What is the difference between a coach, consultant, mentor and trainer?

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Understand the difference between a business coach and mentor, a consultant and trainer, to ensure you get the right support

Becoming a business coach and mentor has been a booming sector in recent years and continues to look rosy for the future.

Even Covid-19 only slowed the growth rate for a short time, as the impact of the pandemic led to new needs for adaption, pivoting, re-branding, re-modelling for many companies.

The 2020 International Coaching Federation (ICF) Global Coaching Study estimated that the global revenue from coaching increased by 21% between 2015 and 2019 and is forecast to grow even more in the coming years.

We’d love to say this was all being driven by an increased understanding of the value in coaching, but we suspect a large amount of this is actually from mislabeling and misconceptions about what coaching is.

For example, the ICF study itself asks coaches to self-identify whether they are an external business coach, a mentor, an internal coach, or a business leader who uses coaching techniques. 

All of these are different things. Even a business coach and mentor differ, despite some overlap in the techniques used.

This is in addition to ‘coaches’ themselves mislabelling their services and support to be on the zeitgeist of terminology.

Why does this matter? 

It matters because the reality is the services often grouped under the banner ‘coaching’ are other things.

Consultancy, training, business coach and mentorship services, all provide different outcomes and serve different purposes.

As a result, it makes it hard for you to make the proper purchasing and investment decisions.

We want to demystify the marketplace and ensure you are investing in the appropriate support for your business. Whether that be a business coach and mentor, or a trainer or consultant, we want to ensure you get the outcomes you and your business need.

Training

Training is mainly about straight education and is divided into specified topics.

A training session is well-defined but relatively inflexible as it has precise learning aims, objectives, and outcomes for each lesson. In addition, there is a set of materials to be ‘taught’.

Training helps by giving you the knowledge and some theoretical application scenarios.

It provides some initial knowledge and understanding but mostly leaves it up to the individual to take forward in the real world. 

One point worth recognising is that the trainer will typically not be present when the real-world application occurs.

As you can see, there is a significant and important distinction between training, business coach and mentor services!

Business Management Consultant or Consultant 

Consulting provides a specific plan or solution for a particular business goal and is probably the single most commonly confused term with coaching. 

The critical distinction here is that a consultant is a specialist in a particular area (e.g. a business development consultant).

They may use coaching techniques to gather information or work with you. They will ultimately develop the solution and do much of the implementation.

It helps by giving you an answer but does not always explore other potential solutions nor empower you to develop the solution yourself.

Responsibility for delivery and the outcomes lies with the consultant, not the business owner.

The consultant will typically implement most of the actions and guide the client on future maintenance or repetition. A lot of consultancy leads to a regular repeat hire for the latest version to be applied.

Business Mentor 

Mentoring is a process of guidance and support that is usually based on the direct experience of the supplier within the situation, department, role, or position being supported.

They have been there and done it, so they can guide you through what to do based on how it went for them.

It helps by showing the client how the supplier did it when they were in that position.

There is always a risk here when there have been substantial time gaps or industry advancements between the experience and the advice being given. 

This service is intended to be a real-world role model and allows them to act as an experienced sounding board to the less experienced client.

The mentor will typically work alongside their client for an extended period, and in many cases, mentorship is part of succession (i.e. a role handover period).

There may be different mentors for different aspects of your business, for example, a Business Development Mentor.

Coaching

Coaching involves a blend of pure coaching, training, consulting, and mentoring. So there is some overlap between business coach and mentor, and trainer in terms of the techniques used, but for different outcomes.

We take the best elements of the other services and using them at the correct times. 

Business coach and mentor are the most similar of these services, but coaching also provides external accountability for performance.

It is based on long-term objectives and short-term action plans and is now a common choice for successful businesses that want even better results.

It helps you critically think about your situation, problems, opportunities and options.

A good coach will critically assess and allow you to adjust past behaviours and actions for greater success in the future.

Coaching and mentoring offer a significant difference to pure consulting, as they leave you with the ability to apply future solutions without further guidance.

But to confuse matters further, there are many different types of business coach and mentors available.

Business coaches

Business coaching is an effective means of empowering business owners to apply their learning in a setting and then also be able to translate it into other different situations. 

The client completes most actions within a coaching relationship and receives guidance and feedback before and after their implementation.

The client reports progress and commits to the following actions with the coach, having their permission to hold them accountable for doing so to the best of their ability. 

Importantly the actions and successes belong to the business owner, not the coach, as they are the ones who take the action. The coach provides support and advice, but it is up to the business owner to deliver.

A key difference between a business coach and other coaches is that they coach on business principles, how to run a business, and all the myriad roles and functions involved.

A true business coach can cover all of these areas, not just one specialist aspect.

Business and executive coaching

In some instances, business coaching may, in fact, stray into business and leadership coaching and/or executive coaching.

This quite rightly happens when support is needed to upskill and educate a management team.

This may be to enable growth or scale beyond the confines of the business owner’s own available time, reduce reliance on the business owner or perhaps get the business ready for sale in a management buy-out.

Life Coach vs Business Coach

A life coach counsels and coaches people through both personal and professional aspects of their lives and is focused on the mental and physical wellbeing of the client.

The goals here are primarily personal, which in turn may affect their professional lives. 

Whereas, for an SME business coach, the goal may have an impact on the business owner’s personal life, such as spending less time on the business, a better work-life balance etc., but the focus is on the business performance rather than the individual. 

Other types of coaches

As already explained, business coaches can also cover executive and leadership coaching.

But you might well see other types of coaches such as transformational business coach, a business agility coach or peak performance business coach.

These are essentially synonyms for a business coach. Still, the difference is that they focus on a specific type of outcome from their coaching, e.g. achieving business agility or business change.

A generalist business coach and mentor can cover these goals and many more.

Choosing the right support for you

If you want expanded knowledge through education, hire a trainer. 

If you want a solution to one problem, hire a consultant. 

If you want to replicate the success of another specific person, hire a mentor.

But if you want to grow your business, and achieve a range of results for yourself, your clients, and your team, hire a business coach!

business coach and mentor choosing the right support

More To Explore

What can a business coach help me with?

What can a business coach help with? Definition of business coaching Coaching is a combination of a range of skills that incorporate elements of training,

Why invest in a business coach?

Are business coaches worth it (the investment and time)? It’s the question all business owners ask themselves at one point or another, “Are business coaches