As a personal coach for business professionals, Laurie Fitzgerald Althaus helps her clients deal with a wide range of problems and challenges. But the obstacles to their success in business environments often boil down to one issue "” communication.

"Communication is the key," says Althaus, whose Hyde Park-based consulting business is called Now & Next.

"Whether it's internal communication, what we're telling ourselves about ourselves and others, or whether it's external communication, what we're expressing to others."

Most of the clients who approach her for assistance are small business owners or managers. Their businesses or their careers may be in decline or they may be dissatisfied and want to rise to the next level.

Whatever their situation happens to be, they realize that something has to change.

Some Sort of Disconnect

 "Often the problems people come to me with involve not being able to communicate well with their team or having some sort of disconnect with their business," Althaus says.

"Sometimes, it's husband-and-wife teams who are co-owners of the business. They started the business together and now they have all these employees and have lost what they originally intended to do."

Her problem-solving process involves three basic steps: identifying the problems; determine her clients' desires and goals; deciding the best way to accomplish those goals.

"If we can come up with those three objectives," Althaus says, "the possibilities for what we can create from there are endless."

The solutions for these issues are the result of a collaboration and dialogue between Althaus and her clients. She describes her coaching method as a way of guiding her clients on a path of self-discovery.

For any business owner, the willingness to evaluate and re-evaluate themselves is critical to the continued success of their enterprise.

"If something isn't working, you can't continue to do the same things over and over again," she says.

"You have to continue to be inquisitive, look at the direction you're headed and how you're getting there."

In addition to one-on-one sessions, Althaus also offers group coaching, workshops, training and speaking engagements. She draws on her own diverse business background to help clients with their problems.

She opened her own delicatessen when she was 21 and eventually expanded to two locations. After 17 years, she sold the business. Althaus worked for a Seattle-based coffee company and then Cintas Corp. in Mason before beginning a career as a business and executive coach.

PERSONAL ATTENTION

In counseling her clients, Althaus doesn't spend much time discussing the nuts-and-bolts of their businesses.

"The people I work with know their businesses," she says. "I don't need to tell them how to design a widget or how to sell insurance. I work with them more on uncovering the things that are holding them back personally from achieving success."

Her questions usually lead her clients to the answers.

"Most of the time, they know the answers," she says. "They just need the space to say what's on their mind. Once we voice the answer to ourselves, the accountability is internal. It's not about me telling them what they have to do next. It's about their commitment to doing what they have to do."