Enterprise Coaching is Being Broken



I get so frustrated when I see a 4 day enterprise coaching course being commissioned that pays little or no attention to what makes the role of the enterprise coach different from the business adviser.

I witnessed one recently, delivered by an Enterprise Agency (so they MUST know what they are talking about) that started with a half day on ‘Building  empathy and rapport’ (this should have been subtitled ‘Using psychological flannel to manipulate your client’) before going on for a full three days about ‘business planning’, ‘marketing’ and ‘finance’.  It even included a ‘very useful’ glossary of financial terms that every enterprise coach should know (things like profit, loss, break-even and cash flow).  Essentially it was a four day course of basic business advice re-branded ‘Enterprise Coaching’.  SFEDI accredited which is handy, except as far as I know SFEDI have yet to do develop any standards for Enterprise Coaches (which makes me wonder how they can accredit the course)!

  • The challenge facing the enterprise coach is NOT to provide business advice to people living in areas of deprivation.
  • It is NOT to help people who want to start a business to develop viable business plans.
  • It is not to sell them places on workshops or training programmes – even if this is what mis-guided funders incentivise them to do.

It IS to:

  • make connections in communities
  • become trusted
  • have structured conversations that help people to uncover their aspiration and to get back in touch with their potential,
  • help people assess their options and choices and make decisions that are most likely to help them make progress with their lives.
  • to engage with pre-contemplators and to help them contemplate.  It is to help contemplators to prepare for change and to ensure that they can access relevant, high quality and personalised specialist services.

Enterprise coaches develop people.

They unstick people.

They help people to grasp the possibility and practicalities of progress.

They help people to get in touch which their enteprising soul.

They build social capital, they put people in touch with fellow travellers and with sources of specialist support.

They work on shaping social contexts to make them more supportive of enteprise.

Some of the people they work with will go on to develop businesses.  Others will go back into education and skills, some will remain as before.

After a relationship with a skilled and powerful enterprise coach each one of them will have been challenged to think about what they want to get from life and how they are going to get it.

They may not have had ‘Break-even’ explained.

The concept of enterprise coaching is being broken.

It is being broken by bureaucrats who believe that the best way to increase start up rates is to put watered down business advisers into deprived communities to push self employment and entrepreneurship.

It is being broken because the enterprise industry is exploiting an opportunity to re-package ‘bog standard’ business advice under another name and sell it to unsuspecting and ill-informed regeneration commissioners.

It is being broken because Reality TV and the media at large insist on promoting the ‘Entrepreneurship Fairytale’ in which all that is needed is a good idea and few hours with a business adviser.

It is being broken because we lack a brave, positive and long term approach to developing more enterprising communities.

It is being broken because we are not seriously trying to engage the disengaged in making a better life.

Anyone ready for a change?


  1. Love the article Mike – very challenging to an industry that does need constant sharpening.

    I can let you into a secret – i run a successful business and i have no real biz plan! But i do know what my purpose is, what my priorities are and I aim to provide outstanding service to my clients. Simple.

    On the ‘back of a beermat’ biz is much more helpful than overly compliance type biz often touted by public sector advisor’s.

  2. If this is the case its very disappointing, the bog standard Enterprise Agency model is being deployed up and down the country under the new banner of Enterprise Coaching (part of the Bus Support Simplification portfolio). There is a place for Business Advice but there is also a place for Coaching and the ‘bureaucrats’ as you call them need to understand the difference.


  3. Mike

    Thanks alot – your post has made me rant. I’ve seen some marketing recently designed to persuade people from deprived communities to turn a hobby into a business.

    You have one thing that you do for fun in your week. Surely the last thing you need is a publicly funded ‘coach’ (working for a private enterprise who are good at winning contracts) to PERSUADE you to turn it into a business and leave you to get on with it once you’ve started. Definitely not a fun thing any more.

    The enterprise coaching bandwagon is gathering pace – seems to be in vogue. Not one of those outside of our team knows anything about building trust, about finding the disaffected and helping them to realise their potential. They definitely don’t know about building a team around them.

    They do know how to put them on a skills for life course though.

    Yeh I’m ready for change and although I sound like a I’m being villain about it, I’m doing something about it.


  4. Enterprise Coaching is not being broken.
    It was hijacked,humiliated and then set loose in the community.

    It is no longer a mechanism for helping people but a profit centre for organisations and an output generator for bureaucrats.

