Coaching vs. Consulting

Let's take a look at some key differences between coaching and consulting to determine which is right for you!
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Coaching vs. Consulting

Do you want to reach your dreams? Of course you do! While the decision to chase your goals and make your day-to-day life more fulfilling might be an easy one (after all, who doesn’t want to be more successful?), deciding how to improve at what you do can be difficult. While there are countless ways to become more successful — from self-help books to guided meditation and more — receiving coaching and consulting have been proven to be two of the most effective methods available.   

Both coaching and consulting are viable ways to improve your skills, learn more about your industry, achieve your goals and gain greater life satisfaction. At the same time, the way in which coaches and consultants help their clients is radically different. While one profession relies on self-empowerment and goal acquisition, the other is steeped in institutional knowledge and educational advice. 

Which form of instruction is right for you: coaching or consulting? Keep reading to learn about both.  

What is Coaching?

Coaching is a process of helping clients grow, learn and succeed by empowering them to approach their personal and professional lives from different perspectives. There are many different forms of coaching — from niche coaching to business coaching to life coaching — but all coaching is concerned with helping clients achieve their goals. A great coach is simultaneously a mentor, a guide, an educator and an ally to their clients. 

Coaches are holistic trainers. As such, they often take a macro approach to empowering their clients, finding roadblocks that prevent those they serve from achieving their goals or finding success. A great coach will dig deeply into their clients’ stories before identifying patterns of thinking that might be hindering their ability to thrive. 

Sometimes these patterns of thinking are easy to identify, such as a tendency to hang on to a belief that keeps them at an unfulfilling job, leading to general life dissatisfaction. Other times coaches need to do more digging to uncover limiting beliefs, like when a client believes they need to act a certain way that is actually stopping them from getting what they want. Whatever the case, a great coach will help clients discover these connections for themselves, rather than instructing clients on what their specific challenges are.  

What is Consulting?

Consulting is a process of instruction through someone who has expertise in a specific industry, trade or skill. Consultants provide sage advice in their field of choice, from sales training to business advice to nutritional help. In some cases, the consultant is a retired professional with decades of experience in their specific trade. As such, there is usually a large education gap between consultants and their clients. 

Consultants are sometimes independent contractors, but many work for consulting firms that specialize in a specific area. Sometimes clients are already knowledgeable about the type of consulting they’re looking to receive — in these cases, consultants are usually hired to provide an unbiased, outside perspective of a company’s strategies and methodologies. Other times consultants can be used to backfill work that an organization is having trouble completing. Or, consultants can act as guides for their clients, helping them engage in strategies that take their businesses to the next level. 

A consultation is the act of engaging with a consultant. Consultations are paid meetings with consultants in order to receive instruction or advice. In these meetings a consultant will typically ask their client about what they want to learn before providing further advice and educational support.  

Coaching vs. consulting illustration

Coaching vs. Consulting 

The difference between coaching and consulting involves who holds the power in the relationship. Whereas the consultant usually holds the authority in a consultant-client relationship, a coaching-client relationship is usually led by the client. In other words, consultants are primarily interested in educating others, whereas coaches are more concerned with the prospect of empowering others. How do these different philosophies play out in the context of a training program?  

In a traditional consulting relationship, consultants are hired to deliver results through advice, resources, skills, demonstrations, thought leadership and more. Oftentimes a business will hire a consultant with expertise in a specific business niche that the company wants to improve at — this might be a consumer marketing consultant, a B2B consultant, a sales consultant, etc.

By contrast, a coach will not simply give their clients answers, nor is a coach usually an expert in the same field as their client. Oftentimes coaches know little about the professional role their clients perform — instead of delivering specific industry knowledge, coaches are experts at philosophies and mentalities that help clients find their own path toward success. Moreover, coaching usually encompasses a wider variety of goals than consulting: coaches help clients with both their personal and professional lives, and help them achieve goals from gaining promotions at work to finding a romantic partner. 

If you’re interested in either coaching or consulting, it’s worth thinking about what you want out of a professional support-based relationship. Do you need help getting up to speed on a specific aspect of your industry? If so, a consultant is probably right for you. Do you want more foundational support that helps you rethink both your personal and professional life in order to achieve your goals? If this is the case, then coaching is probably a better fit for your needs. Think critically about what suits you better before deciding on the best path forward for your own success. 

Looking for more?

Check out our thoughts on the Benefits of Executive Coaching.

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