Why You Need a Coach, Not a Mentor – And The Key Difference That Matters Most
I recently got a brave message on LinkedIn saying:
“Hey Liz, I read your article on Medium on ‘starting your business while working full time” Those steps really helped me! I’m looking for a mentor to help me achieve my goal of starting a company whilst working a full-time job. Please be my mentor? I would love to learn from you!”
Very brave indeed, I thought. I love when people take initiative. When they put themselves out there, even when it’s uncomfortable. Even when they might be rejected. That shows drive. Hunger. Ambition.
But also humility.
I have big goals and I need help achieving them. It takes a lot to have that self-awareness. And then act on it.
There was only one problem: I am a professional coach, not a mentor.
So I replied:
“Hi x! Thanks so much for reaching out.
I am glad you liked my article! Since I work as a professional coach, I don’t take on mentees but I help entrepreneurs achieve their goals in my 1-on-1 coaching programs (which I believe is even more powerful than mentoring).
If you are interested in learning more and want to experience a first full coaching session at no charge, you can book a time with me here: http://bit.ly/firstoneonme
Excited to speak! Best, Liz”
They never ended up booking that free session.
Because they wanted a mentor, not a paid coach.
If you are looking for a mentor right now, think again. Because maybe a coach is actually what you need instead.
Here is why:
1. Structure Creates Accountability
All of my coaching programs are a minimum commitment of 3 months. As a kick-off, I do a 90 min goal setting session with my clients. We look at every area of their life and what it is that they really want. I want to get the full picture first so I can serve them to the highest of my ability.
We then meet weekly or bi-weekly. At set times. With a clear focus in the sessions. And a summary email with action steps after each session.
I prepare for each session by reviewing action steps and the big picture. I do that because it’s my job.
All of that creates accountability: The goal setting. The weekly sessions. The action steps.
Coaching gives you the structure to achieve your goals.
Mentoring doesn’t always do that.
It’s hard enough to get on your mentor’s schedule in the first place. So it’s even more challenging to get a weekly slot. And highly unlikely that they keep track of the big picture for you — they usually have too much going on themselves.
There are indeed mentorship programs with a clear structure and commitment from both sides, but if you are looking for a mentor yourself it can be very challenging to set up a formal engagement that gives you the necessary structure and accountability to achieve your goals.
2. You Don’t Actually Need Your Mentor’s Advice
The smartest people in the world share their knowledge with the world openly. In books, podcasts, videos, seminars, online courses. Most of it is available on the internet, either at very affordable prices or even for free.
If you want to start a business, read Pat Flynn’s Will it Fly, The Lean Startup by Eric Ries, The Entrepreneur Mind by Kevin D. Johnson, Crush It! by Gary Vaynerchuk and The $100 Startup by Chris Gillebeau.
If you want to be more productive, read Deep Work by Cal Newport, Getting Things Done by David Allen, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey and The ONE Thing by Gary Keller.
If you have questions on how to do something but haven’t read a book in the last 3 months, you don’t need a mentor. You need to read more.
Yes, it’s more exciting and convenient to just ask your mentor. But it’s a waste of their time. Learn about the basics first and then ask questions.
A coach, on the other hand, is not here to give you their advice or to share their own experiences (even though they do when it is appropriate and the client asks for it). A coach guides you through the entire process of achieving your goal, helps you see what you can’t see, discover what you truly want and the most effective way to get there — based on what works for YOU, not for the coach. They don’t just share how they did it, they help you find your own way of doing it. Because that’s the only way that will get you the success you really crave.
3. If You are Truly Committed to Your Goals, You are Willing to Invest in Them
There is a reason why coaching is not cheap. And it’s not just about the “worth” of the coach. It actually doesn’t matter how much an hour of my time as a coach is worth.
What matters is what the results are worth. To you. How much is achieving your goal worth to you? That’s how much you should be paying your coach.
When I bring on new clients and I tell them my fees and they say they can’t afford it, I don’t ask them “What amount would you be able to comfortably pay each month?”. Because that’s not the point. You should never be able to “easily afford” the coaching fee.
Instead, I ask them: “What amount feels like a stretch to you? What amount gives you the feeling of “I don’t know if I am comfortable investing that much”?. That’s what you should be paying for coaching. Because you will work so f*cking hard to make that money back that you will achieve your goals in half the time. And more.
When I hired my first coach, I was making $500 per month. From my waiter job. I practically had no business. And no savings left. I was 1 year in after quitting my job and I was nowhere near where I thought I would be. I lived with my parents and had to borrow money for groceries from my boyfriend. I had hustled for 12 months but had nothing to show for it except for a couple of Medium articles.
I knew things had to change.
So I hired a coach and paid her $600 per month. You bet that hurt. It was ALL of my waiter’s salary. And some more.
But you know what? Within 2 months I had my first $5K month.
This is not some success-overnight-story or a get-rich-quick story. It’s the true story of what happens when you have enough fire under your ass to do what you need to do to achieve your goals.
When you invest in your goals, you show up for them. You finally do the things that make you incredibly uncomfortable. You finally do what it takes to get there (Every sales call I did made me want to crawl back into bed. And sometimes I did, right after).
It’s not just your coach that creates accountability. It’s your financial investment that does.
4. Most Mentors are Not Invested in your Growth, Coaches are
It’s that simple: because my clients pay me for the session, I am invested in their growth. If they fail, I fail.
I have skin in the game.
To have “skin in the game” is to have incurred risk (monetary or otherwise) by being involved in achieving a goal.
If they are not happy with my performance, it has a negative impact on my business. They won’t recommend me to anyone, or even worse, caution people from working with me.
I obviously don’t want that. Thus, I have a clear incentive to do my very best each and every session.
I show up on time. I am 100% present. I act in the client’s best interest. I serve the client in the highest way possible. I handle feedback professionally.
Your mentor has no incentive whatsoever to do all these things.
“But they care about me”, you think.
But do they really?
At the end of the day, people only care about themselves.
That’s why you should only ever take advice from people who don’t have skin in the game.
But not just any game, YOUR game.
That’s why so many of my clients are startup CEO’s who have countless mentors at their fingertips — from investors to advisors, fellow founders and mentors in accelerator programs. Many of those mentors, especially investors, have skin in the game (because they invested in the company).
BUT, they don’t have skin in YOUR game. They play their own game. They care about THEIR interests. And even though they care about you, at the end of the day they care more about themselves, so they can’t always act in your own best interest.
Coaches, on the other hand, have a very clear incentive to always act in your own best interest. Because if they don’t, it hurts them. It hurts their business and their reputation. Their skin is in your game.
The Real Question
There are always exceptions of course.
The world is not black and white.
There are mentors that care deeply about your success and feel personally invested.
There are mentors that give you priceless, highly personalized advice that saves you months, even years on your journey to success (and they might share this in a 5-minute phone call).
And there are mentors that are willing to meet regularly and hold you accountable to the action steps you define together.
If you have a mentor like this, forget everything you read just now.
You are sitting on a goldmine. You have been blessed with a unicorn.
But if you are not that lucky…
The real question actually is: do you want to spend your time looking for the right mentor like a needle in the haystack or do you want to spend your time achieving your goals?
What Do You Think?
Thanks so much for reading! I am excited to know what you think! Share your opinion with me in the comments and I look forward to discussing 🙂
Liz Huber is a Mindset & Productivity Coach and Founder of refinedlife.io. With her books, courses, and 1-on-1 work, she helps entrepreneurs overcome overwhelm, lack of focus, fear, and self-doubt. As a result, her clients are able to confidently achieve their goals by prioritizing what is truly important and streamlining everything else.