Business Coach, Advisor, Mentor… What’s the difference?

I was at a networking event recently when Jacky Misson said that she’d worked with a business coach several times in her career but would never use a business advisor.

I was somewhat bemused by this. I’ve never really seen much of a difference but Jacky’s feeling, based on her experience of one rather dodgy sounding business advisor, was that a coach would help you to work out how to develop your business, whereas an advisor would tell you what to do.

It seems that the dodgy advisor had completely underestimated Jacky, who is a redoubtable businesswoman, and had just given her a lecture. Not only a lecture but one filled with really bad advice, of completely inappropriate and unhelpful things.

Of course, that’s not the difference between a business advisor and a coach, that’s just someone being rubbish at their job. Anyway, this made me think about if there are any differences and what term I should use to describe myself and my work.

Here are some thoughts:

Business coach

A business coach might use more coaching or therapeutic techniques to explore the issues in your business. So they’re likely to focus slightly more on what you want out of the business and what it means to you, rather than on the practical ‘let’s get on with it’. Look for someone who has experience of running a business, as you want at least some practical stuff, or at the very least, someone who has an understanding of what it’s like to run a small business.  You don’t want someone who only has experience in the corporate world, as that’s a very different animal indeed.

Business advisor

Very similar to a coach but may be more concerned with your business and how to make it work, rather than your personal development.  A business advisor might also have a specialist area they focus on, I don’t, as I like to look at the whole business, including marketing, finance, people and systems. Look for someone who is open to dealing with the emotional side as well – you might well need both types of support.


This can have two meanings. One is pretty much the same as a business coach or advisor and the other more specific meaning of the term ‘business mentor‘ is someone who has run businesses before. They’re older, more experienced and have probably run several businesses. Mentoring also tends to be an ongoing process, lasting over 6 – 12 months.  Sometimes mentoring can be informal and free, for example, if you can find someone in your industry who is semi-retired and wants to help out the new generation of entrepreneurs.

Business consultant

This is another term, which might be slightly different, as a consultant might charge more money than an advisor, mentor or coach. I tend to think of consultants as having a specialist area, e.g. systems or HR, but this can also be a synonym for ‘business advisor’.

What do you think?

Any other words for what I do? What would you be looking for?

And finally

If you’re looking for a business advisor, a coach for your business, business mentor, consultant, strategist, helper, supporter… it doesn’t really matter what you call it, but you know who to talk to – don’t you?