Consultant, Mentor or Coach?

Monday 14 November 2022


I’ve thought long and hard about calling myself a “coach”. “Consultant” and later “Trusted Advisor” felt more “me”, and for a long time, I flitted between the two.

I only started to embrace the term “coach” when others started to refer to me as such. So I leaned into it and today am happy to call myself a “coach”.

But herein lies an issue. Coaching is just one of many tools that I can use to help my clients make a change. Sometimes I will share an experience of my own to help frame a particular problem. Other times I might suggest or recommend a particular way forward based on my work in the industry. If you think these examples sound suspiciously like mentoring/advisory and consulting, you’d be right.

So how do we differentiate between all these tools? Here’s an explanation I often use with new clients — the example of driving a car.

  • Consultant — Will tell you how to drive the car (give you the way forward)
  • Mentor — Will share what happened when they drove the car (give insight based on their experience)
  • Coach — Will support you in driving the car (help you make the right decisions when you are driving the car)

I read this take somewhere and foolishly forgot to bookmark the source — apologies to the author if you are reading this.

Consulting helps you solve a specific problem and gives you a plan of exactly what to do next. mentoring helps you learn from the “wisdom” of others to inform your own decisions. At the other end of the scale, coaching is there to help you get to the root of the problems and to help you make a better decision about what to do next. Coaching digs in further. Unlike consulting and mentoring, coaching can get messy. It’s challenging and takes time. It’s not a quick fix.

So why do I call myself a coach if, at times, I mentor and consult for my “coaching” clients? Here’s the reason. Coaching is a term prospective clients generally understand. There’s a certain expectation of what you’re going to get if you engage with a coach. The term helps define the logistical aspect of the work, the format, the frequency of sessions and the commitment from both parties.

So “coach” it is! But regardless of the name or the tooling used, the aim is the same — to help solo founders make positive changes in their businesses.

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