Business mentor or business coach?

MentorConnex image of lady weighing up between a business mentor and a business coach and unsure which to choose

Table of Contents

Business mentor, or business coach? Discover what they do, what the differences are and how to find the right fit for you.

Do you know the difference between a business mentor and a business coach?  Or even what the difference is between business coaching and business mentoring?

No?  

Then this article is for you.  But first…

Does your biggest competitor make an ideal business mentor?

I remember thinking to myself, “Someone out there knows what to do… but I don’t know how to find them!”.

It was my first business, and I was weighing up one of the biggest decisions I’d ever had to make. 

On one hand, we had a huge opportunity that could significantly improve our revenue.  On the other, it meant significant capital investment (which was risky) and could stress the team to breaking point.

With no one to turn to, I called the owner of our biggest competitor.

He was an absolute gentleman.  He helped me clear my thinking, rationally assess the options, and set me on the right path.

But whilst I was incredibly grateful, I didn’t feel that having our biggest competitor as a mentor was not the ideal long-term solution (nor for that matter, had he agreed to mentor me).

So, I started looking around for a mentor or a coach.

I wanted someone I could turn to when I got stuck on a big decision or dealing with something beyond my scope of experience. 

Someone who knew me (or would get to know me) and my business, and who had faced and overcome similar challenges to the ones I was facing.

And this is when a certain question arose…

Business mentor or business coach: what's the difference?

I’d heard the term business coach and business mentor, but as far as knowing the difference between the two, I was stumped. This is hardly surprising – it is a grey area, with the two terms often used interchangeably.

Fast forward several years to today, and things are a bit different because since starting MentorConnex, understanding the difference between the two has become an essential part of my job.

So I’m going to share what I’ve learned, so if you are thinking of engaging a business mentor or business coach, you’ll be able to make an informed decision.

We will cover:

For a bit of context, let’s start by defining what each of them do.

Definitions

Business Mentor

There are many definitions of “mentor” floating around, but my favourite is this one from the Cambridge Dictionary: “a person who gives a … less experienced person help and advice over a period of time”.

This is a general definition for mentor, but when we apply a business context, it will read something like:

A business mentor is an experienced business person who gives a less experienced business person advice over a period of time.

Which works really well.

Business Coach

For consistency, let’s again refer to the Cambridge Dictionary, which defines a “coach” as “someone whose job is to teach people to improve at a … skill”.

If we bring this definition into a business context, it looks like this;

A business coach is someone whose job it is to teach business people to improve at business.

And again, based on all the experience I’ve had over the years of building MentorConnex and learning about this space, I believe is a fair reflection.

Key differences between a business coach and mentor

First, we’ll look at a summary of the key differences in the infographic below (access a the full version here), before we look at each in more detail.

Please note:
1. These are generalisations only and many business mentors and business coaches will identify with elements of both.
2. *For the purposes of this exercise, a “profession” is defined as “a paid occupation, especially one that involves prolonged training and a formal qualification”.
MentorConnex infographic summarising the key differences between a business coach and a business mentor

Key differences explored

Experience

In the same way that economics professors can lecture on the financial system despite having never actually worked in it, a business coach can teach business fundamentals having never been business owners themselves.

A defining characteristic of a business mentor, on the other hand, is firsthand experience of the challenges you are facing.

This matters if you are specifically seeking support from someone who has experienced what you are going through.

Structured or Unstructured

Compared to business coaching, business mentoring can seem relatively unstructured.

When you turn to a mentor for advice, it tends to be on an ad hoc basis.  That’s not to say you won’t have structure such as regular agreed meetings, but because of the advice based nature, business mentoring sessions tend to be less structured.

Business coaching by comparison is all about structure.

Just as you wouldn’t be impressed if you turned up to sports practice and the coach had no drills ready to go, when it comes to learning something, you are right to expect the coach to have a plan of attack.

Most great business coaches will start by helping you work out your goals and then create a process for achieving them, and hold you accountable along the way.

Is business coaching or business mentoring a "profession"?

We’ll revert back to our trusted definition source here, the Cambridge Dictionary, who define a profession as:

Any type of work that needs special training or a particular skill, often one that is respected because it involves a high level of education.

