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#051. How to Know if a Mentor or Business Coach is Right for You (and the BIG Difference Between the Two!)

March 17, 2021

Today, I’m we’re talking about mentors, business coaches, what the difference is, and how to know if working with one of these types of people is right for you!

I decided on this topic recently for a few reasons. First of all, I see lots and lots of talk about “mentoring” and “business coaching” online, and honestly I think lots of people think they are essentially the same thing. There are even some educators out there that interchange those terms or consider them as equal. Which . . . you’re going to learn in this episode, isn’t really true.

Second, I have worked with both business coaches and mentors in my own business, and I have offered both mentorships and business coaching in the past (and present). Truthfully, I didn’t really know the difference myself until I actually experienced being on the receiving end of these two different types of business instruction. Working one-on-one with an experienced professional can be one of the most effective ways to really grow your business to the next level. But you have to know what you’re getting into and why if you really want that relationship to be effective.

So we’re going to talk about a lot of things today. First, I’m going to break down the difference between a business coach and a mentor. Then I’m going to talk about how to determine which one of these options is right for you. You might find that both seem like really great options, you might learn that neither option is a good fit for you, but regardless, my hope is that at the end of this episode, you have a crystal-clear idea about exactly what each of these professionals can do for you! Let’s get started!

So this is the time of year when most of us wedding professionals are about to get busy. Spring has arrived. Wedding season is here. It’s time to put our head down and work!

You might be thinking – why would I ever start working with a business coach or mentor now? This is not good timing! Well, I’ve got to be honest: there is no perfect time to start working one-on-one with a mentor or coach. What I do know is that having someone alongside you when you’re actually going through the crazy time of year can be helpful because they can see first-hand what you’re dealing with.

Also, this is a topic that is pretty much evergreen in my opinion, meaning that you can hold on to this advice for several months, take your time looking for the right person, and then finally reach out when you’re ready to start working with them. Some mentors and business coaches do have waitlists, so all the more reason to get on their radar now so you can be ready to start working together when the timing is finally right.

Before we get into the details, I do want to mention that I’m using the terms mentor and business coach because these are the terms I see used a lot in our creative industry. In other industries, you may hear the term “consultant” which is very similar to what I will be describing as a mentor. Business coaching, for the most part, is the same industry-to-industry. But I just wanted to clarify that part about a mentor being similar to a consultant because the term “mentor” in a personal sense is someone who has a close, almost older-sibling relationship with you and can offer life advice over a long stretch of time. That is not what I’m talking about. A business mentor is much more like a consultant in the way I’m using the phrase, and again, that is pretty typical typical terminology in the creative and wedding industry today, so I’m guessing you’ve heard it used in this way before!

OK enough about defining the terms – let’s talk about what these two types of people actually do for you!


A business mentor is a professional who is aligned with you in your field and gives you specific advice, resources and tools to help you succeed within that same field. They are business people who have gone before you, have achieved (generally) the same things that you hope to achieve, and have specific expertise and knowledge about your specific job and business.

A business mentor may just be someone within your broad industry (like a fellow wedding professional) or field of study (like a fellow photographer), or it may be someone specifically aligned with your exact job (like a fellow wedding photographer in the same city in which you live). Either way, a mentor is going to be very familiar with your type of business and the tools you need to be successful within that business.

So, a business mentorship is generally a relationship in which someone who is wiser and more experienced in your specific industry gives you expertise and knowledge about how to do something in a similar way that they have to achieve your desired success.

Mentorships generally follow a “question-and-answer” style format, meaning your specific questions and needs lead the discussion. That doesn’t necessarily mean you just show up and start asking questions, though – a good mentor will reach out in advance and ask you about the topics that you most want to learn about and then prepare those necessary materials in advance. A mentor typically focuses on being an example to you – showing you the way he/she does things so that you can take that information and apply it to your business. This could be anything from technical skills (like how to shoot how they shoot or how to edit like they edit), organizational skills (like how their CRM system works or how they set up their business), marketing or advertising strategies (like how they attract and book clients) and more. Some mentors are more structured and involved with preparing for a mentorship session, while other really do just say “ask any questions you’d like” and there isn’t much structure other than that. Regardless, the goal of a mentorship is getting those specific questions that you have within your business answered.

