Beware of Cockroaches Posing as Business Coaches

by Heather K. Terry

You’re about to undergo an invasive operation. The procedure’s being done by a skilled surgeon with an excellent reputation. Her track record’s nearly perfect, and she’s been doing surgeries like this for years.

Fortunately for us, doctors aren’t allowed to operate on people before they study medicine for many years. Before they operate on real live humans, doctors must hone their skill on cadavers until they’re fully qualified to become practicing surgeons. (Grey’s Anatomy anyone?!)

Before hiring a business coachThis same basic principle applies across most occupations. You generally need to have the chops to back up whatever it is you’re doing in a professional capacity.

But have you noticed what’s been happening around les internets? There are dozens of smarmy people hiding behind splashy sales pages (in which they’ve invested a ton of cash), offering their services as business coaches.

Yet, the only business these individuals have ever run is their business coaching business. It’s shocking how deceptive a good-looking website can be, convincing many people to invest 5 or 6 thousand dollars into working with the person claiming the ability to help them move their business forward.

I am absolutely sickened by these parasites who’ve taken a few mastermind classes and are calling themselves business coaches. How can you help me grow my business if you’ve never run an actual business?

These people are taking advantage of vulnerable entrepreneurs who are trying to eke out an honest living, when, really, they don’t know the first thing about what it’s like to be in the trenches as a business owner.

If you’re thinking about hiring a business coach, I want you to stop whatever it is you’re doing right now and REALLY listen to what I’m saying to you.

Do not be fooled by a pretty front. Dig deeper before you hire a business coach, and make sure of a couple of things before you waste a penny of your cash or a minute of your time (as cash and time are the most important things you’ve got!).

For starters, make sure the business coach is knowledgeable about your particular business.

I am the co-owner of a packaged goods company. My business partner and I have a wealth of experience and knowledge to share about business in this space because we’ve learned by doing what works and what doesn’t. We know about cold storage, packaging requirements, and what absolute hell it is to ship chocolate across the country.

But we would not be of any help to an online-based service provider, just as a coach specializing in online-based services would be of no help to a packaged goods business.

A great example of this is an entrepreneur who came to myself and my business partner, Jennifer Love, at one time to share her idea about starting a cashew milk company. Great idea, but we knew right away she had a product with massive spoilage issues. This product would have an extremely short shelf life, and we knew from experience that if this woman were to pursue this idea, she would be facing an uphill battle. So, we told her the honest-to-God truth and she decided not to pursue that idea. She saved herself a world of hurt by talking to the right people.

Do you think a coach who had never run a business in the food industry would have thought about this?

Do your homework.

Find out what businesses the coach has been involved in starting and/or operating. If this information isn’t available on his or her website, that’s a red flag, so call and ask for it. If the person has no experience running or starting a business, move on.

Ask to speak to some references.

Once you’ve found a business coach with experience in your line of business, ask for the contact information of three or more clients. Find out from these people whether the business coach was of help to them and whether they felt their investment in his or her services was worth it. Be sure to ask what the business coach did, specifically, to help them and what the result was. Often, when calling around for references we’re happy with the blanket, ‘It was great!’ statement. GET SPECIFIC! Money and time are on the line!

Find out if you can get your money back if things don’t work out.

Ask right up front if the coach offers a money-back guarantee. Many reputable coaches will give you a full refund if you feel you were not able to move your business forward with their advice.

I believe you will get much further ahead by seeking out people who have failed in the business you’re in, and talking to them than you will by spending thousands of dollars on one of these “coaches.”


Because the entrepreneurs who have failed in the business I want to succeed in will teach me where they went wrong. They learned what didn’t work. They have perspective, and that perspective is priceless. Seek someone like that out, or someone who is successful in your space, and offer to buy them dinner, or, if you can, hire them for a consulting contract.

Hiring the wrong business coach is a waste of cash and time, and, as an entrepreneur, those are precious assets that must not be wasted, especially not on snake oil.



