Mentors vs. Coaches: What's the Difference? - Blog

Mentors vs. Coaches: What’s the Difference?

Do I need a mentor or a coach?

This is the question business owners should ask themselves when looking to hire a professional. The terms ‘coach’ and ‘mentor’ are often used interchangeably, when in fact there are some key and meaningful differences between the two.

Generally speaking, a mentor does not coach, and a coach does not mentor, and it is essential to understand both the difference and the benefits to each type of business professional – there are always exceptions to the rule, but most will offer up a different skill set.

Mentors vs. Coaches What's the Difference and How to Choose.

Mentors vs Coaches What’s the Difference and How to Choose.

Over the last few years, business and life coaching, as well as mentoring, has boomed, whilst mentoring was once reserved for high-flying executives, with the steady growth of self-employment in the UK, rising by 1.5 million over the last two decades  it’s of no surprise that small business owners are looking to outside support.

The self-improvement industry in the US was valued at $9.9 billion in 2016 and is expected to increase by 5.6% year on year – where self-employment grows; the self-improvement industry does too.

As a business owner, employing a coach or a mentor is in no way a business essential, but for many, especially those new to running a business, many benefits outweigh the investment. However, with so many mentors and coaches to choose from, it can be hard to know what you would benefit from, but who to choose to support you on your journey.

What’s the difference?

In lamens terms, a coach helps their coachee to see something from a different perspective, who asks the questions and gets the coachee to think about the possible outcomes. A mentor is someone who has experienced what the mentee is considering and can shine a light on the potential pitfalls or paragons based on their own experience of the situation, they are often more ‘directive’ and provide specific advice where appropriate, leaning more towards ‘teaching’ the mentee. A coach, however, would not offer a personal opinion but will let you reach your solution, not dissimilar to the role of a counsellor or therapist.

This article sums it up both humorously and accurately using superheroes and villains!

How Coaching can support you:

“a process that enables learning and development to occur and thus performance to improve. To be successful, a Coach requires a knowledge and understanding of process as well as the variety of styles, skills and techniques that are appropriate to the context in which the coaching takes place.”

– Eric Parsloe, The Manager as Coach and Mentor (1999)

Firstly, a coach does not need any direct experience in your line of work, and may well not have experienced the unique issues or barriers you have in your business, they will, however, have training and more than likely qualifications in coaching, so despite not having experienced your issues themselves, they have the skills to help you overcome them.

Coaching as mentioned above is ‘non-directive’, instead it’s a relationship that helps you to develop a ‘can-do’ mindset and encourages your personal and professional growth.

“I hired my coach because I knew her, liked her and trusted her. She is hugely successful, having built and sold a multi-million-pound business and is now starting another, she’s also an award-winning mentor and has trained with one of the best coaches in the US – so she had the creds too. She didn’t tell me what to do, just talked through her experiences and gave me things to try to improve my mindset. Generally when looking for a coach I want someone who walks the walk, gets me, has time (I’ve heard stories of some coaches taking on too many clients and missing calls etc.), doesn’t use a cookie cutter approach and realises that growth isn’t all about size and finance.”

– Carly Stringer

Fellow Co, Sophie French helps you to overcome the blocks you’ve put up that are stopping you from realising your dreams, namely confidence. Although Sophie can draw on her own experiences, as a coach she uses her NLP training and skill set to help you crush the can’t in your head, and not tell you step-by-step how she did it herself – because although you may find her story beneficial, you may need to break down the barriers in a different way.

How Mentoring can support you:

“A mentor is a more experienced individual willing to share knowledge with someone less experienced in a relationship of mutual trust.”

– David Clutterbuck

A mentor will have the specific business insight that they will share with you, in a directive way, pulling from their own experiences and teaching you how they did something and how you can apply that to your own business. They will, however, honour the uniqueness of your brand and you the owner, but still, give you insight and direction and push you through your barriers.

“I hired my mentor as I knew she would be honest with me and push me further than I felt in my comfort zone. I didn’t want someone to tell me I was doing a good job; I wanted someone to challenge me and my ways of thinking”

– Elizabeth Stiles

For myself, as a Content Marketing Mentor, I work with independent retailers and makers, utilising my 15 years retail and marketing experience, sharing specifics as to what I know works and what doesn’t from first-hand experience.

