Two years ago, a consulting program peer mentioned to Mike Powell how advantageous it would be for him to retain a business coach to help grow his company. “At a national meeting someone told me that while my business was doing great, I was the one who was holding it back,” says Powell, president of Archwood Building Co., a 23-year-old Raleigh, N.C., firm that specializes in second-story additions and whole-house renovations.

Powell brought the idea back home with him, and spent several months scouring the area for a possible coaching candidate. He found one while bidding on a second-story addition for clients who were trying to whittle down his price by $4,000. “I knew they were business coaches, so I agreed to drop the price in exchange for $4,000 in coaching fees,” Powell says.

Calling the deal “one of the best decisions I've made as the owner of this company,” Powell started monthly, 90-minute coaching sessions with Ruhmann Associates, a Raleigh leadership development firm run by the husband-wife team of Rick and Joy Ruhmann. Knowing that Powell was interested in improving his leadership strategies, the coaches started by introducing him to the DISC Profile Personality Test, interviewing company employees (on questions such as, “If you were the company president, what would you change?”), and then sharing 52 pages of results with him.

“It was all very confidential and very interesting — I loved it,” says Powell, who turned the information into actionable steps by, for example, hiring an outside salesperson (an idea he'd been tossing around for several years). Sales have increased as a result, he says, and employees no longer walk around saying to themselves, “He wants to hire someone to help him with sales. Why in the world doesn't he just do it?”

Along with the DISC tests, which revealed the strengths, weaknesses, and communication traits of specific employees, the business coach also helped Powell realize that his marketing budget was too small. “We're fortunate in that most of our work comes from client referrals, and we were spending less than 1% on marketing, compared to a national average of 4%,” says Powell, who immediately boosted that portion of his company's budget.

Ultimately, Powell says that having a business coach makes him more accountable as a business owner, thanks mainly to the monthly meetings and “homework” (business books to read, paperwork to do, and so forth) that he's expected to complete as part of the process.

Rhonda Burgin, vice president of Burgin Construction, in Santa Ana, Calif., is also a fan of business coaching. In business since 1989, she initially used a business coach on a regular basis, and currently calls on that professional when she needs him. “If things get tight or busy, or if we have questions, then we call him,” says Burgin, who typically relies on the coach, Michael Stone of Construction Programs and Results of Camas, Wash., for help with growth strategies and human resources issues.

Conducted by phone, the sessions with Stone have influenced a number of Burgin's business decisions. Two of the most important included learning how to negotiate without lowering prices and how to charge enough to cover overhead and make a profit. “He helped us figure out how to do that correctly,” Burgin says, “and it has made a difference in our company's growth.” Mark Scott, president of Mark IV Builders, in Bethesda, Md., has worked with coaches since 2000. Through a peer review group he learned that communication channels at his company weren't as strong and effective as he thought they were, so he hired business coach Jim Goldstein to help him work through the issue.

For about two years, Scott initially met with Goldstein twice monthly for about an hour in person and later on a more infrequent basis. Most of the meetings centered around opening lines of communication within Scott's company, which at the time boasted an “open-door policy” but didn't always stand behind that offering.

“There were times when I might have snapped at employees who interrupted me,” says Scott, who was introduced to the DISC Profile approach by his coach. “From the coach, I learned that this type of reaction built up resentment and caused problems, such as key employees seeking jobs elsewhere.”

Scott, who has since adopted a “team-hiring” approach that centers around the DISC Profile, says the strategy has worked out well and has translated into better communication and retention levels. “The success we've achieved with our new employees and how well they fit in has made the workplace more productive and fun,” he says, “and has helped us work together as a team.”