Although there is no legal requirement to have specialist training to be a business coach in Australia, the great majority of business coaches do.  And most do business coaching as a full time job, so it’s fair to call it a profession.

Business mentoring, although it does indeed take years to earn experience does not require specialist training and neither is it typically the primary source of income.  So no, business mentoring is not a profession.

Who is best at what business stage?

I’ve generally found business coaches are at their best once a business has secure, recurring revenue, the first handful of employees, and is starting to put formal systems and processes in place to scale.

Business mentors who have been early-stage business owners themselves are usually a better fit because they get it.  They understand you don’t yet have a settled business and that things change rapidly.  And they can relate to the typical challenges of getting product market fit, finding your first customers and figuring out a business model.

Beyond that, business coaching and business mentoring can have a hugely positive impact all the way through to the eventual sale of the business, even helping with exit planning, negotiation and execution.

MentorConnex graph and tabvle showing the link between business stage and who to connect with business mentor or business coach

Where do I find a business coach or mentor?

Great mentors are hard to find, especially if you don’t have an amazing network (read more on finding mentors here), because they don’t advertise their services – largely because it isn’t a profession.  So the most popular methods for finding a business mentor are family and friends, networking or specialist services like MentorConnex.

Because they are professionals and tend to advertise their services, coaches can be found via a google search, or advertising in other places. 

The most important thing with either a business coach or mentor is to make sure you do your due diligence, and that they are the right fit for you.

How many sessions do I need?

Unfortunately, even the best business mentor or coach in the world cannot solve your challenges and turn your business into the next Amazon in a single session.

You can solve tactical business issues (e.g., how to create a Facebook campaign) in a one-off mentoring or coaching session, but if you are looking to make meaningful change that will positively impact your business and life long term, it takes time.

Your mentor or coach needs to get to know you and your business, help isolate your challenges and what’s holding you back, create a plan to overcome them, and allow you time to make it happen (whilst you also juggle all the other demands on your time).

Which is why we consistently see the best results from business coaching and mentoring when mentees commit to a minimum of three months (with business coaching this may vary depending on what you want to accomplish – e.g. it may be a short, intense coaching program).

What will it cost?

Whilst business mentoring – especially when you have connected through family and friends – may be free, there are a number of excellent reasons you would choose to pay a mentor (to read more click here), with the key one being, access.  By paying, you are essentially securing access to your mentor’s time and attention when you need it.

How much you pay that mentor will come down to how they value their time and what you are prepared to pay. But generally speaking, mentoring requires less formal work or preparation outside of sessions, than coaching, and for business mentors, it is rarely their primary source of income, so expect to pay less than for coaching on an hourly session rate basis, with high caliber mentors to start around $150 an hour.

Business coaches are professionals, and their fees are often their primary source of income. They do more work outside of the sessions such as training, creating programs, and marketing, so justify higher fees.  A good coach always has a plan. And formulating that plan – especially in one to one coaching – takes time and effort outside of your sessions. So for a high quality coach, with experience and a track record to back it up, expect to pay from around $300 an hour.

Often you can reduce these costs by committing for longer or buying packages, for example.

Choosing the right option for you

As you can now see, there are significant differences between business mentoring and business coaching.  And bare in mind that these are generalisations – it’s not this black and white in reality, with most business coaches or business mentors having elements of both.

So the questions is, how do you find the right fit for you?

In your shoes, I would break this down into two parts:

#1. How to decide whether you need a business coach or business mentor

Write down your thoughts on the following questions:

Then cross-check your responses against the differences and characteristics we have discussed in this article.

#2. How to check they the right fit for you

Engaging a great business mentor or business coach is a personal journey – because what you need in a mentor or coach will not be the same as what the next person needs.

However, in order to find the perfect fit for you, we recommend using the following criteria to make an assessment;

Compile your list of answers, then cross-reference the table above to work out the best match for you.

Still stuck?

In this article we have covered,

And I hope that by now you have a really solid understanding of how they compare, so you can make an informed decision about who will be the right fit for you.

But if not, reach out to us at MentorConnex.

One of the reasons so many entrepreneurs and business owners turn to us instead of trying to find a mentor or coach for themselves, is we do all the hard work for you.

Not only can we can help you figure out what you need right now, we will connect you with a vetted business mentor or coach.

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