When to hire a coach and when to hire a consultant

How is coaching different from consulting?

This is a question that I am asked frequently, as I both coach and consult for startup businesses.

Consulting sounds professional – though it’s sometimes just code for “looking for my next full-time job.”

Coaching, to most, sounds soft and nebulous.

So what’s the difference and why make a distinction at all?

Problem Solving and Co-Creation

At its essence, consulting is problem solving.

You’ve got a problem and so you hire someone who specializes in solving that problem for a set period of time.

For instance, I consult with startup companies on their business operations. They need internal processes and systems to manage things like sales and marketing, payroll and benefits, or hiring.

I specialize in assessing the situation, determining the right solution for that company, and then implementing that solution.

A good consultant has a specific skill set that solves a specific problem in your business.

Coaching, on the other hand, has little to do with problem solving.

Coaching at its best is co-creation.

When I coach, I ask questions like:

  • What’s exciting about your business now?

  • What’s possible from here?

  • What would it look like to [insert future possibility]?

  • How would it feel to have your business doing [insert future reality]?

And then I ask questions like:

  • What people and resources do you need to enlist to make this happen?

  • What mindset do you need to adopt to make this happen?

  • What’s one concrete step that you can take today to make this a reality?

So coaching is not about solving problems, it’s about unlocking internal resources and potential in order to create a desired future reality.

To coach, or to consult, that is the question

So which is better, consulting or coaching?

Yes. (A lame question deserves a lame answer).

They’re different. And I highly recommend both.

How do you know when to hire a consultant and when to hire a coach?

That’s a much better question.

Here’s how I look at it:

When you have a nagging problem that you want to go away or you foresee a future problem that you don’t know how to (or care to) solve on your own, hire a consultant.

This is especially true if time is of the essence.

Consultants aren’t always cheap, but a good consultant saves you time, which is often a more precious resource than money.

For my business, I have a virtual assistant who does things like scheduling, billing, and proofreading (amongst many other things).

These are problems that:

  1. I do not like solving.
  2. Are not the best use of my time.

When you have a nagging sense that you could be getting more out of yourself, your team, and your business, then it’s time to hire a coach.

Business people often sneer at the thought of hiring a coach because it sounds like a luxury.

When you have a “problem” that needs solving, it makes “business sense” to spend money to hire a consultant and fix the problem.

Hiring a coach though to co-create the company of your dreams seems like spoiling yourself.

Here’s a corollary:

  • On the one hand, people will generally pay money for physical therapy to fix an injury.
  • On the other hand, people are often unwilling to hire a personal trainer (even just for a season) to help them get their bodies in peak physical condition.

Coaching is not for people who merely want to get by. Coaching is for people and companies that want to thrive.
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My two cents: your company’s greatest resource is its people. Invest accordingly.

What do you think?

Have you thought of coaching and consulting as distinct services? What gut reactions do you have to hiring a consultant or coach? Leave a comment.


Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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2 thoughts on “When to hire a coach and when to hire a consultant

  1. Hi Ryan–

    Thanks for the article. I really identified with the analogy of paying for an injury to be helped with PT but not hire a personal trainer to maintain stellar fitness. I know this from personal experience as I’m in that business, i.e., sports med. Long story short, I got trained in coaching, coached people for free as that was what I was told (just coach anyone) but then all the people ever did was love the coaching then when I told them the free part was over they gave me the sad eyes and never signed on. So I could never monazite it for whatever reason. I see people pay for all kinds of junk entertainment, cars, “necessities”, etc, but very reluctant to do so with coaching as they see that as a basic indulgence that’s unnecessary. How do you bridge that gap, if possible? Thanks in advance, Brian

    • Great question Brian. Getting people to spend money on investing in themselves is harder than it should be for sure.

      The biggest piece of advice that I could give is: make it a system.

      A system allows you to have a flow of leads through your sales pipeline and then process for following up with them, nurturing them, and eventually closing them.

      This way it’s not a “hit or miss” experience. You can nurture people who aren’t yet ready to sign up but will be in a few months.

      Having a website where you can show social proof – client testimonials/transformations, workout videos, etc.. is huge.

      Be sure to capture email addresses so that you can follow up with people with beneficial info, like a reminder to stretch and drink plenty of water the day after their sample session. Then healthy meal examples emailed to them a few days later, etc…

      Check out this post: http://socialtriggers.com/get-repeat-customers/

      (BTW, I started doing coaching in exchange for testimonials and referrals, which led to my first clients.)