The Difference Between Consulting, Coaching & Mentoring Explained

Types of Business Advisors Cover

Running a business requires you to constantly find solutions to complex problems. Consultants, coaches and mentors can help you make the right decisions. But which type of advisor is right for you?

If you ever faced a complex situation or problem, you know how valuable an expert’s opinion can be. Maybe it was from a friend. Or maybe it came from a more experienced colleague.

Without the right level of expertise, it can become quite a time consuming (and expensive) task to research a certain industry and make the right decision every time.

That’s why most businesses rely on the help of external advisors: They already have the expertise and can save their clients time and money.

If you ever wondered what the key differences between a consultant, a coach and a mentor are, you’ve come to the right place!

This article will cover:

Let’s dive right in.

What is a Business Consultant?

According to the Oxford Dictionary, consulting is the practice of “giving expert advice to people working in a professional or technical field”.

Definition of the word consulting according to the Oxford dictionary
Image reference from oxforddictionaries.com/definition/consulting

Derived from that definition, a consultant passes its level of expertise to other entrepreneurs, who are willing to pay to access this knowledge.

But that doesn’t mean that consultants know the answers to all of their clients’ questions right away.

First, they need to understand and research the context of their client’s problem before they can recommend the best course of action.

That’s why most consultants are hired on a project level basis, which is also the primary distinction between a consultant and a coach or mentor:

Consultants are paid to solve a specific problem at hand. They focus on delivering a solution to their client’s problem.

The client is involved in the briefing, scope definition, and review phases during the project but does not actively develop the conclusion.

In other words, consultants are specifically hired to get the job done.

The client pays for the expertise and recommendation to solve a certain problem. But he or she does not play an active part to work out the solution themself.

What is a Business Coach?

You’ll have heard of them: Business, life, relationship and even wellness coaches.

In this article, we will focus on the definition of the business coach:

Business coaching is the process of engaging in regular, structured conversation with a client. The goal is to enhance the client’s awareness and behaviour to achieve business objectives for their organisation.

World Wide Association of Business Coaches, 2007

Put another way, a coach supports its client to reach a specific goal or desired situation.

In doing so, the relationship between a coach and the client is often based on a one-to-one basis and, therefore, more intimate.

Contrary to a consultant, the coach does not solve the client’s problem by presenting them with the solution.

Instead, a coach challenges the status quo and stimulates discussions based on their client’s strengths and already available resources. The coach acts as a mindful mediator to help its counterparts arrive at their desired destination.

What is a Business Mentor?

After we have now explored and explained the functions of business consultants and coaches, let’s take a look at business mentors:

According to the Cambridge dictionary, a mentor is a person with:

Experience in a job that supports and advises someone with less experience to help them develop in their work.

Contrary to the consultant and coach, a mentor’s focus is on an individual (so-called “mentee”) and not on helping to solve a specific problem of a client.

The mentor acts as a trusted guide and advisor for the mentee, with the main goal of transferring knowledge relatively informally and a long lapse of time.

Many organisations are using mentoring schemes to onboard their graduates to their cultural environment. Yet, senior employees can also benefit from a mentor relationship to pursue the next big step of their career.

The difference between a Business Coach and a Consultant

Every business advisor helps its clients to get from point A (the current situation) to B (the desired situation).

But the approaches and methods of a consultant vs a coach differ significantly.

Bridging the gap between the current and desired situation of a client
Bridging the gap between the current and desired situation of a client

Let’s summarize the key differences between a consultant and a coach:
As we have explored earlier, the primary difference between a consultant and a coach is how they apply to solve a problem.
Whilst a consultant works out the solution itself, a coach supports the client to achieve the desired outcome.

There are obviously subtle overlaps, as a consultant may also take the form of a mentor or coach sometimes.

Nonetheless, the differences between the focus, the relationship and the process require a conceptual distinction.

Comparison Table Consultant vs. Coach
The main differences between consultants, coaches and mentors

Now you might ask yourself:

Which type of business advisor is right for you?

Choosing the best type of advisor for your business depends a lot on your personal preferences.

If you want to take your skills to the next level by simultaneously being guided and supported, finding a coach will be the right decision for you, because:

  • The relationship between you and the coach is more intimate and often develops into a lasting personal partnership;
  • There is no major knowledge gap to fill. You already have the necessary expertise and skills to solve the problem;
  • The coach acts as a supporter and guide from day one and stays until the task is completed.

On the other hand, you should choose a consultant, if:

  • There is a knowledge gap in your organisation,
  • You require a fresh or unbiased perspective from somebody outside of your own organisation,
  • You don’t have the time or resources to look for a solution yourself,
  • Your organisation wants to drive change and needs external impulses to break through established patterns,
  • You want to profit from the knowledge of someone who has already implemented the change in the past.

Conclusion

So there you have it – the differences between a consultant, a coach and a mentor.

I hope you enjoyed today’s article and you have learned how to distinguish between the different types of business advisers.

Now I’d like to hear from you: What’s your #1 takeaway from today’s article?


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About Martin Heubel

Hi, I’m Martin Heubel – founder of Consulterce and ecommerce strategy consultant, based in London, UK. My mission is to help 1P vendors raise their profit margins with Amazon.

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