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Coaching vs. Consulting: Major Differences

Guides | July 7th, 2021

coaching vs consulting

Both coaches and consultants can be incredibly useful for people who want to improve their lives and make better decisions. But while they both can serve a similar purpose, coaching vs. consulting actually describe approaches that have fundamental differences.

So, if you’re considering whether you should be a coach or a consultant, you need to figure out which career choice would better align with what you’re trying to achieve and what types of clients you want to work with.

To help you better understand how coaching vs. consulting relate, let’s look at the definition of both, explore their similarities and differences, and look at ways to combine them to maximize the potential of your business.

What is Coaching?

What is Coaching?

Coaching is the process of helping people become the best versions of themselves. Whether it’s in life, health, or business (or all three), coaches don’t just hand down the answers to the people they are working with but instead expect the clients to come to the conclusions that fit their situations on their own.

Coaches help by asking the right questions and pushing their clients in the right direction, which empowers them to find the answers they are looking for and become better equipped at dealing with similar situations in the future.

In some situations, the coach might not even be more knowledgeable in the field than their clients. Instead, they use their understanding of human psychology and coaching to guide the client through obstacles, leveraging their expertise and helping find the best answers in various situations. 

In many ways, coaching is more transformative, but it also requires a commitment and consistent effort from the client. Only a motivated person can take advantage of what the coach has to offer, as without the effort achieving the desired results simply won’t be possible.

Effective coaching sessions also focus on the basic skills and knowledge that may not be specifically related to the main goals. For instance, a business coaching client might also help their clients develop better day-to-day habits, learn to deal with their emotions, and gain an overall better perspective on life.

When hiring a coach, people expect to solve a specific problem but often come out of the experience better throughout all aspects of their lives. After the coaching is complete, people often are capable of solving future issues on their own, without the need for further advice from the coach because they’ve learned how to approach problems in a more productive way.

What is Consulting?

What is Consulting?

Consulting is the process of providing clients advice on how to approach specific situations. Consultants are usually leading experts in their fields, with plenty of experience, and they offer clients specific instructions on how to deal with various issues, scenarios, and opportunities. 

Instead of helping the clients learn to manage problems independently, consultants focus more on how their expertise can improve the current situation.

For instance, a consultant might come in and provide a specific solution or outlook on a business or financial scenario. Instead of working with the client to help them improve themselves, consultants are more focused on the problems at hand.

In fact, the consultant is much more engaged with the problem that they are trying to solve than the client that hires them; they might not even spend that much time talking with the client, focusing instead on analysis and gathering of information that will help them address the issue they were hired to fix.

Since a consultant is brought in as a fixer, their success depends on how well they can explain and solve whatever the business or person cannot solve themselves. Because of that, a big part of the consultant’s work is preparing a thorough presentation on what will need to be done and what steps the client will need to take.

A consultant won’t worry about what the client does beyond the specific issue they are hired to fix, but they will walk the client through each part of the solution they come up with so that all they have to do is implement it. 

Similarities

Even though coaching and consulting aren’t the same, they do have some things in common. That’s actually the reason why coaching vs. consulting often gets confused, with even the experts themselves unsure about how to better position themselves to reflect what they can offer clients.

For one thing, both coaching and consulting require you to be knowledgeable and experienced in the field. Whether you’re tackling the problem yourself or working with the client so that they can find solutions to the issues on their own, the end goal can often be similar.

Clients want to achieve results, and coaches and consultants are there to help achieve them. And while the methods that they employ for getting the desired results may differ, the outcomes can often be quite similar. 

Then there’s the fact that both of these careers need to be treated as a business based on a personal brand. Consultants and coaches need to prove to clients that they can deliver on their promises, which requires a clear philosophy, a strong brand, a proven track record, and a way to get in front of the target audience that is likely to be interested.

Finally, both coaches and consultants need to think about how to streamline various parts of their business so that they can help more people, free up time, and increase their earning potential. Whether through group coaching, seminars, or course creation, coaches and consultants can leverage their expertise to expand and become prominent figures in their industry.

