Business Consulting and Coaching

Is There Any Real Difference?

Let's imagine that you own a small or medium-sized business. Or perhaps you want to start one. You think it would be wise to find someone to provide professional guidance.

So, you start looking for this someone. And soon you discover people called "business consultants" and others called "business coaches." Are these simply two names for the same service? Or do they refer to people who provide distinctly different assistance?

Business consulting file

Technically, business coaching and business consulting are separate specialties. But the distinction is easily lost. Over the past 20 years, as coaching gained popularity, many professionals started calling themselves coaches. Even salesmen did it. So, too, did certain consultants.

For the most part, however, consultants who rebranded themselves as coaches appropriated the name, but not the coaching process. They continued to follow a consulting process. They simply renamed it "coaching."

What, then, is the difference between a coaching process and a consulting process?

The most telling distinction is in what we might call "the locus of subject matter expertise." That is, which party in this relationship is viewed as the expert on what the business should be doing?

Consultants are hired because they have extensive knowledge of a given industry, specific business processes, demographic or marketing trends, regulatory matters, information technology, web services, employment law, and the like.

In other words, in a consulting relationship, the client is looking to the business consultant for his or her subject-matter expertise on how to run some aspect of the business.

Business owner in warehouse

Contrast this with business coaching, where the locus of expertise is found in the client, not the coach. In most instances, the client knows far more about the industry and how to run the business than does the coach. The coach's role is not to impart expertise. It is to help the client tap into his or her own expertise with greater clarity and precision.

A business coach does this primarily by asking thought-provoking, innovative questions which compel clients to examine their business and their role in it from fresh, new perspectives.

The Best of Both Coaching and Consulting

In choosing a business coach or a business consultant, however, your choice is not necessarily between one or the other. A hybrid approach is also a possibility.

In fact, most of SLDI's engagements with small to medium-sized businesses fall in this category. As the service provider, Dr. Mike Armour doubles as a consultant to the organization as a whole and as a personal coach for certain key people within the organization.

This approach is particularly common with startups and with family-owned businesses which are preparing to pass control to the next generation. It is also a frequent choice of companies which are adding new management quickly as a result of growth or acquisitions. Dr. Mike may consult with the entire management team on how best to move forward, while also coaching individual members of the team one-on-one.

The success of a hybrid approach depends on finding someone like Dr. Mike who clearly understands the distinction between coaching and consulting and is accomplished in both fields. A great coach may lack the organizational savvy or technical expertise to be a good consultant. And an exceptional consultant may lack the know-how of being a good coach.

Choose wisely and pre-screen carefully.

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