Tips & Guidance


The ‘what, how and when’ of coaching and mentoring for entrepreneurs

The terms coaching and mentoring are often used interchangeably in the entrepreneurship ecosystem and applied to someone providing help or support to an entrepreneur. This occurs in university, accelerator and government-funded programmes, but what do the practices really involve and how should they be carried out? This article provides the what, the how and the when of coaching and mentoring; what are the practices of coaching and mentoring? how can they be delivered? and when might you need one versus the other?

  1. The what – both coaching and mentoring are distinctive practices that have some degree of drift and overlap between them. In general terms, coaching is the facilitation of an entrepreneur to find the answer they need and mentoring is about sharing an experience or view with the entrepreneur to give them the answer that is needed.
  2. The how – this can depend on what has been asked of you e.g. to deliver either coaching or mentoring for a programme, or you may have even been requested directly by an entrepreneur to act as a coach or mentor to them. The initial judgment holds great importance and often sits with those holding a programme manager role. This judgment can broadly fall into two camps based on prior knowledge:
    1. the entrepreneurs possess the knowledge they need already and need to draw upon it – in this case, they are likely to need coaching where they are asked questions such as ‘what could you do?’ or ‘what do you think you should do?’, which elicits a ‘seeking’ behaviour from the entrepreneurs.
    2. the entrepreneurs need to find some or all new knowledge and need some steering and guidance towards it – in this case, mentoring is more likely to be needed where they can be told ‘this is what I did,’ or ‘this is what I think you should do,’ which elicits a ‘doing’ behaviour from the entrepreneurs.
  3. The when – as well as prior knowledge, the entrepreneurs’ needs are also dictated by their stage of venture development. When entrepreneurs are on a learning journey to develop their business idea, or on a taught programme, this is more likely to be where a coaching or ‘seeking’ behaviour should be encouraged. On the other hand, where a programme requires results from entrepreneurs and their ventures, this is more likely to be where a mentoring or ‘doing’ behaviour should be encouraged. In some cases, coaches or mentors are asked to provide their services with the assumption they know what this entails and without much further information being given to them. A key action would be to provide information through an induction session for coaches or mentors, so the overall approach and your programme requirements are made clear.

Let us know your thoughts on the ‘what, how and when’ of coaching and mentoring for entrepreneurs, or any changes you make to your programmes via our contact form.

Author: Dr Harveen Chugh, July 2021