Main Differences

Now that we’ve covered some of the main similarities of coaching vs. consulting, it’s time to look at how they differ. And as you probably gathered from the previous sections, there are crucial similarities that come down to the very core philosophy of the approach used with clients. 

Let’s go over some of the main differences below. 

Advice vs. Guidance

The main reason that coaching vs. consulting can’t be put into the same category is the fundamental difference in how the two types of experts achieve results. 

Coaches are all about the client, looking past the specific problems and working with each person until they discover the path they need to take on their own. Sure, coaches can provide expertise and specific suggestions, but they are usually more focused on helping to get the client on the right path instead of dealing with isolated situations.

Meanwhile, consultants are experts that provide answers to questions without necessarily looking at the broader context of why that issue was present in the first place. Although the scope of a consultant’s job can vary, they will not usually be as proactive at helping their clients develop better overall habits that they could use beyond the initial consultation.

Outside Help vs. Inner Growth

Whether it’s working with organizations or with individuals, consultants are typically viewed as an outside presence that can come in and offer a fresh perspective. For instance, whenever there’s a problem that a company cannot solve on its own, they typically turn to consultants that have a proven record for fixing similar issues, handing them over the reins to handle the situation as they see fit.

Coaches work using a different approach, empowering companies or individuals to implement better practices and reach the right conclusions on their own. While they can also offer advice on specific situations, they focus on giving the client the right tools to succeed through teaching and behavior or practice change.

Questions vs. Solutions

Questions vs. Solutions

The differences between coaching vs. consulting often come down to the most basic forms of communication. Because the approaches of helping clients are so different, the way these two types of experts communicate and share their expertise is also different.

Coaches will rarely hand down specific instructions on how their clients should act in one situation or another. Instead, they will rely on open-ended questions that will allow clients to explore their situation, discover nuances they hadn’t considered, and come up with a solution themselves that they wouldn’t have thought of otherwise.

Sure, a coach can offer guidance, but they will usually try to change how a client approaches the problem, resulting in a more universal process for solving challenges in the future.

On the other hand, consultants typically don’t waste time exploring options with the client. They are the expert that’s brought in to deliver a specific outcome, and the results they achieve will usually be measured by that outcome alone.

Therefore, instead of asking questions, they will lead with instructions and solutions, focusing more on building a case for why the suggested approach makes sense and helping to get all the stakeholders on board with the plan before it gets executed.

Combining Coaching and Consulting

Coaching and consulting are different. In many ways, those differences are at the very core of how the two services work. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t increase the results you can get for your clients by combining elements of both.

In fact, the hybrid coaching-consulting approach is gaining traction as a viable alternative to sticking with just one of the careers, giving you more flexibility in the types of services you offer and also serving as a unique selling proposition that helps your services stand out from the crowd.

Traditionally, coaches helped people implement changes that had an impact on all areas of their lives. And while this approach can still be incredibly effective, a new group of coaches is finding tremendous success with a narrower path that can be just as powerful.

These coaches are usually experts and proven specialists in their fields, with a track record of success in achieving things that their clients want to achieve. Some examples of these types of coaches include entrepreneurs, health specialists, business professionals, or almost anyone who has worked in a specific field.

Then, these types of coaches build a business out of helping others overcome obstacles in the specific area they are knowledgeable in. They still work with clients and help them find a personalized solution, but they focus on a narrow area like business, showing their clients the path that they took to get where they are and adapting it to fit their needs.

Using this method, coaches can provide some of the traditional guidance that helps the client find their own path but also give specific suggestions on how to approach different problems, which is more in line with the job of a consultant. 

Depending on your expertise and area of focus, a hybrid approach might be the perfect option. It still gives you the flexibility to offer clients long-term solutions while also enabling you to leverage your expertise to become an indispensable problem-solver in the short term as well.

And if you leverage an all-in-one coaching platform, you can automate various parts of the process, sharing knowledge with your clients on a larger scale and increasing the number of people you can help. 

Bottom Line

Coaching vs. consulting has distinct differences. But with the needs of today’s clients becoming more diverse, many are embracing elements of both approaches to provide the best possible experience for the people and organizations they work with.

Finding a way to combine elements of consulting into your approach can help you launch a successful coaching business and attract a broader range of clients. 

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