing. Coaching is about accepting what is and moving forwards.”

TRIBUNE PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Business coach Michele Greco at the Portland Coaching Collective.


As Harvard psychologist and coach Dr. Steven Berglast told Forbes magazine, here are six things to consider when hiring a coach:

  • Coaches aren’t paid to make people feel good. “Good job” is not good.
  • Coaches respect boundaries between the professional and
  • personal realms. Don’t be friends.
  • Coaches are not intermediaries. You should fight your own fights.
  • Good coaches never gossip. ‘Nuff said.
  • Beware the up-sell. Don’t buy their wildly disparate services.
  • Coaches are not life-directors. Don’t let them tell you what to do.

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