    Analyse the whole ghastly “Solutions for Business” set of products and you will find a flow chart created by a bureaucrat who will never ever have the balls to leave and start their own business.
    Your comments are utterly correct. What you have failed to highlight is the vast sums of money that are being spent on this fraudulent “product”.
    By my reckoning there is about over £1,000,000 going on this in Plymouth and equivalent amounts throughout the country.

    Methinks an FOI question would not go amiss.The question is,of course,to which department do you address it? DCLG used to have a role with the DTI which became DBERR which became BIS and doubtless will become something else.

    You have touched the tip of a very unpleasant dung heap.Sadly a dung heap that has been created with tax payers money.

    • I think your recognition that enterprise coaching has been hijacked rather than broken is essentially correct. You and I both know that entrepreneurs can be coached very successfully. It is the label that is being discredited and as you have said is becoming the new gravy train for bureaucrats purchasing outcomes and consultancies pedalling solutions designed to fit the bureaucratic frameworks.

  5. Dear Mike,

    Firstly, apologies for entering into the debate at this late stage but this blog has only just been brought to my attention. I did like the ‘no holds barred’ approach to your comments in the blog, however as the Managing Director of SFEDI Enterprises (you will know we offer accreditation to individuals in business support and enterprise) I thought it important to clarify re your comments around SFEDI. This is to inform you that we do not accredit training courses of any kind, we accredit individuals who have demonstrated competence against recognised standards and have done so through a robust and approved approach (e.g Business Adviser). However we do ‘endorse’ products such as training materials that embrace, reflect and/or are based on the National Occupational Standards (NOS) for Enterprise. These NOS are informed by the enterprise community via SFEDI the Sector Skills Body’s research and consultation at a national level. Through product endorsement we are thus ‘rubber stamping’ the content to say that it is enterprise appropriate.
    Re your comments on coaching, I think you have some very relevant points. It will be interesting to see what develops in this very active arena.

    • Thanks for that clarification Mark.

      I worked in qualification and assessment design for 10 years and still get my ‘endorsements’ confused with my accreditations, assessments and qualifications. Lord help the poor punter who thinks they are buying a SFEDI qualification when in fact they are just getting a course that reflects the national standards – as recently happened in Leeds. They thought that 4 days of EC training was getting them a qualification. It didn’t.

      Personally I would describe approaches to assessment as ‘efficient and economically viable’, rather than ‘robust’ or ‘effective’. We simply are not prepared to pay the overheads that a truly robust assessment of candidates would require. It is too expensive. This is why high quality line management that serves to protect customers from the consequences of incompetence is so important. I think we all know people with relevant NVQs who we would not invite into our businesses. Don’t we?

      I have worked on and off alongside SFEDI for 15 years trying to raise the standards of business support in the UK. I am not sure that we have made any progress. In fact based on my experience things have regressed. Brokerage that adds little value, ‘borrow your watch to tell you the time’ diagnostics. Until we are open about some of the systemic shortfalls in the way business support is managed, commissioned and quality assured I am afraid real progress will remain slow.

      Thanks for dropping the blog! I hope you have subscribed and that perhaps you will become an active contributor.

      • Mike,
        thanks for the speedy response and yes I quite agree regarding terminology it is confusing when working ‘in the business’ let alone if you are a customer trying to sift through the multitude of offers out there – something we are working on and of course are always encouraging our Centres of Excellence to do the same (also why I was keen to respond to your blog). Also as the qualification arena is in the full throws of change with the new Qualification and Credit Framework now being live and the old NQF being phased out this is set to become more confusing – we will do our best to KIS (Keep It Simple) and support the learners where we can.
        Also I recognise your comments re robust verses economical – that nirvana of satisfying all camps is a constant struggle for us all!
        Re the blogs – yes I am subscribed and look forward to more…

  6. …lots of great thoughts (and experience) shared here, I’d suggest that the phrase “hitting the target and missing the point” is a very appropriate tag with which to label a lot of what passes as Enterprise Coaching.

    I note the definition of madness and would add that the definition is actually “expecting the same things from doing the same things”…after all, you never step in the same river twice?

    Agencies for Enterprise…surely thats an oxymoron?


  1. […] But back to the two visions of Enterprise Coaching that I opened with.  At the moment we are losing the chance of realising the first because of the funding that is being pumped into the second.  As I have written before, enterprise coaching is being broken. […]

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