What’s the difference? Coach vs Consultant vs Mentor vs Trainer.

Title reads 'what's the difference- coach vs consultant vs mentor vs trainer. There's a leafy country path in the background. Janine Coombes stands in the foreground to the left shrugging her shoulders with her hands up and a clueless look on her face. She is a middle aged white woman with shoulder length dark blonde straight hair. She wears dark blue jeans and a white t-shirt that says 'good times are coming'.

Have you looked for help with your business and got confused by all the different titles out there? 

Or are you a service provider and don’t know what to call yourself?

Yep, I’ve been there. On both fronts! 

Even a visit to Googleland or ChatGPT doesn’t help. For instance, the online dictionary definition of ‘coach’ mentions teaching, sharing advice and a lot of mentions of sports coaching.

I know a lot of accredited coaches who would be very angry at that definition!

People mix up the terms coach, consultant, mentor and trainer

One person might call themselves a coach, but really what they’re doing is mentoring. Another might be a consultant but they’ve labelled their service as coaching.

I’m half business coach, half marketing consultant but sometimes what I’m doing might called mentorship.

It’s annoying (and confusing) that there isn’t common terminology.

Universal agreement on terminology

Having a universal agreement on what to expect from each role would not only help people make purchase decisions, but it’d help service providers decide what to call themselves!

So I thought I’d have a bash at defining them all.

Then all we have to do is get everyone in the world to read my blog and agree to stick to these parameters. Yes? Yes! : )

See what you think, and let me know whether you agree with my descriptions or not.

Definitions of coaching, consulting, mentoring and training

Here’s a quick overview of each. I’ll go into more detail further down the page.

Coach: Someone who asks intelligent questions to encourage the coachee to come up with their own solutions wherever possible. Careful listening is employed to identify subtext. The aim is to gently enable the client to stretch their boundaries and improve in the agreed area of work.

Consultant: Someone with qualifications in the topic and/ or direct experience carrying out that work for other people or organisations. The consultant’s role is as an advisor and problem solver.

Mentor: Someone has been in a similar situation to you so they can advise on what course of action they took and how it worked out.  You learn from their experience.

Trainer: A professional who is teaching you a specific skill or filling a knowledge gap. The trainer will have pre-prepared materials and more than one person can be trained at once.

All definitions concocted by me, Janine Coombes.

For all roles, establishing what the goals are of the work together is absolutely key. If someone starts working with you but doesn’t ask you about your objectives, run for the hills!

That said, sometimes the result they’re aiming to help you achieve is made clear in their marketing.

Mentoring, coaching, training and consulting

Here’s how I see the four roles and how they compare to each other.

Glossary of terms

  • Service provider: The Coach, Consultant, Trainer or Mentor.
  • Client: Person paying them for their help.
  • High client input: The service provider will adapt their approach depending on what the client says and how they feel. The focus is more on the client leading the direction.
  • Low client input: The suggested approach is driven by the service provider. You’ll be expected to follow their advice more closely with less variation. For example a trainer will probably be teaching you pre-agreed topics with prepared materials.
  • One to one: When a service provider works directly with the client with no-one else on the call or at the meetings.
  • One to many: The service provider speaks to a group of people. It could be a small handful of people. It could be a hundred or more. This means you’ll get less direct attention from the service provider than if it were just you and her/ him.
  • Prescriptive advice: When advice is given with the understanding that it should be followed to the letter with little or no variation.
  • Non-prescriptive advice: The advice varies much more depending on the situation and the people involved.

1. Coaching

The way I use the word ‘coach’ is based on my experiences of being coached and from conversations with the many coaches I’ve worked with.

The focus is on the client to drive the progress. In other words, it’s a ‘high client input’ activity as mentioned in my diagram.

Coaching is generally done on a one to one basis since it involves deep exploration into your motivations and goals. This takes time and focus. It can get very personal too and most people prefer this process to be private.

You can have group coaching calls although these usually involve more consulting and mentoring than coaching.

Coaching implies a non-prescriptive approach. In other words, you wouldn’t expect a coach to tell you exactly what to do and for you to follow their advice no-questions-asked. 

Coaches can be directive or non-directive. And often you’ll get a mixture of the two. But it’s a good idea to get clear on which type of coach you’d prefer and make sure you’re getting what you want.

Non-directive coaching

This is when the coach refrains from giving any specific advice and relies solely on their ability to draw out the solutions from you.

People who go through most coaching accreditations are encouraged to be totally non-directive. No advice should be given at all. It all has to come from the coachee.

Directive coaching

Directive coaching is when the coach uses their own experience to advise their client on what their next steps should be.

I don’t know any coaches who are exclusively directive. That would be more mentorship or consulting, not coaching.

I can see that a pure non-directive coaching approach can work, but if I have a client who is in a very similar pickle that I have previous experience of being pickled in, I’ll tell them what I did to become de-pickled. It’d be cruel not to!

Should a coach be accredited or not?

