This is a great question that ambitious business owners often ask when they are looking to get to the next level in their business and recognise that they need some help.
In the spirit of full disclosure I am a professional business coach and there will be some inevitable bias in my replies.
A consultant is usually a subject matter expert, an advisor in a particular field and they are particularly useful if you require specialist advice in a specific area, marketing, IT, management etc. A consultant’s stock in trade is expert advice and sometimes the transference of knowledge.
A coach is often a generalist who empowers the people he coaches to think and perform at a higher level. His stock in trade is behavioural change, rather than knowledge transfer. It isn’t a coach’s job to tell you what to do it is his job to help you find the solutions that work best for you and to help you develop the skills to successfully and repeatedly execute those solutions. David Taylor described business coaching as “Any and every intervention that enables people, teams and organisations to be their very best.”
A mentor is often an informal arrangement where the mentor may share with his less experienced mentee the benefit of his own experience and journey, a little like the lessons we learned as children at the feet of our grandparents. While it can be very valuable and motivating mentoring, in practice, often lacks the rigour and discipline of the other two options.
Of course, there will be overlaps between the three alternatives as there will be variations depending upon the individual practitioner’s skills, experience and methodology. If success is about systems, skills and discipline the following figure might illustrate how each option might work.
So whether you need a consultant, coach or mentor will depend on what you want to achieve. If you want the business to adopt a particular process, methodology or protocol a consultant might be the go to choice.
If you want to hear how someone else did things the right mentor could be the answer for you and if it is important for you to develop the skills and adopt the behaviour that will improve your chances of success then the right coach is probably the best answer for you.