A mentorship is typically not focused on overall business structure or development, because you’re hiring that person for their specific skills within your industry, not to help guide your business to success overall. A mentorship is also typically not an ongoing relationship that meets weekly or monthly, although it occasionally can be.

Like I said at the beginning of this episode – a business mentor in the creative entrepreneurship world is, essentially, a consultant. They are dropping into your business and helping you fix or improve specific areas that they themselves have developed successfully in their own businesses.

Now, let’s talk about business coaches.


A business coach looks at your business as a whole and then focuses on your big-picture development and growth goals by breaking them into concrete tasks to be completed. Business coaches help businesses gain clarity on where they are headed and why. For a lot of us small business owners, choosing and prioritizing goals is hard. A business coach comes alongside you and helps you create a plan for how to accomplish all that you dream of.

A business coach typically specializes specifically in being a business coach. Unlike a business mentor, a business coach doesn’t focus on just answering questions or showing you how they do things within their own business. For this reason, business coaches can be really good at helping you without having specific experience in your industry. They are much more focused on business strategy as a whole verses individual skills within your business, although, again, they will help you gain clarity on what you need to do within your business to achieve those big goals.

Coaching sessions follow a more formal, structured approach, with the coach leading the conversation, guiding you through business-building exercises and acting as an accountability partner and sounding board. They will push you to stay true to your big goals and vision and be your go-to business strategist.

Business coaches typically have an ongoing relationship with their clients verses just one-off sessions. The most effective business coaching situations are on-going partnerships that could last months or even years.

A business coach does not offer specific advice on how to perform your job (so, for example, if you’re a photographer, a business coach isn’t going to teach you how to shoot on film or edit in a certain style). A great coach will actually know how to ask the right questions to get you to make your own decisions that are right for your individual business. Honestly, a coach is a little bit like a great therapist or counselor – they ask great questions and give you structure so that you can see your business clearly and pursue the path that will bring your business the most success!


So by now, you’re probably thinking about these two different roles and wondering which options is right for you. Let’s talk about that!

A mentor is probably a good fit for you if:

-You are struggling with a specific topic or skill within your business and you want someone to show you exactly how they do it, step by step.

-You are satisfied with the general workings and growth of your business, but would like insights in a particular topic to make that one area of your business better.

-You are looking to add on a new feature or offering in your business and want to learn how someone else did it before getting started.

-You have industry-specific questions or training needs that only someone in your own field could help you with.

Does that sound like you?

A business coach is probably a good fit for you if:

-As a whole, you are seeking to up-level your business by scaling or growing in a major way.

-You are really good at the service you provide to clients, but you haven’t been able to grow at all in the past few years.

-You are burnt out, overwhelmed and lack inspiration in your business on many days.

-You have a lot of ideas and thoughts about how to grow, but you’re having trouble actually accomplishing those big goals and getting to where you want to be.

Ok, does that sound like you?

I’m guessing that at some point or another, you’ve experienced something on both of those lists. However, you may have heard that breakdown and felt really drawn to one or the other. I know that for me personally, I needed a mentor early-on in my business. As I started to grow, I realized that I actually *essentially* knew what I needed to succeed, I just needed help getting all those ideas organized and then executing it.

If you are feeling a little bit torn because you still need help with specific elements of your business but you also are ready to start being strategic and growing your business as a whole, the good news is that there are a lot of different types of consultants out there that you can work with for those specific needs (and they often don’t cost as much as a mentor). Many times, this is actually where a great course on a specific topic is perfect. You can buy that course, learn exactly what you need, and even re-watch past episodes as much as you’d like.

So finally, how do you find someone who is the right fit?

Before spending any money on a coach or a mentor, you want to make sure you’re a good fit. This is really important. You need to have a great relationship with this person in order to really get the most out of it!

