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The differences between a business coach and a mentor and what they can offer small business owners

September 25, 2014

Many of the world’s most successful business people became that way with help from a key figure in their lives.

When you have a mentor or a coach, you are involving someone else in the decisions you need to make to grow your business. They will help you stay focused, on track, and get the most out of yourself.

Mentoring and coaching are similar but subtly different. A mentor tends to be someone you trust who will help you take an overview of your business, with an outsider’s perspective.

Typically mentors are people with experience in your industry, or at least of building up a business. Your mentor will work as a sounding board offering advice when it’s needed.

A coach is there to help you achieve a goal. Coaching is better known in the sporting world, and is not widespread among business people in the UK. But a qualified experienced coach that you click with, can help you grow your business.

What a coach or mentor will do

The first thing they will help you do is set goals, or if you already do, set better goals. It’s scary how many people running businesses don’t have a goal to aim for.

You will always struggle to achieve anything significant without a target and a way of measuring your success. A dream of “being the biggest” isn’t a goal. You need a specific measurable target.

Throughout history, there are examples of dreams being achieved by splitting them down into smaller achievable goals. NASA’s engineers achieved the dream of putting a man on the moon with smaller goals – build a spacecraft, design a spacesuit, etc.

Your mentor or coach should take your dream as seriously as you do. As an outsider to that dream, they can help you set stretching goals to achieve it more quickly.

They will also help you measure your progress and maintain momentum – vital for seeing projects through to the end.

And your coach or mentor will keep you focused and on track. We all look for shortcuts. Sometimes they actually turn out to lengthen the journey. An outsider working with you has the advantage of being able to stand back and examine whether what looks like a shortcut, actually is.

What a coach or mentor won’t do

Vitally, your coach or mentor should never tell you what to do, unless you specially ask their advice. Coaching is not about handing out advice whether it’s wanted or not.

There is a phrase taught to coaches:

“Tell me, I forget. Show me, I remember. Involve me, I understand”.

A good coach will know you have the answers within you, and it’s their job to draw them out. There’s nothing like the thunderbolt moment of realising you knew the answer all along. That can be a huge confidence boost, and ensure swift progress towards your goal.

Your coach or mentor won’t do the work for you. When you need it, they may provide or suggest the tools you need – especially if they have experience in your industry.

How to pick the right business mentor or coach for you

Once you have decided you need a coach or mentor, you should go hunting for the right person.

Our guide on; How finding a great mentor could help you to grow, and your business to flourish – helps you to examine what qualities to look for in your mentor, and how to get the best out of the relationship.

There are mentoring schemes around; many mentors do it voluntarily after achieving a degree of success themselves and to “give something back”. Ask around in your industry or do a search online. Ensure any mentor you find will have enough time to give you proper attention.

Typically you will pay for performance coaching, and it can be pretty pricey. Ensure that any coach you hire has qualifications, suitable experience and previous clients you can talk to.

Don’t be afraid to ask difficult questions – just because someone has done a training course doesn’t necessarily make them a great coach.

Above all, as when you are hiring any professional adviser, don’t just plump for the first person you meet. Chat to a few potential advisers and explore what they can offer you.

Be sure you can spend time with and like this person – after all they are going to be asking you some difficult questions in the coming months. It’s vital you have trust between you.

More help on maximising your potential

A mentor or coach, can help you to get the best out of yourself. For more tips and ideas on how to reach your full potential, try these other ByteStart guides;

ByteStart brings you help and advice on all aspects of starting and running a successful small business including;