Coaching and Mentoring Blog


In recent months I’ve noticed that the terms ‘mentoring’ and ‘coaching’ seem to be being used interchangeably within the virtual assistant training sector, but they are in fact two very different principles. 


The amount of people offering mentoring and coaching has increased enormously this year, with people trying to reach new markets and offer different services to protect their income, and stand out from the crowd. It’s a popular offering in America where business coaching is readily accepted and has a large established market.


As with all new trends they are often reproduced and offered without sufficient training, experience or insurance. This means that results can be mixed and objectives fail, leaving the client with a sense of failure and thus putting the whole industry at risk of a bad reputation. We don’t want to be all doom and gloom here, rather open your eyes to the ongoing situation, so if you wish to look for a mentor or coach (or go down a different route) you have a better understanding of what to expect. 


Both mentoring and coaching are self-development techniques that involve the skills of active listening, deep conversations, performance reviews, reframing topics and using techniques to enhance the skill set, mindset and performance of the client. Although they are based around the same principle of growth and development, mentoring is quite a different process to coaching; let’s look how.


Definition – the act or process of helping and giving advice to a younger or less experienced person. 


The origins of mentorship come from the concept of apprenticeship, where the elder more experienced person passes on their knowledge, cutting down the learning processes and freely sharing their personal experiences and skills. Mentoring tends to be a longer and sometimes more personal relationship than coaching, however in our time limited world we now tend to structure it and put an end date on the experience. 


“Mentoring is a supportive learning relationship between a caring individual who shares knowledge, experience and wisdom with another individual who is ready and willing to benefit from this exchange, to enrich their professional journey”.
Suzanne Faure


Mentoring is about the relationship built between mentor and mentee.  It is about guidance, knowledge and advice given. It isn’t necessarily focused on the professional side of things, but takes a more holistic approach to self-development, and looking at the overall potential of the individual. A good mentoring program will direct and guide the client and set them on the path to success over the long-term.  




Definition – a developmental process by which an individual gets support while learning to achieve a specific personal or professional result or goal.


The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) lists these features of coaching on its website:

·       It’s a non-directive form of development, though this isn’t a hard and fast rule.

·       It focuses on improving performance and developing the individuals’ skills.

·       Personal issues may be discussed, but the emphasis is on performance at work.

·       Coaching activities have both organisational and individual goals.

·       It provides people with feedback on both their strengths and their weaknesses.

·       It’s a skilled activity and it should only be delivered by people who are trained to do so. This can be line managers and others trained in basic coaching skills.

Coaching is performance-based and revolves around the client successfully learning a new skills, completing goals set or hitting performance targets.

According to the Association for Project Management coaching is a partnership that helps the individual work out what they need to do for themselves to improve, and in the process, what motivates them and what gets in their way – attitudes, prejudices, preconceptions and assumptions. 

Although a coach normally has specific knowledge about the skill or ability the client is trying to master, the coach is normally unconnected personally to the client, or from outside the business. The coach’s guidance should never go beyond helping someone to reach their specific goal, overcome a challenge or develop the skill.  


I’m a virtual assistant, which would help me?

Well, this all comes down to the result you want to achieve.  If you are a new virtual assistant, you may want to go down the mentoring route to have a more nurturing relationship, or you may be new but have a very defined set of goals that you want to reach; in this case coaching may work better.


Likewise, if you are a well-established virtual assistant, you may for example want mentoring through the change of becoming a multi-VA agency.


It is a case of whatever feels right for you.  You need to look for the professional that you know has the credentials and experience to help you reach your goals.  And certainly someone who knows the difference between coaching and mentoring.


The Society of Virtual Assistants have produced a handbook which sets out the standards you should look for, and has a list of approved trainers, mentors and coaches; it’s a really good place to start.  You can also ask around on professional forums for a word of mouth recommendation, most mentors and coaches will offer a discovery call to make sure you are the correct fit together. 


Keep an eye out, as Borderlands VA Network will soon be offering our own range of workshops, goal setting sessions and mentoring options.