Running your own startup or small business can be hugely challenging. You’re regularly well out of your comfort zone, and everyday is a school day. That’s where business coaches and mentors can really add value, relieve stress and give you the confidence to reach your goals.
You may even think a business coach and a mentor are the same thing. Anyone? We thought so. And it’s not surprising as a lot of people throw the two terms around interchangeably. But there are some very real and important differences between a business coach and a mentor.
In this article, we look at what the two can offer, how they differ, and when you might want (or need) to work with either one.
What is a business coach?
A business coach is typically someone who is brought in to help you achieve a specific objective, or overcome a certain challenge within your business. They typically help you to come up with solutions by asking pertinent questions and supporting you in exploring your own ideas.
The focus of a business coach will always be on your business and achieving a predetermined outcome. They’ll assist you in reviewing how your business is running and what you need to change to get the desired results.
A business coach isn’t necessarily someone with a long track record of their own successful business ventures, but they (the good business coaches) often have a solid history of coaching successes.
What are business mentors?
A business mentor is usually an accomplished business professional who is able to offer guidance, advice and support from their own personal experience. They generally have a strong knowledge of all (or most) aspects of business and act as a trusted adviser for you and your business.
The work of a business mentor will involve both your business and you as a person. They tend to explore the various elements of your business, as well as your own personality traits, ambitions and behaviour.
Mentors can develop a holistic relationship with you that encompasses more than just your business
Sign up for full access
Navigating your way through what to do can be confusing – that’s why we’re building something pretty special to make your journey that bit easier. Sign up now and receive regular updates… as well as early access when we launch!
What’s the difference?
If you’re going to get the right support for your business, listen up. Here’s a rundown of the main differences between business coaches and business mentors.
Business coaches are strictly focused on business. They’re working with you for a particular purpose and will focus on that.
Coaches provide clear, regular feedback on specific topics or performance indicators
Mentors, on the other hand, can develop a more holistic relationship with you that encompasses more personal aspects of your life than just your business. They’ll work with you on your business, but they’ll often look beyond work and your career too.
With a focus on business, coaches will be very direct and provide clear, regular feedback on specific topics or performance indicators. A business coach will use coaching sessions to provide support and input, always encouraging self-guided solutions (rather than telling you what to do).
With a business mentor, the input can be much more informal and driven by the mentee’s needs and requests for support and direction. Mentors will offer advice and in some mentorships will directly teach their mentee about a certain topic to help them develop.
When you have a business coach, the evaluation and outcome of the relationship are very clear. A goal is clearly defined at the beginning, closely monitored steps throughout the coaching process and specific deadlines to meet. This makes evaluating success of the coaching very easy. Did you get from A to B? Simple.
When you’re working with a business mentor, the outcome and measuring of success can be a little harder to define. A mentoring relationship is more fluid than that with a coach, goals can change or be less black and white to start with. That’s not to say you can’t set clear goals with a mentor, it’s just not guaranteed.
It needs to be the right place and the right time
Which one is right for me?
That depends on you and your business. And also, at what stage you’re at. Business coaches and business mentors can offer brilliant support, it just needs to be the right place and the right time. But don’t jump in too quickly, either – it can be an expensive business and that money might be better spent elsewhere!
One analogy we like that describes business coaching vs mentoring is that of a car in need of repair. If you have a puncture in your tyre you’d head straight to the tyre shop down the street. If your car was making some funny noises but you don’t know what’s wrong, you’d call up your local all-round mechanic.
Coaching is the tyre shop. Mentoring is the mechanic. A business coach can be a powerful resource for addressing a specific need in your business. They’re focused and goal-driven to get the job done. A business mentor comes into their own when you need more general support and maybe need help finding out where the exact issues are that need addressing.
Here’s a summary that might help you understand whether you need a business coach or business mentor:
|A business coach can help if you…
|A business mentor can help if you…
|Need help with a specific issue in your business
|Want general support and advice for your business
|Have a business with a track record to analyse
|Have a new business with little or no track record
|Are willing to commit to goals and deadlines
|Want an informal type of business support that may change over time
|Like to work one area of your business at a time
|Like to work on various areas of your business at one time
|Want to solely focus on your business
|You’re happy to evaluate your personal life, as well as your business.
“When it comes to business coaches and mentors, just be careful. I naively thought they were the answer to all my prayers when I was starting out but there are a lot of charlatans out there. And, even some of the genuine ones just aren’t that good! I had a mentor that operated in the same sector as me and had done really well in their field – they’d helped grow a business to a huge size which was great… but they had absolutely no idea what a startup was really like, as the business they’d worked in was already established when they joined it and had crazy amounts of investment.
It wasn’t necessarily that he was a bad mentor for someone, but he was a bad mentor for me – as he just didn’t appreciate the intricacies of starting a startup.
Oh… and he also wanted me to pay him a ridiculous amount of money AND take a chunk of equity – so I told him, politely, where to go. There is definite value in paying people who have been there and done it – and sometimes giving them equity, but be wary of people who are being greedy or promising the earth“.
– Eddie Whittingham, FounderRead more
How do I find a business coach or mentor?
Whether you’re looking for a business coach or a business mentor, you can often find them in very similar ways. Here are some of the most popular options:
- Ask friends, family or colleagues for recommendations.
- Join startup groups and communities, there are often coaches and mentors as members.
- Search on LinkedIn and ask any mutual connections for endorsements.
- Approach indirect competitors who might be willing to mentor you or recommend a coach.
- Networking events can be great places to meet coaches and mentors (whether they’re in person or virtual events).
- Small business support organisations, like the FSB or BSO can often provide recommendations.
We hope you found this article useful. If you did, we’d love you to share it on your socials. And if you’re looking for more tips, guides and handy hints, check out our starting a business hub.
Check out our other articles for more tips, tricks and advice to help your startup succeed.
Business bank accounts
2 min read
Wondering whether you need a business bank account? Find out if...
Minimal Viable Product What is it Good for? Well, Absolutely Everything
5 min read
An MVP is the most basic version of your concept that...
NDAs (non disclosure agreements) explained
4 min read
If you're starting a business that has commercially sensitive information, like...
How to create buyer personas for startups
3 min read
Treating your customers like people is crucial for any startup and...
Customer discovery for startups
3 min read
Finding out who your customers are and what they need is...