Business consulting is a big business in its own right. The consulting market in 2017 in the United States alone was worth 63.19 billion U.S. dollars. You have to wonder how much of this was spent wisely.

When it comes to your business, knowing what kind of help you need is important. The choice is often consultant vs. coach. Read on to find out which one you need.

Consultant vs. Coach

Why might you be thinking about this question?

You’re thinking about getting some help with your business. Business consultants and coaches offer to do just that, and you want to know which one you need.

Small and medium-sized businesses consider getting external help for four main reasons. These reasons reflect the life stages of a business.

1. Start-Up

You might not have a business yet. Starting a business is a challenging time for anyone, and getting a good start for your business is important, so you may want to consider finding help with this.

2. Business Growth

Once a business is in existence, there are a number of situations that may prompt you to seek help. Growing a business is not always an easy thing to do. Some external input to support business growth may be your focus.

3. Managing Change

Businesses need to be able to change in order to respond to a changing environment.

Perhaps, there is a regulatory change or increased competition. New technology may need to be implemented or perhaps you need to recruit a new team. If your business performance is dipping, you may need to turn around that performance.

Managing change is one of the key skills business leaders need, and maybe you want a little help in this area.

4. Business Closure

It’s a sad fact, but many businesses have to come to an end. What is the best way to wind up a business?

If you are closing down a business, you may need some assistance with it.

Deciding whether you need a business consultant or a coach begins with understanding your needs. That’s not always as easy as it sounds. At the least, you should know what situation has prompted your question.

You may find that your real need is different from the one you currently think it is. Understanding how business consultants and coaches work may help you think more deeply about your needs.

This is the beginning of coming to a decision about whether you need a business consultant or a coach.

A Word About Definitions

It’s important to define our terms. Business language is not always very precise. People use terms interchangeably, and this can lead to confusion.

There are various definitions for the terms consultant and coach. There may not be a right or wrong definition, just different ones.

Without defining them, a guide to whether you need a consultant or coach is useless.

This guide makes a clear distinction between a business consultant and a coach. You will understand what they are, how they work, and what knowledge, skills, and experience they bring to your challenges.

Once you have read this guide and choose to seek either a business consultant or a coach, you should not assume that all consultants and coaches use the same definitions.

Check how potential business consultants and coaches define their terms. Ask them to be specific about how they work and what they bring in regard to your challenges.

What Is a Business Consultant?

A business consultant is an expert within their field. They can be either a business generalist or a specialist. But, what does a business consultant do?

A generalist business consultant can teach you how to run your business. They understand how to analyze your business, diagnose problems, and suggest solutions. They are likely to have skills in business planning and strategy.

A specialist business consultant will have a particular area of expertise. They can bring this expertise to your aid in solving a problem or bringing about a change. This specialism may be one that you only need temporarily and can be dispensed with after the change has occurred.

Examples of specialized business consultancy are information technology, human resources, or customer service. Sometimes, a specialist may be an expert in business turnaround, downsizing, or automation.

Whether the business consultant is a generalist or specialist, they bring their business experience with them. While you may be facing a challenge with your business for the first time, the business consultant may well have faced this challenge many times before.

A business consultant advises you, and they may also do some of the work that needs to be done.

How Does a Business Consultant Work?

For a business consultant to be able to advise you and perhaps do some of the work that needs to be done, they need to understand the challenge. Situational analysis is essential. The first thing a business consultant will want to do is to complete some research.

Business consultants have several ways of doing this. This diagnostic stage can include interviews, surveys, observation, analysis of business reports, or market research.

A poor understanding of the situation will lead to poor advice and poor results. A sound understanding of the situation will be more likely to lead to good advice and better results.

After a diagnostic stage, a business consultant will, more often than not, present a proposal for action. This proposal provides you with an external perspective of your business challenges.

The proposal may simply be a set of recommendations for your consideration. 

At this stage, a decision to take the proposal forward into action can be taken or declined. The business consultant may propose that they are involved in the implementation of the recommendations.

Bear in mind that a business consultant may have expertise in the diagnostic activity but not in the specific solution. For example, a consultant may propose introducing an online distribution channel but have no capability to design branding for it.

A specialist web marketing business consultant may have to be recruited.

The Business Consultant’s Knowledge, Skills, and Experience

In order to understand your business and advise you on the way forward, a business consultant has to bring relevant knowledge, skills, and experience to the relationship.

