what is coaching

What is Coaching?

I am passionate about social entrepreneurs having a safe space in which to seek guidance and ask for help. So,  in a series of 3 blog posts, I’m going to share the W’s of coaching. The What, Why, and Where.

  • What coaching  is
  • Why you need it
  • Where to find one 

As you navigate all these challenges of life as a social entrepreneur,  it’s really, really important to seek out or at least be open to receiving help when it comes in your path. 

That is exactly what this blog post series is about….the importance of professional help from coaches and mentors.

I know it’s not easy….asking for help…or receive help. Trust me! I get it! You live a rare and unique life that few can identify with.

But, the truth is, there are people who are uniquely qualified to help you.  Now, one person will not likely be able to help you with everything.  Likely, it’s a different person for different aspects of your life and business.

But, just as you are living in your “Esther moment,” 

  • chosen for such a time as this, 
  • to empower people to lift themselves from poverty or 
  • simply discover a new way of doing and being in life…

Others are living in their Esther moments, 

  • uniquely and divinely inspired to 
  • support, edify, empower, and encourage you!

I would not be here today living out my purpose if it wasn’t for coaches and mentors in my life.  I’ve had countless coaches and guides for different aspects of life and business. 

Of course, like you, I know I can figure a lot of stuff out on my own. 

So, I most always have my DIY (do-it-yourself) phase where I learn as much as I can and get as far as I can on my own.  

Inevitably, there’s a professional who comes along and shortcuts my learning, does it so much faster and better and frees me up to focus on the next thing…. The next innovation, the next challenge,  the next upgrade.

I’ve received coaching on:

  • how to get from university to my early career, 
  • marketing, 
  • sales, 
  • IT, 
  • accounting,
  • finance, 
  • business development, 
  • personal development, 
  • spiritual growth…the list goes on and on.

Some coaching was free or paid for by the generosity of others. Most coaching I paid for with money I barely had at the time. But each and every coach I’ve had got me to a higher level than I ever would have on my own.

In fact, I wouldn’t even be alive…on this planet if it weren’t for a specific coach named Linda, who led me to a counselor named Rose ….who has since become a mentor and friend.  My counselor Rose:

  • Helped me rebuild DNA broken by a series of traumatic events. 
  • Helped me “unpack my boxes,” literally and figuratively, 
    • Literally boxes of memories I’d moved out of sight, and 
    • Figurative boxes of emotions and feelings I’d stuffed down inside me.
  • Recognize and embrace my giftings and walk in them.

All this because someone cared enough to hold me accountable to get and receive professional help. 

Now that you know a little snippet of my story and my personal belief in the value of coaching, let’s get into it…

The What. What do I mean when I say “coaching.”

For simplicity and the sake of time, I’m going to use “coaching” as a very broad term to describe any outside help from an unbiased professional

However, there are several different levels and functions. I’ll break them down into 5: coaches, mentors, counselors, advisors, and consultants. There are more, but I’ll focus on these 5. 

For reference, I’m using a combination of resources to cultivate the definitions. But the primary source is the Open Network’s Coaching Program definitions because they are clearer to me than any others I’ve researched.

These definitions speak specifically to social entrepreneurs who work in challenging environments, caring for the spiritual health of people while generating profit for long-term viability to care for even more people.

Here we go!

The big picture:

  • Coaches, mentors, and counselors focus on you, the person.
  • Advisors and consultants focus on your problem.

We’ll start with those who focus on you as a person: Coaches, mentors, and counselors.

#1 Coach. A coach is someone who regularly speaks with you in a structured process. 

Likely, they’ve been in business. Maybe not your business. But, they’ve been around and seen enough to understand human nature and how the world works in terms of business.

  • Good coaches ask a lot of good questions and help draw the answers out of you. They help you tap into the superpowers within you. They may help you “hear clearly” when there’s so much noise around you.
  • Let’s say your social enterprise is a construction company. 
    • A coach might be someone who’s owned a business- not necessarily in construction- or has been an executive responsible for lots of employees. 
    • They’re not going to necessarily give you specific advice on how to run your construction company. 
    • However, they’re going to know to ask you the right kinds of questions to draw the answers out of you in terms of your business and personal growth. 
    • If they see you are stuck in a certain area, the coach may recommend an advisor or consultant to help with your specific problem.

#2 Mentor. A mentor is someone who regularly shares with you in a more unstructured manner than a coach. 

Likely, a good mentor for you has owned or been in a similar type of business to yours. They’ve literally walked the path before you. They can teach you specific things that smooth your path and help you to be more effective in your work, both technical and emotional elements. Likely, a mentor will also understand family dynamics.

  • Back to the construction company example, a mentor might be someone who is retired from or sold his or her construction company. 
    • Even if they did construction in Canada and you’re in Cambodia, they can still be an excellent mentor. 
    • They’re used to dealing with the challenges of hourly- or daily-paid employees, the red tape of contracts and permitting, supply chain issues, deadlines, the weather…although it may be snowstorms vs. monsoons. 
    • A mentor will likely give you suggestions to shortcut your learning and help prevent mistakes.

