Coach: focused on the end goal (success)

-helping an individual to develop the personal skills to be a manager or supervisor and/or take those skills to the next level.  Increasing job satisfaction.

-alternatively, for business owners or directors, focusing more on what you want out of the business and what it means to you.

A coach is different to a business advisor or someone from an organisation assisting business people.  Generally, advisors provide contacts and tell you how to put infrastructure, procedures and systems in place (business functionality).  The coach will help you work out how to develop your business, where you want it to go and how to get there (personal development).

Pick a coach who has direct experience of running a business.  That’s a fundamentally different prospect to someone with corporate experience and/or knowledge of a particular aspect of a business.

The coach will seek to understand your vision and the aspects of what you’re doing/seeking to achieve that mean the most to you.  And, how to present those aspects to other interested parties who may not understand the commercial and/or personal importance.  An example might be a venture capital group pushing a start up to release untested products when the unique selling point of the company is its ethics, testing and research (critically important to the Founder).

Coaching also involves suggestions on how to improve things based on achieving results within the “big picture”,  as agreed with you (not just for the sake of change).  A coach will question why things do or don’t happen, to overcome barriers to success.  There will be a focus on operations and a keen eye on strategy… because the coach is aiming for that end goal.

Some areas on which a coach may work:

  • resilience  – weathering knock backs, problems and challenges
  • communications with staff, superiors, partners, stakeholders, funders, shareholders, etc.
  • leadership development and team building
  • negotiation, e.g. partners, suppliers, customers
  • focus and prioritisation
  • time management
  • decision making
  • flexibility and adaptability
  • motivation, inspiration and innovation
  • life/work balance

A coach might be engaged to help you achieve a short term objective or they may become a permanent fixture, assisting in continuous improvement and moving on to new goals when the first has been achieved.  The process generally involves regular meetings.

Mentor: the catalyst

Mentors function as a catalyst—an agent who provokes a reaction that might not otherwise have taken place or speeds up a reaction that might have taken place in the future.

They can function in a similar role to a business coach and will also generally be someone who has previously run a business. However, they tend to be older and more experienced and will have “been there, seen it, done it, bought the t-shirt”.  An example might be an industry expert who wants to help the new generation of entrepreneurs by sharing their knowledge, contacts and experience.

The difference from coaching is perhaps that a mentor relationship is about a transfer of skills and there is an element of recreating the mentee in the mentor’s image.  Also, mentoring tends to be a longer, ongoing process instead of targeted towards specific goals.

Mentors generally have a certain type of person in mind as a mentee.  Many may look for:

  • Self-motivation and understanding of their own objectives
  • Strong work ethic and willingness to accept responsibility for their career
  • Openness and willingness to learn and to accept constructive feedback
  • Exhibiting trust behaviors and willingness to keep confidences

A mentor relationship need have no end date; it can go on as long as the two parties wish (6-12 months or more).  Contact with may be regular or irregular and discussions may be in-depth or just occasional pointers.

Advisor: focused on business functionality

An Advisor is similar to a coach but is generally more concerned with how to make a business work, rather than personal development.  A business advisor might also have a specialist area of knowledge or expertise.  The approach is that of imparting relevant information, rather than focusing on your personal skills to be able to use or apply that information.

As you might imagine, the amount of business information that could potentially be covered by advisors is huge.  Thus, there are many types of advisor.  For example, they may provide information and/or solve problems, depending their specialty and the business requirement.  You might turn to them which you have a pressing issue at hand and you don’t have the time or expertise to fix it yourself.  Similarly, an advisor may be a generalist giving broad advice or someone who knows their area of expertise comprehensively.  Focus on the specific areas where you feel you need the advice.

Some areas on which an advisor may work:

  • Starting a new business, e.g. administration and training
  • Recruitment
  • Financing, e.g. sources of funding
  • General business advice, e.g. accounting and tax
  • IT systems, e.g. infrastructure, hardware and software
  • Commercialisation of ideas
  • Research and development strategy
  • Growing markets, products or the workforce
  • International trade
  • Winning contracts

Someone you can call or email ad-hock when needed, a short term contract or longer term communication for specific projects may work well.

Advisory Boards, made up of people whose advice you value and want to access regularly can be a powerful addition to a business.

Consultant – brings specialist expertise

Sometimes people use the terms consultant, coach or advisor interchangeably.  However, a true consultant is a specialist who really knows their stuff.  Someone who brings in knowledge that others don’t have and can apply that knowledge for effective results.  Beware the ‘consultant’ who talks a lot but doesn’t seem to be able to make a difference to your project!  Do some research and be clear about what you want.