Coach or Mentor? What one do you need?

What is the difference between a business mentor and a business coach and how do you know you are hiring a great one?  

EVERYONE needs a coach or a mentor.  There is no professional athlete, musician, artist, or business person who has gotten to where they are in their career on their own.  They all have coaches well into their careers.  They invest heavily on getting the education and help they need to keep moving forward.   No one sees incredible success strictly on the back of Facebook groups, online memberships, or self-study.  At some point in time, we all need the direct, one on one, personalized help of someone else.  

In every photographer's journey there comes a time when we consider hiring a personalized coach/mentor to help us with our business.  We may not know what is wrong with our business but we know if we hire someone to give us one-on-one help, they can help us fix it.  Most of the time that is the truth but I hope this blog post will give some insight into how to find a great coach/mentor, what the difference is between the two, and how to avoid frustration when things don't seem to be going the way it was planned.

There is a difference between a mentor and a coach.  I see the terms used interchangeably so often that I don’t think that many educators know the difference either.  And to be honest, there is a pretty fine line between the two but one that is important to be aware of.  This is especially important if you are the one looking for personalized help in your business. 

A business coach is someone that is traditionally used when you need help in one area of business and this coach specializes in this area.  Think of a football team.  They have one head coach (a mentor if you will) but he isn’t the one working one on one with all the players in every specific role on the team.  He has a strength coach, defensive line coach, tackle coach, linebacker coach, offensive line coach, quarterback coach, running back coach, and the list goes on.  

What I see in the photography industry is that people hire mentors to help them all over but usually don't seek out to hire a specialty coach to help them in one specific area that they are struggling with.  These are the coaches that help you with the skills you need for the job you want to do. For example, in photography  you should be able to find:

  • Social media coach
  • Off-camera Flash coach
  • Email coach
  • Website coach
  • Camera basics coach
  • Family posing coach
  • Newborn Posing Coach
  • Pricing Coach
  • And on and on and one

Now a business mentor is someone that is more experienced than you in overall business, has connections in the field, wants to see your business grow, and will help you reach your goals.  They do less of the skills work and more of the personal work needed as an entrepreneur. In the business world, a mentor would most likely work at your same company and be able to help you navigate the corporate environment at that company.  We don’t have that in the photography world so a photography mentor would traditionally help in areas of:

  • Mindset
  • Money issue
  • Confidence
  • Connections
  • Business strategy
  • Marketing Strategy

It is my belief that most photographers need both, mentors and coaches.  A mentor to help with the overall strategy of their business and then coaches who can deep dive into one specific topic.   

When hiring a person to help you in your business it is really important for you to know what you need help with.  Just because your business isn’t moving in the direction you want doesn’t mean you can just hire a mentor and magically expect it to turn around. You need to be very clear about what you need help with so that you hire the right person who will be able to help you. 

If you are new to this, where do you even start?  My suggestion is that you find a great mentor to start with, then as they help you refine your business, you decide if you need a coach in any specific area.  The reason I make this suggestion is that when we need help in our business we don't always know the areas we need to improve in.  We THINK we know where we need help, but I have found with almost all of my clients, what they think they need help with, isn't really where they need help.  A mentor can find the real issues and come up with a plan to help you move forward with their help and possibly the help of other experts in specific areas. 

So how do you find a great coach or mentor?  What should you look for in the person who you are going to rely on to move your business forward?  Great questions!!!

Do they see YOUR vision?  Does the person you wish to hire have the desire for you to improve your business?  Do they see YOUR vision for your business and do they WANT to help you get there.  VS. do they see THEIR vision for your business and want to break you down in order for you to fulfill what they see as success?   It is incredibly important that the person you choose be on board with YOUR vision.  

Do they have experience in your field?  This one depends on what you want from the coach/mentor.  I have received some of my best education from mentors outside the field of photography but I would never hire a coach outside my industry.  See how the differentiation between the two starts to become important when looking for help?  When I need help with my mindset, worth, and marketing strategy, I seek out experts who are not in my industry.   But if I need OCF help, then staying inside the industry is crucial.

Are they fully transparent?  I will only work with coaches/mentors who are fully transparent when it comes to the amount of money they make, the number of sessions they do, the kind of clients they work with, how many people they coach, etc. . . .  

Have they applied their techniques to their own businesses?  Most photographers who also coach/mentor also have studios that they run, or they say they do.  How do they back up that claim with the proof?   It is really easy to fake being a good coach online.  REALLY EASY!  Anyone can say they are a successful photographer but if they never show themselves doing the thing they coach on, are they really?  If social media is never updated, sales are never shared, client appointments never recorded as learning experiences, how much are they really working?  

