Speed Coaching

As the clock ticked, Vigdis Eriksen got vague inputfollowed by clear, sensible advice

More than 20 women are lined up outside an exhibit hall in a Manhattan hotel. The doors open, and they rush to tables set up around the room. They grab a number for each of the experts they wish to consult—12 are on hand to advise on subjects from finance to branding to Web design. When it is their turn, they get five minutes to talk above the din, tracked by a small digital clock on each table.

Vigdis Eriksen, 54, is taken aback by the chaos, but she knows exactly whom she wants to see. Eriksen, the founder of a 40-person translation service in Brooklyn, N.Y., with large corporate clients, heard about the speed-coaching session from its sponsor, Women's Leadership Exchange co-founder Leslie Grossman. After reviewing the list of experts, Eriksen wants to make sure to speak with Beth Polish, founding CFO of iVillage, former CFO at Goldman Sachs Ventures, and now president of Critical Junctures Group, a New York consulting firm. Polish, Eriksen thinks, will have good advice about expanding her $5.3 million company overseas. Eriksen opened an office in Argentina in 2006 and has set her sights on Europe.

Eriksen takes numbers for Polish and three other coaches she knew less about. She carries index cards with questions. Her first five-minute session is disappointing. She wanted to learn about bonus plans, but the coach's expertise is in health insurance. Her second session is with a growth expert whose advice on angel funding and managing far-flung offices is too general.

Finally she meets Polish. She gives her a quick rundown of the business and says: "We want to be in our clients' time zones. We want to open offices overseas. But how do we do that while growing organically?"

Polish quizzes Eriksen about her motivations. "The first thing is to identify why there is an opportunity for you to go into that market," Polish says. "What it will do to your revenue, your cost of acquiring a new global customer. What would it take you to open that office? What are the resources you need? Do you need a local broker? And how long will it take? In a sense you are developing a mini-business plan for these offices."

The clock ticks; Polish speaks ever more quickly. Eriksen isn't taking notes—she thought it would be too distracting—but instead leans over the table, listening intently. "Some countries require you to have local capital," Polish continues. "I would look at each of the markets and see if you are better off having local investors. You'd bring in some money, and they'd bring in some money." Polish comes up for air and says with a laugh: "You have half a minute. I'm talking really fast, but I'm trying to be methodical."

"Would it be angels?" Eriksen asks, thinking of the previous coach.

"No. I think it is professional investors here." After Polish talks some more about potential investors, Eriksen checks the clock. Her time is up. "Thank you," she says, stepping away as Polish's next client arrives. Eriksen's tutelage is far from complete, but she says she learned something from the rigor of Polish's approach: "She was so forceful in her demeanor. I need to have a clear strategy and do thorough research before I set out."

For a related story, see businesswek.com/go/sb/coach

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