Becoming a freelance trainer is a crash course in running a business that most of us find A LOT easier with the support of a coach or mentor.

People often talk about business coaches and mentors as if they are one and the same thing. However, you’ll find that there are subtle but important differences.

Your individual circumstances will dictate whether a coach or mentor could offer the best support to transform your training business. You may even decide you need both.

Why hire a business coach?

A business coach tends to be someone who is task orientated and who will help you work towards achieving specific goals within your training business.

Many coaches have a particular area of expertise. You can work with social media coaches, marketing coaches, finance coaches or PR coaches, as just a few examples. They won’t necessarily have experience within a training room but they will have a strong understanding of their area of expertise.

If there’s an aspect of your business that you feel you need to strengthen then you might decide to sign up with a coach for their expert guidance.

Many coaches offer packages that include a set number of meetings or coaching calls for goal-setting, check-ins and accountability.

How does a mentor differ from a coach?

“Colleagues are a wonderful thing – but mentors, that’s where the real work gets done.” Quote by Junot Diaz

A mentor is usually someone who is on a similar professional path to you but a bit further along in their journey. This means that they typically have relevant experience and insights that they are able to share.

It is incredibly valuable to have a mentor who can flag up mistakes they learned from or things that have worked well in their own training business. This knowledge can save you huge amounts of time and money.

In my experience, having a mentor is a longer-term arrangement than working with a coach – one that’s more relationship- and development-orientated as opposed to being task-centric.

Most mentor-mentee relationships usually go through a design phase where you work out the strategic direction for your business and where you most need support. You will usually set the agenda.

Why freelance trainers should have a mentor

There are a number of reasons that I believe every freelance trainer should have a mentor.

A mentor is able to:

  • Give you objective advice and support so that you can make your own informed decisions
  • Highlight potential pitfalls and challenges based on their own experiences
  • Pinpoint opportunities for growth and development
  • Fill in gaps in your skillset or knowledge
  • Act as a sounding board, which is especially important when you work for yourself without the support of a wider team

In my experience, a mentor is also someone who can help you to create a business that fully aligns with your own hopes and values.

Finding the right coach or mentor

The decision to work with a coach or mentor is just the beginning. Your next step is to find the right person.

My advice is to ask your network whether there are any coaches or mentors they would recommend. You might spot people that seem like a good fit on social media too.

Finding the perfect coach or mentor often comes down to chemistry and trust. Ideally, you should respect and be inspired by the person you choose. This will make you more inclined to value their advice.

It’s a good idea to have an initial phone call or meeting – be it online or face-to-face – with a potential coach or mentor. This is a chance to talk about you would like to get from working with them and for the coach or mentor to set boundaries and expectations.

The benefits of joining a mentoring group

One-to-one mentoring isn’t your only option. Many people prefer to become part of a dedicated mentoring group instead.

There are a number of benefits to being part of a mentoring group. You will:

  • Have the opportunity to hear different perspectives from within the group
  • Tap into a wider variety of skills, knowledge and experience
  • Share the business growth journey with other group members
  • Show accountability to the group
  • Get help with challenges or choices you’re facing
  • Receive encouragement to stay focused and on track
  • Have an action plan to follow between group meetings
  • Enjoy your very own group of cheerleaders

One of the many strengths of being in a mentoring group is that it will be run by an experienced mentor who will loosely set the framework for meetings. They will also share their own knowledge and experiences.

At the same time, you have the reassurance of feeling like there’s a team around you and that you’re all ‘in it’ together.

Becoming a coach or mentor

Quote from Stephen Spielberg about the balance of mentoring

There may come a time in your career as a trainer that you realise you would like to offer support as a coach or mentor.

This has been my own career path because, in the process of becoming a successful freelance trainer, I realised that there was very little support out there for people on the same journey.

My starting point was to identify how I could help other freelance trainers and to create different levels of support to address the differing needs and budgets of my audience.

Personally, I’ve chosen to offer a range of online and face-to-face options, including:

These options, or variations of them, might work well for you.

Using online groups to mentor

I’m a big fan of using online groups as a vehicle for mentoring trainers who want to work with me regardless of location.

This is something you might want to explore for your own business.

Over the years, I have successfully used groups on LinkedIn, Facebook and Mighty Networks. Each platform has its pros and cons so it might take a bit of experimentation to find the right one for your needs and for your audience.

Online groups can be used to:

  • Support an online training programme
  • Keep mentees in touch with one another
  • Create an online mentoring community
  • Support a Mastermind or feedback group

Ultimately, a coach or mentor is someone who can help you transform your business by enabling you to tap into the knowledge that it might take you years to accumulate on your own. They can help you to avoid expensive mistakes and to notice opportunities, to grow and to thrive based on objective advice and information.

Have you ever worked with or as a coach or mentor? What were the benefits? If you haven’t worked with one before, is there a reason? I’d love to hear more about your experiences in the comments below.

I’d love to welcome you to the Trainer Talk community – find out more about how it could support you as you grow your training business here.

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