My role as a mentor to my clients is to share my knowledge and for the mentee to pick from that what they want to take, however unlike a coach, if I see the pitfalls in a mentees decision, I will speak out using examples and experience. A coach, however, will ask probing questions, but will not offer a personal opinion.

Do I need a Coach or a Mentor?

A million dollar question, and in an ideal world, especially when first starting up in business – both!

Both are often not possible for the average start-up, so look at what you want to achieve and what it is that you need support in.

Do you have all the ideas and the ‘go-get’ attitude but need to know how do specifically do something or need introducing to the right people to bring your vision to life? Then a mentor is probably your best bet, either someone more experienced in your industry or someone who can help you fill the learning holes in your knowledge (such as marketing). You set the goals, and they will help you reach them.

If you’re lacking in confidence in your ideas and are not sure if those dreams and doodles have legs, a coach can ask the necessary probing questions to help you obtain the answers – that are already inside of you and motivate you to crack on with it, they will set goals, and you will strive for them with their support. They won’t however, unlike a mentor, necessarily know from first-hand experience if the ideas are good ones and even if they do, they won’t offer a personal opinion either way.

What to look for when selecting a coach or mentor

Once you’ve decided what you need, then start looking and shortlisting. Don’t pick the coach that has the most followers on Instagram, and don’t just go with the mentor that someone else has, because if they work for her, then they’ll work for you.

Much like hiring a contractor to build you a house, you need to do your research, shortlist and meet/speak with them.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions around their experience (mentors) or qualifications (coaching). You can ask for testimonials too, but be aware that they may be anonymous as not everyone wants to disclose that they are being coached or mentored.

Ask them how long the programme is (coaches tend to be short-term, while mentoring is usually longer, and can even be for life) and what the programme contains (coaching is often structured while mentoring is more fluid and bespoke).

Coaches often coach as a full-time profession, while some mentors will mentor alongside their current job or running their own business, you’ll need to establish their availability and how they support you? Face-to-face? Over the phone? In-between meetings can you email etc.?

Both coaching and mentoring requires an enormous amount of relationship building, openness and trust between both the client and the coach/mentor. However it is still a professional relationship – the time you spend with your coach or mentor is time-bound, a call cannot go on for hours and hours, you need to be prepared for each meeting just as your mentor/coach is. A common misconception is that they are a paid for ‘business best friend’ and although it’s lovely that the relationship feels that way, do remember that your coach or mentor has a goal in mind for you – and that is for you to achieve what you said you wanted to right when you first met.

“I hired a marketing coach for 3 months who had pre-set questions and tasks I went through. She did give me some answers but made me do the initial work to answer most things myself. It’s one of the best things I’ve spent money on as having someone external to talk to is always a good idea. Especially with marketing. I feel I get it but can find it hard to translate it.”

– Joanne Griffin

The main difference between a mentor and a coach is that a mentor will need to assess whether they can work with you, based on your business and your passion for learning. I’m not afraid to say it, but I turn away more clients than I take on in any given year. I will only mentor someone who has a business I believe in. My role isn’t to help you change your mindset, its to teach you how to do something specific, and to get you the results you want, you need to come to the table with the right mindset. If I don’t believe that all the marketing expertise in the world can make your business profitable, or that you don’t believe in yourself, then I will refer you elsewhere and then when you’re ready, we can work together.

A match between a mentor and mentee is more critical than a match between a coach and coachee. A mentor as much as they shouldn’t, somewhat invest themselves into you and your business – I know that I do it, I passionately want my clients to succeed but have to remind myself that I can’t care more about my mentee or their business than they do. Otherwise, they’re living my dream, not theirs.

Beyond the blog

I hope this blog post has helped clarify the difference between a coach and a mentor and helped you to define which would benefit you and your business.

If you’re looking for a coach then, of course, I highly recommend Sophie French,  (and you can catch our podcast together here) if you’re looking to increase your marketing output and learn from a trusted professional who has ‘been there, done that’ then you can read more about my bespoke mentoring service here.

Come and join in the conversation over in the Small and Mighty Business Community and share your thoughts on mentoring vs coaching.