Business consultants have usually been successful leaders, managers, or experts in business roles. Sometimes, they have developed a career in the world of consulting, where they have learned how to advise businesses.

When you are looking for advice from a consultant, you are buying their knowledge, skills, and experience.

You buy their knowledge of other businesses and how to solve business problems. You buy their skills in diagnostics, implementation, and specific technical areas. You buy their ability to fill the gaps in your experience.

There are accreditations that provide assurance that a business consultant has the relevant proficiency to offer advice. These accreditations can reassure a business owner that a consultant has the skills necessary to improve their business’s profitability and value.

An example of just such an accreditation is provided by the Association of Accredited Small Business Consultants

What Is a Coach?

A coach helps you or your team solve your own problems. They provide a framework for doing this, but the problems remain yours and so does the solution. So, what does a coach do?

The coach’s expertise is in coaching rather than in solving business problems. A coach may have business experience but may resist giving you advice about what to do. In some ways, their business experience is incidental to their coaching.

A coach may not only focus on business problems.

They may define their role more broadly and may work with you on personal and interpersonal aspects of your effectiveness. By doing this, they help build your capability to resolve your own business issues.

How Does a Coach Work?

Coaches often work with you using a coaching model. The model provides a process for personal and business improvement. An example of a coaching model is the GROW model developed by Sir John Whitmore.

Sir John Whitmore developed this coaching model with both business and sports coaches. It provides a very flexible and sophisticated framework for performance improvement, in the hands of a skilled coach.

The G of the model stands for goals.

The coach works with you to establish your goals, often easier said than done. This involves understanding what you are trying to achieve and the criteria for success.

The R stands for reality.

By asking searching questions, the coach helps you examine your current position, including the strengths and weaknesses of both you and your business.

The O stands for options.

The coach helps you brainstorm the various options you have to get from your present position to the achievement of your goals. They do this without suggesting solutions but instead challenge your thinking, offering creative thinking techniques, and encouraging you to open your mind to a wider range of possibilities.

The W stands for will.

This is about deciding what you will do and also about how you’ll develop the will to do what needs to be done. It’s as much about motivation as decision making.

Whether a coach uses this or some other model, their focus is on facilitating a process whereby you find solutions rather than bringing a business solution to you.

The Coach’s Knowledge, Skills, and Experience

Coaches know how to apply coaching models and coaching skills to help individuals and teams improve their performance. Often people are challenged more than they thought they would be.

An effective coach is skillful at questioning, listening, and facilitating. They are also able to give feedback and challenge their clients in a way that helps them raise their game.

These skills can be applied in almost any performance context. They are not dependent on knowledge of a particular business, market, or organizational role. They can also be applied in non-business situations, such as sports.

This kind of coaching should not be confused with the coaching done by sports coaches, where their role is to teach people the skills of a particular sport.

Commonly, a sports coach will instruct players in the skills of their sport. For example, they may demonstrate how to pitch a baseball or kick a soccer ball.

A coach in a business context ,and as defined here, does not demonstrate how to provide customer service or design a website. In a sports context, they would ask questions of the athlete to establish their goals and challenge them to increase their commitment.

There are accredited coaches who have received training and achieved qualifications at various levels. An example of an accrediting body is the International Coach Federation.


There are some ways in which business consultants and coaches are similar. They can both be external to a business. There are some large businesses that have internal consulting or coaching roles, but this is rare in small to medium-sized businesses.

Both can offer a constructive outside perspective. It is sometimes difficult to get this from customers or suppliers and even less so from employees or shareholders.


The key difference between business consultants and coaches is that consultants offer solutions and coaches don’t. Consultants work on the problem and coaches, in a sense, work on you, so you can work on the problem.

A consultant can help bring about a change in your business and pass on their expertise. A coach can bring about a change in you or your team and leave you better able to solve your problems in the future.

Coaching vs. Consulting

If you need knowledge and the benefit of experience, then you need a business consultant. This is especially the case if the change you are working on is a one-off change.

Working with a business consultant means having an experienced person alongside you to advise and show you what to do.

If you need to be clearer about your goals and build your own capability to solve problems, you need a coach. A coach will help you grow.

What Do You Do Now?

If you are now clear about whether you need a business consultant or a coach, go ahead and talk to a few.

Still deciding? A reputable business consultant or coach will be happy to have a short meeting about their services and your needs for free.

For performance-based business consulting, contact The Business Turnaround Group.

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