What’s the Difference Between a Coach and a Guru?

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There are some pretty strong opinions here on BiggerPockets about whether or not to follow a coach, whether or not to buy guru products, etc. So, I thought I’d stick my neck way out and bring up some discussion about, “What’s the Difference Between a Coach and a Guru?”

Are they the same?

Does it matter?

Do you want to use either one?

In the interest of full disclosure and transparency, I am a real estate investing coach. Therefore, you may go ahead and assume (and you would be correct) that I believe strongly in the value of coaching. The stronger reason for my belief, however, is not that I am a coach, but that I’ve always used coaching for my business and I wouldn’t be where I am today without it. (And where I am in my business is a pretty awesome place to be.)

So, what’s the difference between a coach and a guru? Being my article, naturally these are my definitions/opinions. Please add yours at the bottom of this post!

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Coach

Online definitions: to give tuition or instruction; to mentor; a person who trains; to give advice; instruct.

A coach is someone who leads and/or guides another. Someone who’s been there before and can help you through the good and the bad. Someone who’s personally aware of you and what you’re doing.

Who needs a coach? Anyone who wants to be better. At anything. This is the point where many say, “Even Tiger Woods has a coach” and, “Michael Jordan always had a coach.” And, “you can read a lot of books about flying a plane, but you probably want a coach with you the first time you go up.”

If you want to be better, you need outside instruction – another point of view – someone looking at what you’re doing from a different perspective, preferably one of experience.

Yes, you can learn everything on your own. However, having a coach to guide and instruct you (when they’re good) will save you both time and money. We have spent a lot of money on coaching, and still do. Coaching has made us exponentially more than it has cost us and saved us years of trial and error.

Related: BP Radio Podcast 002: Starting Out with Karen Rittenhouse – Subject To, Direct Mail, and Investing from a Woman’s Perspective

Guru

Online definitions: any person who counsels or advises; mentor; a leading authority in a particular field; teacher; imparter of knowledge

Wikipedia adds: “In the United States, the meaning of “guru” has been used to cover anyone who acquires followers, especially by exploiting their naiveté…”

Interestingly, by most definitions, there is not much difference. In the real estate investing arena, however, people have a much better opinion of “coach” than “guru”.

In my mind, guru defines someone who travels through town, teaching from a stage, selling their idea and product, taking money for the product, then leaving town again. The buyer leaves the event enthused but, ultimately, overwhelmed and clearly confused with how to implement the purchase they’ve just made.

Gurus are hard to speak with directly. Even those first 30 buyers who run to the back of the room to claim the limited 90 days of free coaching often find the “free” coach knows not much more about the product than they do. It’s certainly not one-on-one training by the guru.

A coach, on the other hand, is accessible. They are someone to work with or meet with in person from time to time. They have a direct interest in you and your success. They are closely involved with the functions of your business so that they can guide and assess your progress.

A guru doesn’t really know that you exist, and certainly doesn’t know anything about your business.

Related: The Real Estate Guru Trap – How It Works & 4 Ways to Avoid It

Should you purchase a guru product? Some of it is good. I recommend, however, that before you buy, you speak with others who have purchased the product and are successful implementing what they bought.

Should you have coaching? I think so but it’s ultimately up to you, your goals, and your timeline. I have big dreams, big goals, and I want to get to my goals as quickly and easily as possible.  Surveys have found that most who use coaching have an intense desire to learn and to grow. I, personally, would rather walk through a mine field in the footsteps of someone who’s been through before.

If you do decide on coaching, find someone you respect who is far more successful than you doing exactly what you want to be doing. And, ask for references.

Now it’s your turn. Thoughts?

Photo: Paul Couture

About Author

karen rittenhouse

Karen Rittenhouse has been investing in real estate full time since January 2005. In that time, she has purchased hundreds of single family properties, opened a full-service real estate company, a property management company, a coaching/training business, and written three books on real estate.

24 Comments

  1. Great topic! I think people hear how horrible gurus are and start associating anyone who charges for a product as a guru and evil. The truth is it takes a lot of time to help people understand real estate, even if it is only on the forums. J Scott said it best in one of the forums. “Yes I charge for my book, but all that information in the book I have said publically for free too. ” The book is a convenience factor for investors who don’t want to search through thousands of forum posts or spend days online trying to soft through good and bad info.

    I am thinking of putting together some products on my blog. It won’t be anything secret, but an way to read guide in a certain order. It can be tough to soft through 100s of articles on a blog.

    You know how I feel about coaching! Well worth it.

  2. I was first introduced to real estate investing from a guru product. It was probably the most important purchase I made in my investing career because it introduced me to the fundamentals. I have bought several more since then. I can’t say that they have all been fabulous, but I learned a lot of great information and advanced techniques. However most of the techniques, even the advanced techniques, that I learned from guru products are being used by investors on bigger pockets who use them every day.

    I haven’t purchased another guru product since I found Bigger Pockets because everything the gurus teach can be found right here. So save your money and just read BP. Today I feel very knowledgeable about real estate, but I am more like a college graduate in real estate who has book knowledge, but not much experience. I have a few investments under my belt, and as much money as I have spent on guru products, I spent more on lessons learned by trying to figure things out for myself. This is where a good coach or mentor would have been beneficial.