There’s a debate constantly raging about whether someone must be accredited (by a coaching accreditation body) to call themselves coach.

This is a tricky one to call.

Not least because accreditation boards are not created equal. Accreditation doesn’t guarantee quality. And coaching is an unregulated industry so people might stray from their teachings no matter how good they are.

I was having a chat with two well established leadership coaches recently and this topic came up.

I asked one of them ‘do you believe you need to be accredited to call yourself a coach?’

“Accredited by who?” Was his reply.

Neither had gone through an accreditation process and, the way they saw it, they were more skilled and experienced than a lot of people running the accreditation bodies.

Interestingly, one of them did have regular supervision from another coach.

The way I see it is that here are marketing experts who don’t have marketing qualifications or experience of carrying out marketing on behalf of other people (like I do). But if they’re able to get results for their clients they clearly have huge value to share nevertheless.

Since you don’t have to pass exams to call yourself a consultant, mentor, trainer or even expert, I have to side with the looser usage of the word coach; you can be a good coach even if you’re not accredited.

However; buyer beware!

There are unscrupulous people out there. Just because someone has a snazzy title and glowing recommendations, doesn’t mean they’re the real deal. Do your homework and do some digging.

For the record: I am not an accredited coach. My qualifications are in marketing and business. I do however use a coaching approach when working with clients. I try and draw out your own ideas and solutions whenever possible. 

On the flip side of that- you can have all the coaching qualifications in the world, but if you have no clients, you can’t help anyone…

If you’re looking to get more clients in your coaching business right now, check out my blog 7 ways to get more sales of your high ticket services today.

2. Consulting

Consulting draws on the consultant’s experience and training to find solutions to problems when you can’t see a clear way through for yourself.

Generally speaking, consultants are known for working with larger companies. They have the reputation of being more expensive, because the results can be huge in monetary terms.

There are plenty of consultants who work with smaller companies, but they won’t necessarily use the word ‘consultant’ because of this preconception that consultants charge a lot and work for bigger companies!

A good consultant relies on their in-depth knowledge of the subject and how it applies to your objectives. Their role is advisory and the advice is tailored to your business.

Their objectivity is almost as valuable as their knowledge. 

When I work with my clients I’m part coach, part mentor and part consultant. Problems that seem unfathomable to you, are easy for me to spot. Partly because I’m looking with fresh eyes, and partly because I’ve got oodles of marketing experience.

Are you a consultant but don’t feel like a consultant?

I hear you. ‘Consultant’ doesn’t always sound quite right does it. Especially if you’re not working with big corporates.

Try strategist, expert or advisor instead.

3. Mentoring

Confession time; I am prone to the odd rant about people with no marketing training, or experience of doing marketing for other people, saying that they’re marketing experts.

They come at it from the point of view of ‘I did XYZ and I got this result. You do the same thing and you’ll get the same result’.

I worry about this because marketing is all about getting clear on:

  • Your objectives and how to achieve them
  • Your customers and how to reach them
  • Your offers and how to promote them (and whether you have the right offers at the right price in the first place)
  • And making the most of your unique blend of personality, skills, experience and likes/ dislikes

In short, working out how you want to run YOUR business, which is probably different to the person giving the advice.

However, I’d now categorise this approach as mentorship.

It’s a valuable approach and can be the best choice for some people who have similar business models and backgrounds as the mentor. 

In fact, I can now see that part of what I do with my clients is mentorship. For example, if someone wants to know how to use video for LinkedIn, I have lots of experience to share on that topic. Will my approach work for everyone? No. And that’s where I have to bring in a more coaching approach.

4. Training

Training is a type of teaching. Usually in a formalised, preplanned way. In other words, the trainer will have materials that they want to take you through. Perhaps there’ll even be a test at the end. More often than not, training is one-to-many or even ‘self service’ through an online training platform.

Generally speaking, the area of training is the least contentious definition-wise. It’s the one we tend to know what we’re getting when we’re buying it.

Can you buy or offer a mixture of coaching, consulting, mentoring and training?

In short, yes! Absolutely.

Most coaches will do a bit of mentoring. Most Mentors will do a bit of training. Most trainers will adapt their approach to their clients. Most Consultants will try and impart some skills and knowledge as part of what they do.

One of the reasons I say that I work with ‘coach-shaped-people’ is because of the blurred lines between these four disciplines. Also, I often work with people who offer a range of services e.g. a leadership coach who’ll also provide corporate training and consulting.

As for me, I’m mostly a consultant- specialising in service offer positioning, messaging and pricing. If the offer is solid I can then help people with how to promote and sell it in the most easeful way possible.

But the coaching element of what I do is so important that I often call myself a marketing coach.

Are you a coach, consultant or mentor who is fabulous at what you do but the client is flowing as smoothly as you’d like?

If you’re a coach, consultant or mentor who’d like to earn more without working more, I’d like to invite you to a free 15 minute consultation where we’ll get to the bottom of where you are now what’s stopping you from getting you to where you want to be.

Find a slot in my diary below: