The Difference Between a Business Coach and a Consultant: Which Do I Need?Jan 30, 2021
I think there’s a unique “edge” most business owners have in common: they’re visionaries that are comfortable betting on themselves.
At their core, they have confidence that they can do what others can’t, that they can solve problems that others can’t—and that’s what drives their entrepreneurial spirit.
But let’s admit it—we’ve also all come to the point where we realize we aren’t equipped to solve a problem. Despite my best efforts, I have yet to find enough hours in the day to become an expert at everything. It’s why I’m not a dentist, a fighter pilot, or a breakdancer in my free time...yet.
And so, when we’re out looking for answers, we often look to coaches and consultants to provide that specialized support. But here’s the problem: how many coaches or consultants have you hired that just weren’t that...helpful?
The problem most owners have when it comes to hiring a coach or consultant is finding the right one to hire. It’s like having to choose a medical specialist when you aren’t even 100% sure what your diagnosis is. And that can lead to a lot of frustration and wasted resources.
So let’s get into some tips to help you decide who you should hire.
What’s the Difference Between a Business Coach and a Consultant?
I’m guessing you’re already familiar with the roles coaches and consultants can play, but in a crowded economy, people have tried to get a little too clever with their definitions of each. So let’s make sure we’re operating from the same set of definitions.
Both a coach and a consultant are focused on helping you solve problems in your business. The difference is in their approach.
A business coach takes the approach of improving you as the leader of your business. A business consultant takes a more specialized hands-on approach, providing specific solutions for your business itself.
To put a bow on it, I’m a fan of this model: coaching is “done with you” and consulting is “done for you”. Simple enough?
Great, let’s focus on which option is the best fit for your goals. And yes, there are those that straddle that definition - but let's go with this for clarity's sake.
Is a Business Coach the Right Fit for You?
Let’s start with the business coach—the “done with you” approach.
One of the biggest weaknesses many small business owners face is that they often have a better grip on what their business does than they do on how to make their business run. This presents a particular challenge as your company scales and your focus has to move from simple execution (baking cakes, for example) to operations (hiring staff to bake cakes) to strategy (should we expand our offering and locations? should we sell cakes online?)
It’s at this point that a lot of business owners start to feel out of their depth (at least in a new way). Developing and executing a growth strategy doesn’t always require the same set of skills and experience you accrued building your business.
This is the business owner who would benefit most from a business coach—because they can provide the guidance and support they need to be successful business leaders.
Turning Great Entrepreneurs into Great Leaders
Similar to the way you hire an accountant to handle your taxes, a good business coach understands the challenging environment that comes with managing a growing business. They’ve been around the block that you’re facing, and they can come alongside you to help you become the leader your business needs.
What I personally like about business coaching is that it’s not a one-sided conversation, but a collaboration between the experience of the owner and the coach.
As a result, if I were your coach, I’m really not there to talk at you about your business. I’m there to help mine your own experiences for insights and turn them into vision.
Business coaches find solutions by asking, not telling.
Now, don’t get me wrong. Business coaching isn’t a series of therapy sessions on a comfortable couch where you explore all your feelings about life. You’re bringing someone to the table whose experience and insight can bridge the gap between where you are and where you want to end up.
They use their expertise in business development and leadership like a pulley—when applied to the weight you’re trying to lift, it makes it lighter. The challenges you’re facing don't disappear, but your new strength as a leader equips you to overcome them.
When Should You Hire a Consultant?
While a business coach is more focused on providing guidance, a business consultant provides specific solutions to your specific challenges. Think of a consultant as a “sleeves-rolled-up” subject matter expert.
There are different consultants for different needs a business might have—sales, marketing, HR, production. If you need a specialist, you won’t have to look too far to find one for just about any facet of your business.
At this point, you might be asking, “Coaches help with those things too. Tell me why I would need a consultant instead?”
Conceptually, the core difference lies in what each practitioner is working on. A coach works on improving you. The consultant works directly on your business. But here are a few more reasons you might want a consultant.
Benefits of Hiring a Consultant
1. You’re freed to focus on other tasks.
While you won’t be—or shouldn’t be—totally hands-off with your consultant, bringing one on will help free you from the mental load of trying to develop and implement solutions on your own.
Your time is probably better spent focusing on other tasks that need your attention. A consultant provides reliable coverage for a need so that you can continue to “keep the wheels on the bus” while still moving your business forward.
2. You fill your knowledge gap without having to become The Expert.
Obviously, you know your business. But a consultant might be a worthwhile consideration where there is a knowledge gap in your ability (or your staff’s ability) to solve a specific type of problem.
Because they’ve worked in a variety of industries and businesses, they might have the objective vantage point you need to get unstuck.
3. You might achieve better results in less time.
I often see business owners stand in their own way because they’ve avoided bringing in a third party—for whatever (often valid) reason, like being burned by ineffective and overpriced consultants in the past. But when you find the right consultant, you gain the value of plugging their specialized knowledge right into your business, which can save you time and money.
Which Should I Hire? Coach v. Consultant
The baseline truth here is that both provide a different kind of value, and I’m a big believer that in a perfect world, every business would have both. The combination of clarity in your long-term vision and expertise in your short-term strategy is a powerful one.
That being said, if you’re looking to hire either a coach or a consultant, here’s what I would suggest.
Hire a Coach If...
A coach is likely a better fit if you need help in an area that you will be overseeing in the long run. In this kind of area, a coach’s ability to develop your vision and leadership skills can prove invaluable. Their insight won’t just impact you now, it will equip you better for long-term growth.
Hire a Consultant If…
Consider bringing a consultant on board when you need someone’s expertise applied to a specific situation. They’re intended as auxiliary support to your existing team, providing temporary support to fill a gap in your capabilities. This can cover anything from sales and marketing to HR to industry-specific providers.
What If I Need Both?
In some businesses, you have both needs. You need support and guidance as you develop as a business leader, but you also have specific challenges within your company.
You need both the reflective guidance and the business expertise. Insight produced by questions paired with solutions formed from answers.
There are programs that combine the best of both to meet your needs under the same roof. One of these might be the best fit for you if the consulting element fits the need you’re looking to meet.
I’ll use our model at Value Prop as an example. Our approach to working with owners offers a blend of coaching and consulting outcomes by empowering them with a systematic approach for revenue growth.
Like a coach, we work with business owners to help them to develop into leaders that know where they want to take their business and how to get there.
And like consultants, we help our clients implement solutions for their unique growth challenges. We walk business owners through developing and deploying the strategic plans they need to get growth going again.
Before you leave, learn more about our process for working with business owners. I think you’ll find that our unique, strategic approach to growth will enable you to find solutions to your challenges and break through into new revenue growth.