    Many gurus claim to be a coach and simply hand you over to someone else and never actually speak with you. So how would we know that someone isn’t just a guru claiming to be a coach? What type of experience should we expect from a good coach, and how do we find someone who is appropriate for our goals, location, or situation? Does location even matter?

    • karen rittenhouse

      Hi Hugh:
      I think the ideal is to find a coach in your local area – they know the area, the economics, state regulations, etc. But, more important than where they are is that they are good.

      You can find a good coach by references. If they have been successful in the business long enough, they probably have paying followers. Talk with those to find out the results they are getting from their coaching.

      Not every successful investor wants to coach others, of course.

      Coaches should have their programs spelled out so you can decide before you buy. For example, how many one-on-one calls per month do you get, how many emails, how many deals will they evaluate for you, what training do they offer, etc. A good coach will have a program you can evaluate for yourself and other students you can interview.

      Check with your local REAI and local landlord associations to search for any who are local. Or interview coaches here on BiggerPockets. There are lots of us here!

      To your continued learning success!

  3. I coach REIs as you do Karen. I enjoy helping people build a business and improve skills. Your distinction between a “guru” and a “coach” is terrific.

    There are great books out there on wholesaling, birdogging, sub2, land trusts, wraps, private money, partnering, private IRA loans, lease options, master lease option, multis, building a REI team, credit repair, short sales, negotiation, marketing with direct mail, telemarketing, internet marketing. et. al, the list is long, and it is all important. Biggerpockets has some great info on all of these. I also treasure the “Bill Gulley” types to keep us out of trouble the government regulations (e.g. the SAFE Act).

    Information overload I believe is a concern for the newbie. Paralysis of Analysis. A good coach can create a simple plan and get focused action, can be available for questions, can act as a team member, act as the “business partner” to a seller, a buyer, an agent, and “talk the talk”.

    Is there value in that? I think so. And that ain’t no Guru.

    I have been waiting for this article for a while. Fantastic job.

    • karen rittenhouse

      Thanks, Brian!

      You laid out a lot of reasons why investors need a coach. There’s a real synergy that’s created when you’re working with like minded people. And, like you, we love showing others how to be successful, encouraging them when things get tough, pulling them through when they’re about to be stopped, and sharing the joy of their triumphs.

      Coaching is a lot of work and a lot of responsibility, but extremely rewarding.

      To your continued coaching success!

  4. Hi Karen,

    Your article does an excellent job handling a quite controversial topic. For me, over the 1st half of my investing career, it was done as a loner (or “Caveman”, as how I sometimes refer to my past self) without much networking or mentors. Then I fumbled through some good and bad gurus. (But we must keep in mind there are good and bad of everything in life, that’s why I like your suggestion to ask around before buying) And today, I have some really good coaches, most of which are not RE related. They are more on the business and personal development side. What I have paid for mentoring and coaching over the years has been a joke compared to what it has done for me overall, both financially and business wise, and most importantly, in reference to the person I like to think I have become. Great Post!

  5. Douglas Dowell on

    I appreciate the point about another point of view.
    To change our results we need a change in attitudes, beliefs and habits.
    It is possible to do without a coach but I believe the trial and error process my cost years.

    Saving time is saving money with less frustration. From that viewpoint it almost seems worth it to have a subject matter coach in addition to a mindset coach when possible.

  6. Shariyf Grevious on

    Excuse the grammar and misspellings I am doing this via smartphone
    1.) Joshua and Brandon are big on using the resources available from the site as a way to circumvent the need for gurus/coaching. Which is why I LOVE THIS SITE.

    2.) I know of at least 3 gurus who were NEWBIE Real Estate investors less than 2 years ago and now are EXPERTS in their field. Let me ask you a question….in what other industry in America can someone go from a NOVICE to GURU in LESS than 2 years? And some of these same gurus have threads on BiggerPockets ASKING for advice and COMPLAINING about how everybody wants to charge for answering SIMPLE questions less than 2 years ago and now have REI courses today. To me that means that it really cant be THAT difficult.

    3.) Gurus/Coaching gave me a REALLY BAD introduction into Real Estate investing and prevented me from getting into real estate investing for almost 10 years now. I invested a sum of money in a program and it was BS. And when I went out to seek a different program they ALL WERE USING THE SAME EXACT TACTICS! Same Single Web Page, Same exact HYPE words, Same tonality in their videos, Same Pitch, Same pay structure (97/mo, 197/mo, 995, 1997, etc etc), Same free module for 30 days but the modules are released weekly so you only really see 4, Same FREE VALUE numbers pulled out of their ***, Same oversized CD case, Same graphic designers….well you get the point. How in the world is somebody supposed to differentiate the scammers from the real people when THEY ALL USE THE SAME EXACT FORMULA. If you know that someone (in your industry) is a known scam artist then why would you duplicate his or her “selling” formula? I tell young black guys in Philly all the time, if you don’t want to be overly harassed by the cops don’t dress like someone the cops have to overly harass. Perception is reality.

