Research Paper By Meli Solomon
(Business Coach, GERMANY)
A Client’s Perspective – Interview with Simon Chappuzeau, entrepreneur and owner of HomeBase Lounge.
Introduction and relevance to coaching:
Business Coaching has joined my other communication services of language training and text editing. They now all fit under the Solomon Communications rubric. Coaching has the added element of how the client wants to start or run their business. Whatever the details, they are all about getting ideas clear, with my support, guidance and advice, as appropriate. That this work is client centered is a key aspect in the business concept. Training is tailored to the student’s level, industry job and specific needs. Editing is done, such that is preserves the client’s tone, style and language appropriate to the situation. Coaching is perhaps the most tailored of all – supporting them to create or change their business, their environment. So this is intensely client-centered work.
Given this orientation, I am interested in looking more deeply at the client experience with an eye to better understanding the impact of coaching on an actual situation in my target market – entrepreneurs and small business owners. I am particularly interested in learning from people who have not been my clients, so that it is not a critique of or feedback on my service or coaching skills, but rather on the coaching process and results. The relevance to coaching is therefore extremely direct – how to better understand the client’s perspective so as to provide superior service, to be more sensitive to what motivates a client to seek coaching and what the benefits are, from their point of view.
The area of investigation:
Although there’s a lot of talk in the coaching profession (among others) about operating from a client-centered perspective, it is none-the-less often a challenge to put this into practice. I am as guilty of this as others. It is common to start a business because you love that activity, yet, as Michael E. Gerber talks about in The E-Myth Revisited, for a business to be successful, you need to have more than that. He argues that you need to do more than be a ‘technician’, the ‘doer’. If you want to grow, you need to understand that there are different roles – Entrepreneur, Technician and Manager – and separate yourself from the business, so you ‘work at your business, not in your business’.
The relevant point about working at your business for me, is to develop a clear understanding of who your customer is and where their pain is. What do they need that the market is not yet providing (or not providing sufficiently well, I would add). This shifts the perspective from ours as coaches wanting to find a place to apply our love of coaching, to identifying our target market and sorting out how we can provide what they need (that is within the scope of our skills and resources, of course). Do we want to support first-time mothers who feel insecure and nervous, or those grieving the loss of someone close, or a manager who’s lost their sense of purpose, or families with disabled children, or …? These are each engaging and moving situations, but have different needs and call for rather different personalities and skill sets.
My target market is entrepreneurs and small business owners. As an experienced small business owner and manager, I understand this challenge all too well. I would phrase the challenge as finding the way to successfully marry the passion and the analytical dispassion. Passion drives us to become coaches – a passion for altered perspectives, a passion to help others (perhaps as we’ve been helped). This is all great. It means we bring empathy and our own story into our work. It means that we have the client’s interests at heart. It means we’ll be in a good position to really listen. But it’s not enough. If coaching is going to be our vocation and not avocation, we need to treat it seriously as a business. It means getting clear about a host of elements regarding operations, marketing, finances etc, most of which are beyond the scope of this paper. What is central to this paper is that conducting this interview was a way to get at an authentic client experience with the intention of learning and sharing that knowledge.
The subject and the situation:
Simon Chappuzeau is a German entrepreneur and founder/owner of HomeBase Lounge, an event space in Berlin Germany, which companies can rent for their exclusive use. I originally worked with Simon as a language trainer. While his English is excellent, he was keen to improve his writing skills. Towards the end of our block of lessons, he expanded his business, acquiring a restaurant, and we spent some time discussing the challenges arising from that decision. Our conversations were helpful to him and thrilling for me, proving a significant impetus for my pursuing coaching professionally, including the ICA training. During this time he hired a coach to address the challenges within the company, and it is this experience that inspired me to choose him as my interview subject. That we already had a good working relationship, meant that we began with a high level of trust, and that I’d remembered his experience of needing help and bringing two teams together made him an ideal candidate.
Take-aways from the interview:
To return to Simon at the end and talk about his coaching experience was enriching for me and opened my eyes to aspects of some potential needs and perspective of my target market, a gap in awareness on their part and heightened awareness of my behavior. As expected, it was helpful to talk with someone who had used a coach. The interview revealed a number of intriguing points and I left with several take-aways that are good lessons for me and other coaches.
Simon has used several coaches over the years, all of which he found though some organization – three coaches via a regional bank and another via a professional association. This structure benefited both sides – access to each other, and credibility for the coaches. It is also great advice for those of us just starting out on the coaching path.