Meet Stephen Baxter, the high-flying coach helping business owners thrive in work and life

Having co-founded and grown a successful financial services firm, Stephen Baxter understands the challenges that business leaders face. These days, he puts his knowledge and experience to good use through coaching and supporting business leaders.

Stephen divides his time between his role as non-advising managing director at Robertson Baxter, a financial planning firm he co-founded with Greg Robertson in 2007, and Nine Dots Coaching, where he works with business leaders to help them thrive in work and life.

A heavy sense of imposter syndrome led to a change of path

Taking the road less travelled, how did Stephen go from managing director of a financial planning firm to coaching?

“My journey to coaching stemmed from a heavy sense of imposter syndrome in my managing director role at Robertson Baxter. The nature of founding and owning your own firm is that you’re forced to self-promote.

“Instead of being appraised and progressing through your career based on your effort and achievements, you build your business, you employ people, and you move yourself up the pecking order.

“As a result, I didn’t choose a managing director role. All of my experiences and qualifications were as a financial planner, not as an MD. So, I had two choices: go back to school and do an MBA (which seemed daft because I’d been running a firm for 14 years), or join Vistage, a group that connects like-minded MDs and CEOs to get fresh perspectives and share expertise.

“I focused on learning and improving my coaching and mentoring skills and I am now a level 7 qualified executive coach and mentor with the ILM.”

“Knowing I’d achieve more growth by throwing myself into a group of like-minded people all facing similar challenges than sitting in a classroom for two years, I committed to my decision and immediately joined Vistage. I also started doing some coaching work with my chairman, Nick Bates. And I loved it.

“Having always been the person that people came to for answers, it was a refreshing change to switch this dynamic. As a coach you have none of the answers, all you have are the questions to help people come to the answer themselves.

“Facilitating people to solve their own problems was massive – it’s such a powerful tool but it’s very, very hard to coach in your own business because you’re too close to the detail. So, I knew if I wanted to pursue this, I’d have to do so elsewhere. And that spurred me on to establish Nine Dots Coaching.”

Addressing the “Marmite effect” of coaching

When it comes to coaching, it’s fair to say that people either love it or hate it. Maybe this is because it’s shrouded in mystery and rarely understood, but how does Stephen get people to open up to this?

“This is so true – I’m very used to blank expressions.”

“The best way to get around that is to say, ‘let’s just have a go at it’. And I offer free taster sessions to allow conversations to happen. Sometimes people don’t even realise that coaching is going on because all coaching really should be is a conversation that has purpose.

“It should be a two-way dialogue where I’m doing a lot of listening, asking some good questions and you’re thinking and reflecting at the same time.

“It’s powerful because it can help to create time and space.

“As with financial services, some parts of the coaching industry don’t have a great reputation. And people don’t really understand that my coaching is executive coaching – and that this can be both business and personal.

“But I’m a big believer that it’s about the whole person – you can’t just coach on business and ignore the personal because our personal lives have such a massive impact on who we are as leaders and employees or team members.

“So, I’m very comfortable straddling the two. But you’ve got to dispel some of the myths first. Having a start-up company is great because it allows me the freedom to just try things out, which I can’t really do with an established financial services brand.”

“I can give it away for free and show how valuable it could be”

“I can say to people ‘look at the value that you could gain. Let me convince you that this is something that could really make a significant change for you in business.’

“It’s interesting. So many people I coach say they didn’t think they were someone who needed coaching. And it’s not an ego thing – they just don’t realise how valuable it can be to simply have a conversation with someone who has no judgement, no vested interests.”

“It’s just time, two people and a lot of space.”

“When someone can actually think and reflect and hear their own words out loud, it can be really powerful.”

At The Exit Partnership, when preparing a business for sale we follow a similar process to Stephen’s executive coaching. We make sure the business is ready, but also ensure that the people involved are ready for the big personal shift.

Stephen agrees. “It’s important to address both – so as people are making that move into retirement you have to recognise that the business has been their lives, they’ve grown and nurtured it as if it were their child. They’ve had responsibility, staff, and loyal clients.”

How coaching can help when you’re preparing to sell and transition your business to someone else

“One of the most dangerous things that a person can do is have a cliff-edge retirement, where on Friday, they were chief executive office, and on Monday, they’re walking the dog to pick up the newspaper.

“This can create a complete loss of identity and purpose, leaving people in quite a vulnerable position.

“All of a sudden, they’ve got a huge amount of time on their hands. For financial planners, people in this position can become quite demanding clients as they begin to focus all their attention on the nitty gritty of their investments.

“Often this happens because they are seeking something they can control. When someone has previously been a business owner or chief exec, they lose a sense of themselves. They lose title, they lose hierarchy, they lose importance.

“And they’ll instinctively start throwing themselves into all sorts of different things, often non-executive director roles – trying to find a thread that gives them an identity again.”

“You have to start the exit journey early and think really hard about whether you’re ready.”

“Most people will put all the focus on the business being ready. And then view it as a huge success when a business sells, but they haven’t done any work on themselves.

“It’s important to stop and ask yourself: am I personally ready? What is going to be my new purpose when I finish work? You probably need a couple of years of preparation to understand more about your personal goals – other interests, hobbies or roles you’re going to put time into.

“You need a clear reason to get out of bed in the morning and that needs to be something that also gives you value. You may not be being paid any longer, but finding a new sense of self and finding ways to ensure you’re doing something you care about is crucial. Otherwise, by the time you leave the business, you’re quite vulnerable to feeling a sense of loss, or lost potential.”

“You need to be very clear about where you see yourself in 5 or 10 years’ time.”

It can be lonely at the top but, without some forethought and planning, it can be even lonelier after you’ve exited your business. And that is something that Stephen understands well.

“In the years and months as you approach the exit from your business, talking with someone you can confide in about your journey can be really helpful. Whether that’s a friend, a family member or someone in another business that you respect, finding somebody to walk alongside you can be valuable.”

Next month, find out how coaching can provide invaluable support and help you prepare for exiting your business.

Get in touch

We’re here to help you successfully exit your business. We’ll provide you with honest and comprehensive support throughout and help make the transition as smooth as possible.

If you’d like to learn more about how coaching could help you prepare for the next stage, or would like to understand how we can support you in exiting your business, please get in touch. Email or call 0113 4656 111.


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