#3 Counselor. A counselor helps with a specific, acute issue

A counselor is probably licensed in a specific scope of practice and not allowed or equipped to go outside that.

  • Back to the construction company. Let’s say you employ people who are recovering from drug and/or alcohol addiction. You empower them by giving them skills training, such as masonry, welding, framing, and a job opportunity to use their skills. Likely, you’re going to want a licensed counselor either on staff or certainly on standby to help your employees. It’s inevitable that some of them will struggle. Someone is going on a bender.  
  • Even if your project managers have walked their path, are recovered, have 3,650 chips from 10 years of sobriety, and can mentor them, your project managers also have jobs to run. The project manager’s gotta get someone else to take the guy’s or woman’s place, at least for the day, probably for a few days. you need a licensed counselor to help them pick themselves back up and break the chains so they can get back to life and work.
  • And for you! You may even need a counselor at times. Overwhelm in the extreme can lead to anxiety, depression, hopelessness, and helplessness.  Even though you might be the happiest, most resilient, upbeat person on the outside, many of us high performers struggle on the inside. 
  • Your coach or mentor may recognize the symptoms in you but are not necessarily qualified to give you that kind of help. Even if your coach or mentor seems like they can do everything, counselors have special training that enables them to shake off the gunk and the heaviness that we high performers bring into the counselor’s physical and emotional space.
  • Your coach or mentor might lose sleep at night worrying about you and your acute situation. Your counselor likely will not.
  • So, if your coach or mentor recommends counseling, get it. You’ll thank them later. 

Now, we’ll move on to the people who focus on your problems: advisors and consultants.

#4 Advisors. An advisor has expertise in certain areas. 

An advisor will speak into a situation in your business with advice and suggestions. 

  • For example, let’s say you’ve made it past the fateful 5-year mark in your construction business. You start thinking, what’s next? What’s possible in the next 5 years? How long can I keep this pace?
  • You might want to hire a business advisor, someone who specializes in helping people buy and sell businesses, to do a valuation of your social enterprise. By doing a valuation, a business advisor can not only tell you what your construction company is worth today but can also help you strategize for the future. 
  • In each type of business, certain levers and switches can be pulled or pushed to make it grow in certain ways. A good business advisor knows what those are in each industry.
  • Like your coach, the business advisor will ask you probing questions. But, these will be specific about what you want. The purpose of the questions is not about you having the answers. It’s more to understand your desires so he or she can help you design the social enterprise to get your desired result. He or she will give you the answers and tell you what you need to do to get from point A to point B. 
  • Your coach or mentor will likely sense when it’s time for you to bring in a business advisor or other type of advisor, such as legal, IT, or marketing.
  • However, if you don’t have a coach or mentor, I can’t stress enough the importance of a business advisor. So many people, in and out of social enterprise, don’t plan for their exit. They think they’ll do it forever. Then, one day, they run out of steam and feel like they can’t do it anymore. They have no successor because they failed to plan. Failed to train. Their business slowly dwindles till there’s nothing left but regret and heartache at a lost legacy. 
  • But that’s not you! Because you’re going to ask for help!


#5. Consultants. A consultant comes in with a solution to a specific problem. 

Who doesn’t need help with accounting??!! A prime example of a consultant here.

  • Whether it’s Quickbooks or industry-specific accounting software, even if you do have a degree in finance or accounting, software changes and regulations in the country (or countries) where you file and pay taxes also change. A Quickbooks consultant can come into your construction company and fix you right up! They can do in minutes what could take you weeks.
  • Or, let’s say you’ve worked with a business advisor and have determined you’re ready to expand. He or she might recommend you hire a consultant to help you create a business plan for your loan application.
  • Or, let’s say you’ve worked with a business advisor who’s scoured your financials to prepare your valuation. Things just aren’t adding up, and there’s a possibility of embezzlement, meaning someone is stealing from your social enterprise. This is a precarious situation. You may need a very specialized consultant in this case, such as a forensic accountant. 
  • Yes, this is a heavy topic, but it’s one we need to have out in the open.

Okay! That was the What.

  • 5 different types. 
  • 3 focus on you: coaches, mentors, and counselors.
  • 2 focus on your problem: advisors and consultants.

Each of which serves different needs you will inevitably have as a social entrepreneur.

I hope this clears up some of the mysteries of what coaching is, and you have a better understanding of the different types. You can learn about why you need a coach here and where to find a coach here

If you’re looking for more guidance in this (or any) area of your social enterprise, journaling gives the incredible gift of insight. Download your free 5-Day Promoted Journal here! If you have an acute area of concern and are seeking answers, download your free Quick Cards here. This is an excellent resource for receiving mid-crisis clarity.

Check out the Avant-garde Entrepreneur Podcast for stories, strategies, and shortcuts uniquely curated for you, the change-making social entrepreneur.  Maybe Episode 4 about overcoming overwhelm is a great place to begin?!

Would love to connect on LinkedIn so we can chat 1:1!