    4.) My biggest problem with Gurus is that they aren’t traditionally going after people with money, they’re going after people who make less than 30-50k per year. People who are one medical emergency, a blown transmission, or house repair away from being broke. People who already make sacrifices in clothing, the type of car they drive (if they drive) and other “luxuries” like cable tv. These are the people who flock to Guru/coaching trainings because they are clinging on to HOPE and gurus take full advantage of that.

    5.) This is why I LOVE BiggerPockets. It is MORE than enough information on BiggerPockets to invest 2-3k and begin mailing campaign vs giving it to a guru just to tell you to save up MORE money to start a mailing campaign. Its enough information on how to start a website or get one made for you than to pay someone to tell you (or worst sell you) the same thing but a higher price. There are scripts, contracts, and contacts all on this site FOR FREE!!!!! I look at Gurus as wholesalers of information. They take something that is drastically reduced like “FREE INFORMATION ON BIGGER POCKETS” and wholesale it to you at a higher price because you just didn’t know that the information existed at a far lower price…or worst tell you that they have MORE information that is not free and this magic bean/pill is the difference to being successful or not (BS!!!) There is enough information on BiggerPockets, YouTube, Sean Terry’s FREE podcast (which is why I respect him), Wholesaling Pages on Facebook to do YOUR 1st deal.

    6.) Which brings me to my most important point. Gurus or coaches should only go after people who want to IMPROVE their business. People who ALREADY have money and want to know how to MAKE MORE!!! People who can actually afford a 3k-5k bootcamp. Those businessmen and women see the value in looking for new and improved ideas and techniques to take their business to the next level. I think MOST of guru tactics are predatory, low brow high pressure sales techniques, aimed at making money vs actually helping people. Which is why still to this day they do prerecorded webinars but have the person schedule them to see it. This is a trick that internet marketers (scammers) noticed that when people feel obliged to an appointment they are more likely to view it…but this is the opposite for entrepreneurs, they actually PREFER to see the information on THEIR time and don’t need tricks like this to convince them to watch something or buy it. If they see value in it…they’ll get it, if they don’t…..they won’t. In fact they most likely will just ignore it because they have a lot of other stuff to do so if its no replay they’ll just ignore it. But you still see gurus do this trick knowing this information because ENTREPERNEURS with actual money is not their real target market….the HOPE consumer clinging on to financial life is. Because its MORE of the “desperate consumer” than “logical entrepreneur” and they only need a FEW a month to live the 10 – 100k/mo lifestyle doing 1/5th the work they did as an REI investor (if they ever were one in the 1st place)

    • I think you summarized my thoughts better than I could have. I will add that many people myself included would gladly pay for good organized information. It’s just very hard to separate the get / rich quick / infomercial / you tube stuff from the good stuff.

      I too really enjoy BP so far. I most enjoy the blogs, and podcasts. I like the forums but I have to think I re-read topics too much and it might not be the best use of my time.

      Anyway well done Karen for the article, and well done Shariyf for putting down very clearly why many of us are so skeptical.

      • Chris:
        Skepticism is good! You absolutely don’t want to be led down the wrong path or taken advantage of.

        Which is why I encourage that, before you buy either coaching or guru products, you talk with someone who’s using them SUCCESSFULLY. I know of one “guru” who makes a tremendous amount of money every year selling product. I have never found anyone making money using his product, however. UGH!! How does he make so much? He is a fabulous “performer” on stage and an AMAZING SALES PERSON.

        This is why the warnings here on BiggerPockets and why I took the time to make the distinction with this post. There are GREAT teachers out there and, to be more successful faster, you need to hook up with one who will guide you, train you, and keep you away from the landmines of this business. The snake oil salespeople? No, none of us wants them. Yes, there is a difference. Yes, they both exist.

        Thanks for commenting, and here’s wishing you tremendous investing success!

  7. There are a lot of products out there and lots of self proclaimed experts that aren’t at all worth the money and time invested in them.
    It can certainly daunting for a newbie to wade through all of this to figure out who is legit and who is just doing a money grab.
    BP is great for that.
    I also think going to your local REIA and other REI networking events will be a great way for someone new to learn and get some mentoring before jumping into coaching.

    • Absolutely, Shaun. Your local REIA is a great place for learning, networking, and getting to know who the real players are in your area.

      It takes time to find someone you want to follow and trust to guide, you but those great people are certainly out there!

      Thanks for your comment.

  8. Hi Karen,

    I have purchased several “guru” courses, and they each contained good basic information. However, nothing compares to having access to a coach to answer all of those questions that pop up during every deal. Every deal is unique, and poses new challenges. Having an experienced coach to help you when you are outside your comfort zone is very reassuring.

    I have been one of your coaching students since 2009 and will continue to invest in the program. During the past four years, you have personally invested a great deal of your time and money in your own education and with your own coaches. You share all of that knowledge and experience with your students. Keep up the great work!

    • Thank you, Steve, for taking the time to comment here.

      We so love having you as a student, and subsequently a friend, for all these years. And we’ve both done very well with the deals we’ve done together!

      🙂

      To your continued real estate investing success!

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