Have you ever been wondering what's the difference between consulting and business coaching services? The terms coaching and consulting are often used interchangeably, and I admit to have been doing this for a short while. However, as I started to reassess and restructure my services, I felt a need to find out what's the difference, if any.
As I was researching the difference between these service types, it became clear to me that they aren't as interchangeable as I had previously thought. Consulting and business coaching are distinct services, which fulfil different needs. Consulting and coaching can also complement each other. They are often, but not necessarily, are related. They have similarities which cannot be denied. This doesn't mean they are exactly the same thing.
The consulting and coaching services vary depending on who you ask. To become a business coach or a consultant, you aren't required to have any sort of a formal education. For coaches, there are lots of distinct certificates available. Those certificates often lean towards life coaching, and aren't exactly suitable for business needs. Unless the coach has business related education or experience, those certificates don't appear to give much foundation for business coaching, and especially for consulting.
Business coaching differs from life coaching quite a lot. It has emphasis on business expertise, thus certain business related education and/or expertise is required. Business coaches are often former or current consultants, and people who have been doing more concrete work in their field. A coach can also be educated to the field without having actual experience. The nature of business coaching is abstract and relies on conversations and information. This is why experience or, for example, technical skills are not as important as with consultation.
A business coach can focus on a specific speciality. Those specialities can include such topics as marketing, branding, business relationships, communications and message, entrepreneurship, launching, product ideas and leadership. Career coaching could also be seen as business coaching speciality, though it's also close to life coaching. The different specialities require various amounts of knowledge and skill. Coaching has an abstract nature, thus "hard" skills are not usually required.
Business coaching is often directed at business management, though a company could get a coach to give a presentation to the employees. In the more specialised coaching the emphasis appears commonly to be with the entrepreneurs and business management.
In coaching, the business owner is given attention, sparring and support. Business coaching leans into listening and asking the right questions, rather than giving concrete solutions. The purpose of business coaching is to help the coached person to find answers and solutions. It may include suggestions, but the idea is not to hand out strict answers and tools. Coaching is more about training and aid. A coach can give technical or other substantial support, but it works best if the coach can direct the coached person to come up with solutions herself. The idea of coaching is to provide you with suggestions and guidance.
While consulting can include coaching type of sparring and support, it's usually more actionable than coaching. The consulting client is given either definite solutions or (preferably real world) examples of how the similar issues are solved. Coaching type services can be given to assist the solutions. In consulting, coaching works as a supporting method which purpose is to emphasise the results of the consulting.
As a business coach, a consultant can have several different specialities. The specialities are often more concrete than in coaching services, such as consulting with Facebook advertisement or giving technical tips on how to improve your website. Consulting can also be highly hands-on, as in setting up the advertisement or making the fixes to the website.
Consultants are usually people with expertise, and preferably formal education, in their field. A entrepreneurship consultant has some sort of experience in being an entrepreneur. A marketing consultant has been working with marketing, either for herself or for clients. A web consultant is experienced as a web designer and a developer. This isn't a requirement, but generally a consultant is expected to have concrete skills. Education in the chosen field isn't mandatory, but it's recommended.
Consulting is result oriented, and generally more specific than coaching. It aims for a clear, and possible tangible outcome. The outcome can be something like coming up with a step-by-step plan for marketing, creating more traffic for a website, or setting up a social media profile.
Consulting may have a technical or design orientation. In this case it can be very similar to services provided by designers and developers. The distinction is that consultants offer usually more specific and narrow solutions. Where a web designer and developer might design and build you a website from scratch, a consultant would rather offer help with fixing things on that site or tweaking the settings.
Educational and informational consulting is close to coaching, though it is also more oriented in giving clear answers or tips around the subject matter. Coaching is supportive and abstract, consultation concentrates on creating clear results.
The line between consulting and business coaching isn't always straightforward. Generally speaking, consulting is more about giving straightforward answers or help, whereas coaching concentrates on supporting and boosting. Consulting can also have coaching elements and, in some cases, coaching might include consulting elements.
Some people are more suited as coaches than consultants, and the other way around. Many are good at both and can offer both kinds of services. The latter types can also add coaching elements to consulting and consulting elements to coaching. I have came to conclusion that a clear distinction is helpful for the service provider and the clients.
As an example, I have noticed I'm good at asking relevant questions and pushing people towards their own solutions and decisions. I also have very concrete experience and knowledge in my field of marketing, web and social media. This means I can work as a consultant and a coach. Previously I didn't make much distinction between these two, and offered the both services as one. I have now separated my consulting and coaching services, to make my services more specified.
In analogy world, in consulting you may be given the fish or taught to fish. In coaching you may be taught to fish, but more likely you are taught to learn to fish yourself.
This doesn't mean one is better than another. It really depends on your business, its current situation and needs, and the problems you are facing. In some cases you need more concrete and hands-on help, in which case you ought to seek for consulting. If you are looking for help with your Google advertisement or you don't know how to change the background colour of your website, look for consultant who is specialised in those matters. A consultant can point out the weaknesses and strengths in your business and give tips on how to work them out, or give hand-on help with them. This depends on the kind of a consultant you work with, and on what kind of business needs and issues you have.
Other times, you have trouble with things like your focus, making business choices, or need someone to spar you, listen and bounce back and forth ideas with you. In a case like this, I recommend to look for a business coach. In every business, at some point, there's time when you just need to talk about your ideas, get support or boost. That's where coaching can help.
The times when you are unsure about which you need, a coach or a consultant, I recommend looking for a coach who offers a one or two time coaching session. Then use that coaching session to figure out if you need consultation or longer coaching. A good business coach can lead you towards the further services you need, whether she provides those services or not. Consultation tends to assume you have specific business needs, questions or problems, thus it will not be as suitable for this sort of abstract idea bouncing.
Obviously you can ask if the business coach or consultant offers a short call or other kind of communication for free, for determining the fit. Just note, the coaches and consultants need to pay their bills too. So if they don't offer freebies, don't be upset.
Business coaching and consultation, while distinct services, are often complementary to each other. You can get support from coaching to the consultation you are receiving and vice versa. There can be times when you benefit more of consulting, and others when business coaching is more relevant for you. Which you need, depends on the type of problems you are facing with your business at the moment.
For those who can't decide whether to offer coaching or consulting services, I recommend experimenting with both. Either way you go, get the appropriate education and experience, or other ways establish yourself as an expert in your field.
Do you offer business coaching or consulting services? Or have you worked with a business coach or a consultant? Tell about your experiences in the comments below this article.
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I'm Mervi Emilia Eskelinen, an artist and online presence strategist from Finland. I coach and consult indie businesses and bloggers to find focus with their branding, marketing and web. I have almost 20 years of experience, a bachelor's degree and some fun certifications in everything about digital media and marketing.