First, let’s point out the obvious: credentials. You need to talk to this person on the phone or in person to get to know about them and their credentials. Has this person achieved success for themselves or help someone else achieve success? There should be evidence of success, and they should be very transparent when asked. The best way to get to the bottom of this is to simply ask them: how did you get to where you are today? Let them tell you their story and then ask follow-up questions.

Next, what are they offering? Ask your potential coach or mentor to be clear in what they offer, what results they will help you get, and what the terms are. Are you locked into a 1-year monthly relationship? How long does it typically take to see results? How long is an individual session? Get really clear on the terms and make sure they work for you!

After that, consider what the process of working together will look like. Ask them what they expect of you. What do you need to do to prepare for a session? If it’s multiple sessions, will there be homework or assignments that you’re expect to complete in-between? You need to consider if that is a commitment that you can fulfill! If you choose to work with a business coach, you absolutely should expect to be putting in a lot of work in-between sessions to get the most of the relationship, and this is often true with multiple-session mentors as well!

Next, consider their abilities as a coach or mentor. Don’t assume that just because someone is super successful that they will be a great at either of these roles. Ask a few questions when you talk with them to get a sense of their education and communication style. Are they awkward or shy? Do they have trouble communicating their thoughts? Are they confusing in what they are saying? This might seem obvious, but truthfully, there are a lot of professionals (especially those who offer mentorships), who just aren’t that good at educating others. They’re amazing at their job as a photographer, or planner, or whatever, but they don’t have the skills of communication or education. That is super important.

A really good way to “vet” a potential mentor or coach is to check out any free resources they offer – whether that be a blog, podcast, free course, free downloads or whatever, check out what they have to offer. Is it helpful? Is it clearly communicated? Can you apply it to your business and does that application get you results? Definitely do your homework. Don’t spend money on someone unless they’ve already provided you with value!

Finally, ask yourself: do you like them? As silly as it sounds, you should trust your gut on this one. If you don’t click with this person, if you don’t enjoy conversation, then it’s likely that in some way, you don’t really align. If you don’t really like them, you’re also going to have a harder time trusting them with your business, and it’s just not going to be fun.

So I hope this has been really clarifying for you and given you a more clear understanding of whether or not a business coach or mentor is right for you! You may have found that both sound appealing or even that neither one really sounds like a good fit right now.

I’m passionate about this topic because of my own personal experience – both with great and not-so-great professionals in the past. I am also passionate about it because I love helping small business owners achieve success. If you were listening to this episode and thinking that a mix of a business coach and mentor all-in-one would be nice, well, I had the same thought for a long time. I noticed there was a need for some kind of hybrid business coach and mentor relationship in the wedding industry, but no one was really offering this. So, as you may have heard me talk about before, I launched my own business coaching program which is, in fact, a hybrid mentorship and coaching experience. So there is a lot of structure to this program in getting you clear on where you are headed in your business and why, but there is also a lot of room for mentoring on those more specific-to-us topics, like marketing and sales for wedding professionals, how I personally work with clients, and even specific technical training. This definitely isn’t right for everyone – it’s been carefully designed for a very specific type of business owner. I take on a limited number of clients, so if this is something you’re interested in learning more about, send me an email at info@hannahbjorndal.com with the subject line “coaching” and I will share more with you about it so that we can determine if you’re a good fit and also get you on the waitlist!

I really hope this episode was clarifying for you on the topic of business coaches vs. mentors. Investing in either option is a big investment! Understanding the difference before assuming that one or the other will actually get you the results you want is obviously a big deal. I’d love to answer any other questions that you have about this topic, so please don’t hesitate to send me a DM on Instagram (@HannahBjorndal) or send me an email to info@hannahbjorndal.com. I honestly love connecting with you guys – it is always so fun to get an email or message form you – so send a message, ask a question, I’d love to chat!

I post new episodes every Wednesday, so if you haven’t already subscribed make sure to do that now! And if you love this podcast and haven’t already left a review, please do so! I’d love to hear your feedback!

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