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Coach, mentor or adviser – which do I need?

What’s the difference between a business coach, mentor and adviser? Each one has a value to add, but each one is different in what they do and how they do it.

What’s the difference between a business coach, mentor and adviser? If you answered, “I don’t know,” you wouldn’t be alone. If you do a simple search in LinkedIn for “coach mentor adviser” you can find nearly 1 million people that use at least two of these words to describe themselves. The terms mentor and coach particularly get used interchangeably often. This got me thinking about what is the difference between a coach, mentor and adviser, and who should use people in each of these roles? To me, each one has a value to add, but each one is different in what they do and how they do it.


I coach my daughter’s basketball team. On game day, I stand on the sideline and monitor performance, suggest strategies, keep an eye on the opposition and advise on techniques. A business coach does much the same. They meet with you on a regular basis but do not work in the business. They make suggestions on performance and how to change and improve aspects of the business. They question why things are barriers and suggest how to correct errors in operations. Business coaches will also have a lot to say about strategy because they are focused on the end goal. Through coaching, the client becomes more capable and the business grows.


A mentor is a bit like a parent and is someone that inspires and gets love and commitment from their family. They have a relative wealth of lived experience and know a great deal. They have been there, done that. Mentors are interested in your personal development and also know it is a long game. Contact with a mentor can be either regular or irregular, the discussions may be either in-depth or pointers, long discussions or quite short. A mentor relationship is about a transfer of skills. Mentors have walked your path and are willing to share their knowledge, experience and contacts.


The adviser is a technical specialist – a sharp-shooter – and is someone with in-depth knowledge on a subject. They focus on providing solutions to problems. An adviser is called upon when you have a pressing issue and do not have either the expertise or time to resolve the issue yourself. The relationship is typically more casual than with a coach or mentor. You ask questions and they have answers. They listen a little and talk a lot, and are able to help get an urgent problem understood (and maybe solved) quickly.

Same-same but different

There does run a thread of commonality between coach, mentor and adviser. To me the two strong threads are the personal aspect and the requirement of trust. With each, you need to form a relationship, and good communication in order for them to be effective for you or your business. You also need to be able to trust them – not just with confidential information but as an effective resource.

Often potential clients of coaches, mentors and (to a lesser extent) advisers delay getting them on board as there is no objective way to measure the return on investment. In response to this, I occasionally ask, “What is the return on investment of doing an MBA?”. Much like engaging a coach, mentor or adviser, it is difficult to objectively measure return on investment. However, with coach, mentor or adviser, you have much more control on what you learn, how you learn, when you learn and what is applicable to you and your business.

My suggestion for choosing a coach, mentor or adviser is to shortlist a few, do your research on how effective they have been with others and then choose the one that is the best cultural fit for you, and is appropriate for your business’s – and your own – stage of development.

There are circumstances where one of these roles might be more appropriate. In the course of growing your business, you will likely need all three. The coach, mentor and adviser are all valuable resources to help an entrepreneur, business executive or owner move their business forward.

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