Do they continue to invest in their own education?  When I hire a coach I want to know who they have learned from and are currently learning from?  How are they investing in their education and how can that benefit me?  For example:  if I were going to hire a social media coach so I could do my own social media, then I would want to know what education the person I hired had invested in to become proficient in their field. 

  I have invested heavily in my own education over the past 5 years and have learned from the very best when it comes to:

  • launching courses
  • launching membership
  • social media strategy
  • google ads
  • facebook ads
  • tiktok for business
  • mindset and personal development
  • business management
  • photography business strategy
  • team building
  • staff development

The list goes on and on.  Add to that my 20+ years of running businesses from an insurance brokerage to voice studios to even my own photography studio.  To say I am educated past what anyone probably needs from me as a mentor is an understatement.  BUT that doesn’t mean I am going to stop learning. The moment I sit back and think I have learned enough there will be a huge pivot in the industry or business (Hello Pandemic and Facebook ad iOS issues) that I will need to stay on top of.  

Great mentors and coaches stay ahead of trends, they even set them. They don’t lag behind them.  

Can you afford them?  Affordability is a touchy topic.  That term alone is subjective and means something different to everyone who sees it.  We see in our studios that what is affordable to one client is simply out of the question for another AND it rarely has to do with how much money is in their bank account.  (You know that whole money mindset and value conversation.  We will save that for another time. :)

No one should go broke hiring a coach but you would think that some coaches want you to do exactly that with the prices they charge.  So only you can decide if taking that financial leap is right for you.  The most important thing to remember is the change you want to see in your business.  If it is a big change, most likely, the cost of the coaching to get you there will be big as well.

Do they truly want your success?  That should go without saying but if they are more concerned about showing the world they are coaching you vs. actually helping you find the success you want, then I would reevaluate working with them.  I never show who I coach on social media.  

Will they hold you accountable?  Almost everyone needs someone to hold them accountable for the tasks they set.  Sometimes that even comes with a little tough love.  I tell all the people I mentor that there are going to be some times that they aren’t going to like me, that I will frustrate them, I will ask them to do things they don’t want to do.  That comes with the territory.  The key is finding someone who can do that AND do it in a way that makes you feel good about it.  

So you have decided to hire a mentor great!  Now what?

Once you decide to get into a mentor/mentee relationship you should be provided with the following information and if you aren’t, you should ask about these things and get the answers in writing. A good, well-organized mentor will provide this information but if they don’t, be sure and ask.

  • Length of individual sessions
  • Amount per session
  • Length of commitment
  • Cancellation policy
  • Focus of the teaching
  • Any extras like Voxer or email access

Know what you are paying for and what is and isn’t included.  

Now, after you hire a mentor there will come a time when you no longer feel like continuing that relationship for whatever reason.  How do you end that relationship respectfully?  Here is what I suggest:

  •  Refer back to the information they provided when they hired you and see if there is a specific cancellation policy.  If there is, follow that policy.  If there is no policy, give 30 days' notice in writing.  
  • Let your mentor know why you are leaving.  That feedback should be important to them so they can grow.
  • If you have enjoyed working with them, send them a great testimonial in video and written form that they can use in the future.

There might be times when you need to break up with them and you don’t feel the love so you are less inclined to give 30 days' notice or a testimonial.  In those cases cancel in writing and be on your way.  But be sure and check the contract or policies that should have been shared at the start so you can avoid paying extra fees or for extra coaching time you don’t want.  

The very first business mentor I hired was horrible. He talked too much, spoke down to me, laughed when I didn’t know the “right” answer and made me do a ton of busywork that really wasn’t needed for my business at that point in time.  He literally had his own agenda and didn’t care about hearing mine at all.  I stayed in that relationship because I didn’t know any better.  It wasn’t until, after about six months of work that didn’t move my business forward at all that I fired him.    It cost me A LOT of money and frustration.  I still get a little sick to my stomach when I think about that experience and I see that he is still mentoring photographers today.  

I don’t want anyone to have to go through what I went through so I hope that these tips help you when you look for personalized help in your business. 

I would be happy to help you in your photography journey.  If you are in need of a mentor, please send me a message, and let's see if I am the right fit for what you are trying to achieve.  This is a big, HUGE, step for most photographers.  I get that!  Let me help you see the success you want.


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