Business Coach, Business Mentor, Business Consultant …. What’s the difference and who do I really need ?

Nowadays, there are so many terms to describe a ‘business expert’ – someone who essentially provides a service to a business to help them start or grow an enterprise.

This term may relate to a micro business, a startup and entrepreneurial enterprise, a small or medium business, and even a large organisation. Such terms include ‘business coach’, ‘business mentor’, ‘business advisor’, ‘business consultant’, ‘business development expert’, ‘business planning expert’, and the list goes on.

Personally, I think all terms interrelate with each other, and the distinction between these words or professions is not really that critical to differentiate, or for a business owner to know the difference. Rather, it’s vital that the person offering business advice in a specific area (eg. business coaching or whatever it may be), has had a high level of relevant experience in running an operation of their own, which can be demonstrated with many years of ‘hard knocks’.

There is a big difference between someone with practical / hands-on experience in business building, versus someone who has just stepped out of university and has simply acquired a fancy and prestigious business qualifications like an MBA, and casually labels themselves a ‘business expert’. Despite them possessing the theoretical knowledge of business building, business planning, etc, do they really know the complexities of a cash-tight business; one that is in a very competitive market; or one where the business owners are not aligned with their thoughts and cannot agree on any fundamental decision. My simple point is that ‘business theory’ is quite different to ‘business practice’. So what is more important?

After being in business for nearly 25 years, having worn many different hats including being a business coach, an entrepreneurship coach, a business coach and mentor, a business development expert, and even an executive / leadership coach, I’ve learnt that experience and wisdom is not something you can buy off the shelf, or fast-track, but rather acquire over the course of time.

Over the years, I’ve come across many young / inexperienced academics or those who have just entered the workforce, and have labelled themselves ‘business gurus’, or whatever fancy term they conjure. Often these people offer unrealistic promises of ‘exponential sales growth’, ‘rapid business transformation’, aggressive market penetration, new-age influencer marketing, or whatever goal their client may have on their wish-list.

Below are two scenarios where a so called ‘business expert’ or business coach, may fail to provide the correct or relevant level of assistance long term to a client. There are many causes to this problem, and may be due to irrelevant business expertise; they possess limited business development experience; have never had a start-up business themselves, and never actually experienced the hard-knocks and pain of starting and running a small business; or simply they have an overly inflated ego !

Scenario 1:

A business coach has been appointed to help a small business owner better deal with the pressures and strains of running their business practice. The small business owner needs a mature, level-headed, and experienced business coach that can offer business advice, support, guidance, and suggestions on how to best deal with, and effectively manage, day to day operational pressures, HR issues, as well as improve internal efficiencies, increase productivity, etc.

This ‘business coach’ however, lacks any solid practical experience managing people in a complex and dynamic business environment. He is also a young 25 year-old, and possesses lots of self-confidence, energy, optimism, and makes bold remarks to the business owner that ‘success’ will be granted if they invest heavily into hiring more people, he/she take bold risks, focus on promoting the business on social media, etc. Whilst all this general / superficial advice might be logical and somewhat relevant, the truth of the matter is that the business advice given may be too weighted on specific areas of the business (eg. marketing), without taking into account all other areas or business functions. The business advice given may sound exciting, or optimistic, but is simply missing the mark, or is too expensive or complex to implement. Another reality is that the business owner is lacking confidence and self-esteem, is disorganised, and is unproductive, and lacks good ‘time management’. The business owner may simply need some personal coaching rather than an excessive dose of business planning and business strategy help.

My opinion is that this situation is doomed to fail within a short period of time. This is because the business coach has offered advice that may not necessarily be relevant or a priority at the time, and has mislead the business owner to focus their efforts and money towards marketing and multiple operational matters, rather than focusing on the business owner’s personal development.

Scenario 2:

A medium sized organisation has appointed a professional business consultant with an MBA from Melbourne University. The CEO has asked the Melbourne business consultant to create a strategy for the next 12 months, to help the company improve its performance and productivity, as well as achieve its short-term financial objectives. The business consultant automatically suggests a detailed business plan consisting of a 40-page document that is inclusive of a SWOT analysis, market research, financial analysis, etc. The cost of this exercise is $20k. The time it takes to create this business plan is 3 months.

3 months later, the CEO receives this comprehensive business plan, and decides to meet with the business consultant to discuss how this will help with the core issues expressed by the CEO at the beginning. The unfortunate truth is that 3 long months have elapsed, and the company’s overall position has worsened to the point where they are in further financial jeopardy, and not in a position to trade much longer, or even consider getting more help from a ‘professional business consultant’ as originally planned to rectify the problem. The business plan is losing its value and shine, simply because it is 3 months ‘old’ and the company circumstances have changed considerably since the first meeting.

A better solution would have been the implementation of an ‘Action Plan’ that would specifically and immediately address the issues the CEO had expressed at the beginning. This would have allowed immediate and corrective action to be taken, to avoid further financial haemorrhage. This Action Plan would have been a guide or road-map for the CEO and the executive team, to make appropriate decisions appropriate at the time.

The bottom line is that practical business experience should prevail over business education alone. Having both is definitely a bonus. So, SME business owners, CEO’s, aspiring entrepreneurs, enterprising individuals be warned – don’t trust the guy with the big smile who claims he can fix your business overnight and success will be granted.

Do your research and learn more about the different services that a Business Coach, Business Mentor, or Business Consultant can offer you, and their years of practical experience.

Good luck !

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