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9 Replies to “Beware of Cockroaches Posing as Business Coaches”

  1. Christine

    This is a really important piece to think about when starting a business. The talk of the entrepreneurial world is all about consulting the experts, getting a coach, and learning from someone else’s mistakes so you don’t have to spend your precious time making them. I completely agree that getting someone reputable is so important, always do you due diligence when investing in something like this. On the other hand, I believe you will still likely stumble and make mistakes and sometimes hearing something isn’t enough to stop you from doing it. Some of us are just really thick and need life’s lessons to kick us when we’re headed in the wrong direction. As much as learning from the experts is a big help, learning from our own experiences is an even bigger help. I look at my patterns to see which mistakes I’m making over and over again and that can be helpful. Thank you for this article!

  2. Heather K. Terry

    Thanks to everyone who has posted comments! Lori and Jennifer- I’m sorry you’ve had the experience with these kinds of individuals. It’s really amazing what people sell on the internet today. Jeff and Eric, thanks for guiding readers to the International Coaching Federation. Unfortunately, I don’t think many people are aware of that resource when hiring someone to help them start or grow their company. And sometimes, even with the backing of these kinds of organizations, you may still encounter a bad one. So I stick to my original advice, get references and don’t be afraid to pose thorough questions at the person you are considering. When a couple thousand dollars are on the line, you have to get it right!

  3. Eric

    I was also confused by the post, and I agree with Jeff.

    According to ICF (International Coach Federation), “Professional coaching focuses on setting goals, creating outcomes and managing personal change. Sometimes it’s helpful to understand coaching by distinguishing it from other personal or organizational support professions” (ICF FAQ’s).

    For more information on coaches and coaching I encourage check out (ICF) In addition to what Jeff said, they’ve got great information on coaching FAQ’s, ethics, and more.

    Keep smiling,


  4. Jeff

    I’m a little confused by this post. It sounds like we are confusing ‘coaching’ with consulting.

    Coaches don’t consult. They work to help you figure things out on your own. Empowerment is a key term in the coaching field. Asking the right questions is also key to a good coach.

    For example (and a simple one at that), with the person and cashew milk company….a consultant would provide the insight you mentioned above. A coach would ask ‘what do you want to focus on today?’….the entrepreneur might say ‘I’m nervous about my idea, I’d like to talk about that’….through a dialogue, they would eventually get to the question that brought up the idea of ‘shelf life’ and, hopefully the entrepreneur would figure out how to overcome it, or be comfortable that it’s not a great idea (the comfort comes from figuring it out on their own vs. being told).

    You’re 1000% right with the comments above and these sound like awful experiences, BUT…if you find an ICF (international coaching federation) certified coach (or some other confirmed accreditation) you’ll see that they aren’t consultants and will quite quickly clarify what they can and can’t help with.

    I love the dialogue, feel horrible about the experiences and hope this insight will help in the future.

    Have a great day!


    1. Eric

      Jeff, thanks for bringing some clarity to the issue.

  5. Ryan Biddulph

    Hi Heather,

    Do your homework! I dig when people call with a question or 2. Shows that they’re serious. Or if they join my team quickly, and totally vibe with me, I feel good too because we have a match. Energy thing.

    Good insight!


  6. Jennifer

    I have to applaud your bravery for posting such a hot topic that’s not discussed in the open, but rather in hushed voices and whispers. People who’ve been burned, like myself, have been told that it’s bad karma to talk about the dealings they’ve had with business consultants and coaches that have gone south. However it’s not fair that my money and time went to someone who misrepresented what they could bring to the table. After these lessons, I have learned a lot, but I am glad you are warning others out there because there seems to be an explosion of self-proclaimed business coaches and experts who’ve never run a successful business. At the end of the day, I paid both with time and money for my mistake in a coach. It’s only fair that coaches who misrepresent what expertise they have also be judged. Shaming the entrepreneur who bought into what they were told isn’t helping to elevate the hard-working, killer coaches from those who just talk a good game.

  7. adina

    Preach sistah!

  8. Lori

    Amen, amen, amen! I’m so sick of people putting up the “coach” shingle when they are clearly out of their depth. Worse is when people buy it based on those gawd-awful sales pages. Since I’m in writing and editing, the assault on my eyes from these pages is even more painful. If you’re selling to writers, GET TO THE FREAKING POINT.

    I tend to agree with your statement about getting more from those who have failed at the business. You can, and should, learn from their mistakes. Not saying I’d plunk down money for someone who can’t run their own businesses succesfully, but seeing where they went wrong — really dissecting the situation — can be a godsend in your own business.

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