By Robert Craven

Many businesses recognise that they need some form of external intervention to help them grow the business. And there is no shortage of options on offer from coaching to mentoring to consultancy to mastermind groups to conferences, seminars, workshops and bootcamps. I have put them in approximate order from one-to-one to one-to many offerings.

Conferences, seminars, workshops and bootcamps are great at updating you on latest tools and techniques. By their very nature, they are one-to-many events and while the networking opportunities are a plus, they will not have the intimacy or immediacy required to reflect the specific needs and issues in your own business. It simply is not possible for the speaker to do more than speak in general principles which may or may not be 100% relevant to your business. The result is that the required actions and follow-through may not be put in place.

At the other extreme is mentoring and coaching. For the purists, I have already committed the cardinal sin of lumping the two together. While there are differences (coaching tends to be more facilitative from someone who knows how to get others to perform; mentoring tends to be slightly more prescriptive, based on the experience of the mentor) I see these as one-to-one activities that tend to focus on the individual in question.

We then have the middle ground, consultancy and mastermind groups, two very different beasts designed and appropriate for different purposes.

Consultancy comes in many forms and blurs around the edges with other interventions according to one’s definitions. The external expert comes to your business; someone who is an expert in diagnosing what is really going on and what needs to be done and assisting in the implication. Different consultants are better/worse at different stages of the process. Some are totally independent of any ‘ology’ or specific framework, others are brought into a particular methodology or toolkit, some are great at the diagnosis and others are great at helping with the implementation. While considerably more than a ‘gun for hire’, the types and varieties and definition of what you get from a consultant are many and varied.

Mastermind groups typically run over 12 months. A group of like-minded individuals (6-10?) come together with the shared objective of helping each other’s business to grow. Usually led by an expert in the particular field (business, growth, marketing, social media), the key benefits of attending include: accountability to the group and leader, support from the group and leader, expert direction and facilitation, regular one-to-one and group communication (meetings, calls, conference calls).

If a business owner is just looking for something to help them then they will probably pop for the first shiny thing that looks like it might help. After all, they will all claim to make you more profitable and more successful and happier.

In an ideal world, the supplier will undertake some kind of filtering system and possibly even a diagnostic to understand what the issues are and what would be the most appropriate solution for the client. After all, the client doesn’t know what the client doesn’t know.

Meanwhile, and in defence of the practitioners, the potential client phones up demanding a price. Yet, apart from in the one-to-many situations, how can you give a price? How do you know if your approach, style or method is appropriate or even relevant or even efficacious? You wouldn’t ask a consultant heart surgeon to recommend a treatment before any diagnostic tests had been carried out; so why do you expect an expert business person be able to give you a solution and price without having a proper ‘look under the hood’? But I digress.

We see plenty of potential clients wanting, say, mastermind or consultancy services but maybe they are not really sure about the relevant and relative benefits and disadvantages.

Consultancy is great if you want 100% attention on your business and results for your business from someone who knows how to solve your problem. The assignment should be focused on a clear end point and result for you, the client. You go to a marketing consultant to sort your marketing, etc etc.

Mastermind, on the other hand, is less focused on your specific problem but more on the combined effort and resources of the group helping each other. Key reason people sign up to the group is for sharing, sense-checking ideas, loneliness, accountability, working alongside others and the expert... It is altogether a different proposition from consultancy.

It is one thing to recognise that you need help. It is quite another to know to whom (or to what) you should turn...