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entors and coaches can help businesses succeed

MENTORS and coaches are increasingly being used to help people starting out in business make their new ventures successful.

While people have been turning to mentors and coaches for centuries to help them with their endeavours, the field has become more formalised in the past decade.

So what is the difference between a mentor and a coach?

The Australian National Training Authority defines the difference as a mentor being somebody you learn from, while a coach is someone you learn with.

Like mentors, who instruct the person in the steps they need to take, coaches are supposed to make the journey with their client.

Coach Academy founder Di Downie, who acts as both a coach and a mentor, said she considered a mentor as someone who had “been there and done that”.

“A coach is a lot more general and works with a more generalised framework,” Ms Downie said. “The coach may bring in a mentor with skills in a specific area for specialised projects.”

Everybody accepts the importance of coaches in the sporting arena. Now the concept is starting to become more widely accepted in the business sphere.

In the past year there has been a surge in the number of people touting themselves as corporate coaches. Even major recruitment houses such as the TMP Group have entered the coaching arena.

And the corporate coaching field has widened from one-on-one coaching to encompass entire management teams.

On the mentoring front, the concept is being applied successfully to help new business people make their start.

Programs such as LiveWire, which helps young business starters get their business ideas off the ground, have strong mentoring components.

The Small Business Development Corporation offers a mentoring service to all people who enquire about it.

So far, the SBDC has managed to successfully match between 150 and 160 business people with mentors.

WA Department of Training regional economic coordinator Veronica Devereaux said behind every successful business there usually was a mentor.

“A mentor is someone who helps the person reach their goals by asking the appropriate questions,” she said.

“In business it’s usually someone who’s been in business themselves.

“But they never do the things for the person. Mentors should never take over.

“Not everybody makes a good mentor.

“When I’m involved with setting up mentoring programs, I always interview the volunteer mentors to make sure they have the qualities that make a good mentor, plus the small business skills.”

Ms Devereaux said good mentors guided their charges by asking questions, not by doing it themselves.

WA luthier Rob Formentin, a former LiveWire winner, said his mentor had been a huge help to his guitar making business.

Mr Formentin said he had gone into the program about 10 years ago and the mentor system had proved very helpful.

“It’s great to have somebody to bounce ideas off, particularly when you don’t know anything about business,” he said.

Mr Formentin said he kept in touch with his mentor, WA lawyer Carol Bohemia, for about five years after his Guitar World business was established.

Pamela Lanigan, a finalist in last year’s LiveWire program, said the mentoring part of the program had been excellent.

She and her partner, Damien Heasman, recently opened their electronic commerce agency, Optiic.

Unlike many entering into business, Ms Lanigan already had a strong accounting background.

Bookkeeping and compliance issues are among the most pressing concerns of new business owners.

“When you’re starting in business you’re lacking in confidence,” Ms Lanigan said.

“It was great to talk to people who had been there and done that.”

Ms Downie said coaches or mentors were not for everyone.

“Some people are clearly motivated themselves and have a vision of where they are going,” she said.

“Some people, who don’t have a clear vision of where they are going, can benefit from having a coach or a mentor until they have a clear vision they can hold onto.

“The first step is to figure out where the person is going. For some people that is enough and they can go on from there.

“For others, the next step is for the coach or mentor to help them get to where they are going.”

Corporate coaching and recruitment firm People Solutions’ managing partner Steve Bowler said a mentor was somebody that “gave the pearls of wisdom” while a coach was somebody who empowered them.

“During a normal coaching session we might be asking questions of the people and then slip in some things from our own experience – more of a mentoring thing,” he said.

Mr Bowler debunked the myth that coaches were motivators.

“It’s usually a lot easier coaching somebody that is motivated towards the coaching pro-cess,” he said..”

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