Advisors, Consultants, Coaches and Mentors - what's the difference?

Posted on 3rd January 2015 at 4:10pm by Carl Reader in Business

If you do not have the right people for an informal advisory board, it would be worth considering paying somebody to provide guidance along the way. This however is a luxury in the early days of running a business, and any consultant or coach should be at least partly remunerated on a success basis.

Business Advisors

Bank managers, accountants, and employees of government organisations typically undertake a business advisory role. They will help you through challenges that you may face in your business, based on their experience of dealing with many other businesses.

One of the problems of using these advisors is that often they have not actually run their own business, and as such revert to either theoretical answers, or simply share with you the experiences that they have seen their other clients go through.

Whilst this advice can sometimes be valuable, and indeed might come at lower apparent cost when compared to consultants and business coaches (indeed, it might be a ‘free’ service), you do need to consider that you are paying for the advice through your bank charges or accountancy fees, and also you need to weigh up whether the advisor is sufficiently experienced to assist you within your business.

Business Consultants 

Consultants tend to get a bad press within the media, as organisations such as the NHS use them to manage change processes within their teams. Often, these news reports will focus on the total cost, without looking at any benefit brought in from the consultancy team.

For smaller businesses, a consultant would typically be involved in either structuring the team of employees, or would assist in putting business process systems in place. A consultancy project is normally charged on a day rate, however some consultants will consider either a fixed rate for defined projects, or a success rate if the outcomes can be clearly measured.

Specialist consultants may also focus in areas such as finance, marketing, sales, technology, or operations. A consultancy project would ordinarily commence with a fact find, from which the consultant will prepare a report with the required actions.

Business Coaches

Business coaches are a step on from business consultants, however I find that most business owners (and indeed some consultants / coaches!) aren’t always clear on the difference between the two roles.

My simple rule of thumb is that an advisor tells you the town that you need to go to, a consultant gives you the map and a detailed route, and a coach drives you there.

A business coach is focused more on the performance of the business and the leaders within the business. They will typically be engaged on an ongoing basis, and will be required to challenge and motivate the managerial team to develop both themselves and the business.

Mentors

The mentoring relationship is very different from advisory, consulting or coaching roles, as the role of the mentor is not to provide the answer, but simply to develop the mentee’s understanding and clarity through effective questioning.

A number of voluntary mentors are available, and this is a role that is often fulfilled by experienced business professionals and entrepreneurs, as a way of giving back to the business community. I’ve personally been involved with the Frederick’s Foundation, a national charity, and provided mentoring services to their start-up businesses.

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