Put me in, coach: A downtown shop owner tests the business-coach waters

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Having owned downtown consignment boutique Darling for two years, Linnea White says she's ready to be more intentional about where the business is headed. Photo: Tristan Williams Having owned downtown consignment boutique Darling for two years, Linnea White says she’s ready to be more intentional about where the business is headed. Photo: Tristan Williams

When Rachel Brozenske, VP with Allison Partners, sat down on a Wednesday morning in October with Linnea White, the two of them were feeling out the possibility of a coach-client relationship. Brozenske has been a business coach for more than a dozen years; White bought the boutique Darling, just off the Downtown Mall, with a friend in 2015, and has been sole owner for two years.

“Now that I’ve been able to have pretty steady employees, I feel better about pausing to really sit with the business and think about things,” she told C-BIZ. Darling is a curated consignment boutique, and as owner, White constantly juggles the day-to-day minutiae of running a shop with longer-term questions about where the business is headed. Often, she says, “I just kind of go, go, go. I’m ready to be more intentional about things.”

Their meeting was a little compressed in comparison with Brozenske’s usual first sessions with new clients, but she and White did get a couple of important things done. First of all, Brozenske explained to White what exactly a professional coach (her preferred term) is—and isn’t.

“I’m not going to crawl around inside your head,” she told her. “You’re smart and creative and whole and you don’t need me to come in and fix you, but I can observe what you’re doing and reflect that back with thoughtful candor. I’m going to tell the truth but not punch you with it.”

“I get this attitude of ‘I can do it on my own, I can figure it out myself,’” said White. “I need more of that refined dialogue, to bounce ideas.”

After talking through the differences between coaches and consultants, Brozenske led White through a freewriting exercise meant to uncover what’s most on her mind these days—what Brozenske calls “presenting areas of interest.” This consisted of 10 questions, like “What kinds of things are you struggling with at work or away from work?”

What came up? White later told C-BIZ, “Styling people, creating beautiful things, community, these are things I like about my work. Things that frustrate me are holding myself accountable to project-based things, that are important to the business but are not right in front of me.” The boutique’s website, for one, is a project that feels to her like a sticking point. As a visual person, she tends to put that project off and focus on the obvious, immediate tasks that she can see around her in the shop.

Brozenske’s response, says White: “She asked ‘How can you make those things on the business management side as important to you? Maybe it needs to be more visually represented in some way.’” An app or other tools might provide her with a reminder about tackling the website—a visual cue to compete with, say, mannequins that need dressing. White says this, for her, was an aha moment.

Brozenske explained to C-BIZ that unlike some coaches, she’s not a purist about avoiding direct advice. “With a lot of my clients I straddle the space between coaching and consulting,” she says. “The whole premise of coaching is the individual is complete and resourceful and can discover for him or herself what’s going on. Practically speaking, I also believe when it comes to some things where there is quite simply an answer, it doesn’t serve them best to make them go hunting for that themselves.”

If White were to continue with coaching, says Brozenske, their next step would be to set parameters about what questions the coaching sessions would address, and how many sessions there should be. “It’s really rare that something worthy of coaching can be meaningfully addressed in less than six or eight hours,” says Brozenske. “Often 16 to 20 is more than reasonable.”

Like many small business owners, White is always juggling a tight schedule, so investing time and money isn’t something she’d do lightly. She’s still considering whether to jump in with both feet. “I want someone who can speak to the brick and mortar world specifically too,” she says. “We were talking about the difference between a business coach or consultant or mentor, and I said what I’m really looking for is a mentor, someone who worked in retail.”

She followed up the meeting with a quick poll on Instagram: Have you worked with a business coach, and was it helpful? “It leaned in a little bit of the direction of ‘No, it wasn’t helpful,’ which surprised me,” she says. “If nothing Rachel said had sat with me, I would have been like, ‘I’m not going to do it.’ But I really did enjoy it; I did learn a lot from it.”

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