Coaching vs. Consulting: Pros, Cons, Differences

A business person stands in front of an animated business plan

The Difference Between Coaching and Consulting

If you are a business owner, entrepreneur, or aspiring leader, believe it or not, you’re going to face many situations in which you are not an expert (insert “wink” here). It is impossible to always have the right answer, confidently choose which direction is best for your company, or definitively predict every obstacle that might stand in your way. 

This is where business coaches and business consultants come in. 

Coaches and consultants work to optimize processes and operations which lead to greater effectiveness, increased efficiency, and an overall successful business. While the terms may seem interchangeable, they are not. Consultants solve problems for their clients. Coaches, on the other hand, assist business owners in solving their own problems. 

Both of these professionals can be beneficial for different situations and needs. It is important to understand the differences between the two to ensure you are receiving services that fit your current needs best. 

As an experienced coach and former consultant, let me break it down for you—I want you to have a solid grasp on which type of service is right for your business. 

Business Coaching 101

What Is a Business Coach?

Business coaches seek to improve the performance of their clients by empowering them through insightful questions and constructive reflections. 

Coaches know that an objective, deep understanding of their clients’ vision, goals, and weaknesses is key to asking critically engaging questions. This intentional questioning enables the client to gain their own clarity on their specific skills, strengths, and trajectory, benefiting them overall as an entrepreneur. 

Many coaches work with clients for a defined time frame (approximately one year), reconvening regularly to track progress and adjust as is necessary.

Benefits of Business Coaching

Think about sports for a moment. Maybe you had a tough yet compassionate coach that helped you flourish in youth or school sports. Or think of the head of your favorite NFL, MLB, or NHL team. 

These coaches provide experience and guidance without doing the work for the players. Unlike consultants, which are given a task to optimize and complete, coaches work closely with you to teach you how to develop the skills to do the work yourself. This is incredibly beneficial, as it provides you with skills that can last a lifetime and apply to future business endeavors.

When it comes to personal and professional coaching, coaches often use tools like personality tests and talent assessments to implement more specific leadership strategies for an executive or leadership team. 

Do You Need a Business Coach?

There are a few ways to decipher if a business coach is right for you and/or your company: 

  • You can’t articulate the current state of your company.
  • You aren’t clear on the future direction of the business.
  • You’re not sure if you have the people.
  • You don’t know how to create a detailed, thoughtful, goal-oriented business plan.
  • You aren’t adept at uncovering, understanding, and utilizing your strengths and weaknesses (or those of your employees).
  • You want to strengthen your leadership skills and overall confidence in running your business.

Limits of Business Coaching

If you’re seeking someone to get specific work done as effectively and quickly as possible, rather than spending time developing your own skills to do the work yourself, a coach may not be the perfect fit for you. Instead, you may require a consultant. 

Business Consulting 101

What Is a Business Consultant?

Business consultants help companies succeed by providing answers and solutions to specific problems. Unlike coaches, consultants are focused on problem-solving analysis in the short term, working to get one section of the company up to speed, often ending their services until another issue arises. 

Benefits of Business Consulting

Consultants are often experts in specific areas of running a business, such as strategy, IT, finances, sales, public relations, operations, or legal work. They can be extremely helpful if a company is in need of technical work but doesn’t want to hire a specialized full-time employee or spend time training existing staff. 

Do You Need a Business Consultant?

A company may benefit from a consultant for a few reasons:

  • You want an objective perspective on a specific problem or process.
  • You want to optimize an area of your business quickly and efficiently through outsourcing.
  • You want to be told, rather than taught, what tools and skills are required to succeed.

Limits of Business Consulting

Consulting can be very helpful for those who need expertise in one aspect of their company. However, if you’re seeking advice that enables you to grow in your own skills and decision-making as an owner and operator, consulting can be limiting, as there is less of a focus on you as an individual and more of a focus on the actual work being completed. 

Other Professions That Support Businesses 

In addition to coaches and consultants, there are other forms of professionals that aid in business and skill development: advisors, mentors, trainers, and counselors.

Advisor vs. Coach

A business advisor can provide feedback and assistance in many areas, whether through doling out advice based on their past experiences or connecting you with their network. Unlike coaches, who value listening and prompting with clarifying questions, advisors tell you what they think is best based on the information you disclose. 

An advisor-client relationship is often less structured and irregular than that of a coach, with the advisor benefiting through monetary payment, the bartering of services, or with a position on an advisory board. Coaches, on the other hand, almost always have a set fee and set schedule of when they interact with clients. 

Mentor vs. Coach

A mentor can be somewhat similar to a coach, though their role often involves a more personal connection to their mentee, as the relationship is formed over time and is often the most long-term. While mentors are not often financially compensated, they still benefit from the relationship—they might enjoy having someone to pass down their knowledge and experience to or find it engaging to interact with somebody with similar interests and fresh ideas. 

While coaches are typically sought out by the client, the mentor-mentee relationship usually forms organically through networking or introductions by mutual connections.  

Trainer vs. Consultant

A business trainer seeks to educate their client on a specific process. Consultants, on the other hand, finish the job without walking the client through every step to teach them how to accomplish it themselves. 

Trainers are more people-focused while consultants are more problem-focused. Both professionals seek to improve a clients’ processes, but trainers take the time to empower their clients, with the goal of a consultant being perfecting and finishing the assigned task.

Counselor vs. Coach

While they may both ask questions to facilitate growth in their clients, a counselor or therapist focuses on their clients’ personal growth and wellbeing, while a coach is concerned with professional development. Counseling may be more long-term, as it can help individuals learn personal coping skills and strategies for handling issues that arise on an ongoing basis. An executive may benefit from a counselor to work through personal issues and a coach to work through professional issues.

Executive & Team Coaching for Your Business

Matching your needs with the right business professional is crucial to ensure you are getting the most effective, impactful assistance. If you are still feeling stuck on whether coaching or consulting could most benefit your business, schedule a 30-minute chat with me. I am happy to help you decide which direction fits you, your company, and your goals best.