Consultant vs. coach - What is the difference?

by Jake Smolarek
Two men talking at the table

Of all the questions I get asked on a daily basis, the one I hear the most frequently is “what is the difference between a coach and a consultant?”

It’s something I get a lot. And it’s an understandable question. Successful individuals and businesses all over the world use coaches, consultants, and advisors all the time to help them achieve their goals and reach new heights.

And you might think that since the roles are similar, they can be used interchangeably. Or that they will be able to help you with your needs. But in reality, there are some crucial differences that you should know and understand before working with a coach or a consultant. Knowing the differences and understanding how each profession works will save you time, money and will ultimately help you achieve your goal.

So, to find out the difference between coaching vs consulting and learn how each could benefit you, let me break it down for you.

Coaching vs. consultancy

In theory, according to the dictionary definition, a consultant is someone who provides expert advice professionally. By contrast, a coach is someone who, quite literally, coaches you.

But what are the practical differences between hiring a coach vs. hiring a consultant? Well, to put it as simply as possible, a consultant can be employed to help you work out what steps you need to take to reach a goal. They will work with you to plan that you need to do A, B, and C to reach your target. They can help you define a timeline and effectively provide advice on how to go about your plan.

On the other hand, a coach will work with you to ensure you are overcoming personal challenges like procrastination, lack of focus, feelings of doubt. Are you struggling with task A because of a mental block? Do you need to clarify your goal and build confidence before tackling task B? Are you putting off task C?

Another key difference between coaching and consultancy is that a consultant is business-led. You tell them your goal, and they work around that to provide service and advice. However, working with a coach is different. Coaches take the lead, analyzing and working out what you need. Teaching you tips and tricks and pushing you to make changes in your outlook.

However, the most significant difference between a consultant and a coach is accountability. A consultant will not hold you accountable for your actions. A coach will. A consultant will give you a formula for success and let you get on with it; a coach will stay by your side and make sure you follow through on each step.

Two different approaches

But what are the other differences between coaching and consultancy? One of the biggest differences you’ll notice is how coaches and consultants approach situations. Consultants are experts in their field. Besides getting to know your situation and what you need, they will take the lead and tell you exactly what to do. They will give you a plan, advice, and actionable steps.

On the other hand, a coach will allow you to tell them what you need. You can tell them what your next steps will be, and they will provide the support you need. Coaching is much more of a collaborative process in which you work with your coach to achieve success.

Consultancy is much about a recipe for success. You have a goal. You do these things in this order, and the goal will be achieved. In consultancy, there isn’t much room for human failings and errors. But coaching works to improve the little quirks and mistakes we all make. From lack of motivation, willpower, and trust to time management, procrastination, and fear of failure. Consultancy is an expert telling you what to do. Coaching is working with an expert to get tools and tricks to be able to do what the consultant says!

Do I need a coach or a consultant?

Working with both coaches and consultants can be life-changing in a whole range of ways. But only if you are working with the right one. To help you work out if you need a coach or a consultant, I’ve put together a list of questions. The answers to these five questions should help you work out if you need a coach or a consultant.

Questions to ask yourself:

1. Do you want help for yourself or your business?

If you want help for your company in general, chances are, you want a consultant, not a coach. If you need individual help, you will likely need a coach.

2. Do you need help with a specific aspect of your business?

If yes, chances are you need a specific consultant to help with an element of your business. For example, you might need an SEO expert, a business mentor, or an accountant to help with finances.

3. Do you think you know how to solve the issues but struggle to make a change?

If you know what your next steps should be, but you can’t seem to get started and have a mental block, you probably need a coach to help you out.

4. Are you looking for someone to tell you what to do or someone to help you make your own decisions?

If you are looking for a person who can tell you how to solve a problem and then let you get on with it, you need a consultant. However, if you need someone to help you make your own decision, stick to it, be flexible and prepare for changes, you need a coach.

5. Do you need support for a specific project?

If you have a plan for a project and need specific support for that project, you likely need a consultant. If you want ongoing support which addresses broader issues such as self-confidence, decision making, willpower, motivation, and mental strength, you need a coach.

These simple questions should help you decide if you need a coach or a consultant. However, if you are still unsure, get in touch. I can chat with you and help you work out exactly what support you need. There are other people who may be able to help you, including a strategist and a therapist. Depending on your unique situation, you may need one or more of these people to help you move forward and achieve your goal.

What happens if I hire a consultant when I need a coach?

It is good to work out what type of support you need before you hire someone. Many people make the mistake of jumping straight in and hiring a coach when they need a consultant. And Vice Versa. This can be frustrating for you and me.

If you need a coach and hire a consultant, you will get frustrated, waste money, and be unable to solve your problem. The same is true of working with a consultant when you really need a coach. As a coach, I can help you with all sorts of things, but I cannot give you the same advice or support as a consultant or an industry expert.

If you try to pay me for the work a consultant should be doing, you won’t get the same results. You’ll feel like you’re wasting your money, and you’ll still be faced with the same original problem. This is why it is essential to work out the kind of support you need before committing to long-term work.

You might need both.

Depending on your plans, you might need both a coach and a consultant. Try to think of yourself as an athlete. The top athletes have coaches. But they also have dietitians, physiotherapists, doctors, and a whole team of others to help them reach their potential. The same is true of celebrities. They have an acting coach, an agent, a stylist, a makeup artist, a hairdresser, a press team, and more.

Whether your goal is business-related or personal, you can find someone to help you. And perhaps, you need more than one person. If your goal is a healthy relationship, you might need a dating consultant to help you on dates and a coach to help you with self-confidence. If your goal is to grow your business or launch a new business, you might need an entrepreneurial consultant to plan the stages and a coach to help you make decisions, feel confident, and become a good leader.

If in doubt, ask a coach. Better yet, ask a professional, sector-specific coach like a lifestyle coach or a business coach.

What is a business coach?

Now, you might be wondering, what is a business coach? What is a lifestyle coach? Coaches come in many shapes and forms. Some are general, and some are specific. You wouldn't ask a professional career coach for advice on running a marathon. And you wouldn't ask a lifestyle coach how to get better at your job. Think about the area you want to improve and ask a coach.

Asking a coach is better than asking a consultant.

A consultant is unlikely to recommend a coach because, quite frankly, they don’t care about your individual wellbeing. Nor do they really care if you succeed. They gave you the information; now it's 100% up to you. They have been hired to deliver a project, and that’s what they’ll do. On the other hand, a coach is looking at your overall health and success. Your coach may recommend getting in an expert to ask for advice, provide feedback and support as you progress, and help manage your stress levels. But in the end, your coach will be there for you in a way a consultant won't be.

Getting professional support can be the difference between failure and success. All you have to do is ask. But you need to know who to ask.

About the Author

Jake Smolarek

Life and Business Coach & Entrepreneur

For over 10 years I have been helping people achieve their personal, professional, and financial goals faster and easier than they've ever imagined.

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