Are you a coach or a consultant – does your business hire coaches or consultants?

The answers to the question above seems to spark a bit of passion in entrepreneurial circles depending upon the definition one uses of each.

To me a coach is charged with holding a client accountable to stated actions, goals and courses while a consultant is more likely to feel empowered to set the course of action. In my mind there probably is no pure definition because a marketing coach or a marketing consultant, for instance, doing the best they can for a customer, will likely fall into a hybrid service to get the ball moving forward in any way possible.

Whatever you call it, there is no doubt that having a trusted adviser, one that calls BS when it needs calling, is one of the most valuable assets an entrepreneur can obtain.

While I am on the subject this might be a good place to invite you to join my live Discovery call and learn about the opportunity to become a Duct Tape Marketing coach. The call is today (4/30) at 2pm CDT Enroll here to join me

So, what’s your definition of coach of a consultant – or do we do a disservice to both trying to label and define the practice?

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John Jantsch

John Jantsch is a marketing consultant, speaker and author of Duct Tape Marketing, Duct Tape Selling, The Commitment Engine and The Referral Engine and the founder of the Duct Tape Marketing Consultant Network.
  • I agree with the hybrid happening, as I cross between coaching and consultative too often (preferring the coaching).

    Difference in my view is this: As a coach, I’ll teach you how to fish (the mindset, habits, metrics, follow-thru) and then – from a distance – make sure you’re catching plenty. As a consultant, together we decide how much fish you want and when – then I go put the team together to do the fishing for you.

  • William Bingham

    Consulting (err conslutting) has had a negative connotation ever since office space showed it for what it was, a group hired to tell a company the decision it just made is nonfatal (or was it), political scapegoats in middle management.

    Coaching is a somewhat better rebranding. But I can’t help but feel whipped by an idea that someone is going to tell me to do laps if I don’t perform.

    Whatever happened to Mentoring? Or does that imply free service?

  • I like a coach who tells me like it is; not one that tries to get me to ‘find myself’. I’ve worked with both. For business, I need that bandaid ripped off. I don’t take hints well. Maybe a little encouragement ointment put on the wound tho.

    I think ‘conslutting’ is a congenital typo (Freudian slip?) as it is one of the most common found in proofreading.

  • John Jantsch

    Judy – I once did some work for a non-profit and minutes before the annual report went to press I found that someone had written – we provide these funds for undeserved families instead of underserved

  • Ted

    I see a coach as having a vested interest and/or more sincere enjoyment in a client’s success. Consulting conveys a clinical advisement rather than a true instance. For example, while I am available for consultation, coaching is part of my everyday activities with my web site design business clients to ensure their on going success.

  • I feel the word “coach” is so ubiquitous that it has lost any meaning. “Consultant” similarly so. I think we need to come up with a better way to describe supporting business owners with their accountability. How the people deliver the service (butt kicking with steeled toe boots of love or soothingly telling us how to be better) is separate from the job title and definition.

    For a new title – how about “Accountability Guide”? Or is that still too fluffy?

  • Jessica, that is a good point. The new name needs to reflect the teaching that a good guide does…I think of recent conversations John had with Brian Clark. The coach or the consultant is not the ‘good fairy’ waving a wand over a business to make things work, but a stimulator and ‘leader’ with a different view than from under the checkbook. He or she has information and common knowledge about resources for my field that I want. And, is, as you note, incredibly supportive. It is a special person who can become engaged in a client’s business to the truly supportive level.

    So, now, who does have a new buzz word for these guardian angels?

  • I agree with Mike. I think the coach helps you identify what it is you want to accomplish and then assists you in staying accountable or charting your own course. So in short a coach is a teacher, where a consultant is a helper… I hope that was as clear in writing as it was in my head!


  • I have started using the term “Navigator” to replace “coach” or “consultant”.

    A navigator is one who provides direction and affirmation and aids the one driving in finding the best way to the intended destination. A good navigator is invaluable in relieving stress and anxiety while providing the assurance that they know the best way to get where you need to go. They have the driver or captain’s best interests in mind. I think there are very nice business parallels.

    See wikipedia’s definition:

  • Coaching and consulting as activities are very different – I think Mike’s definition above is pretty good.

    Where I think it get challenging is that most business coaches are going to do some consulting and a good consultant ought to be doing some coaching (or their work is going to go onto the shelf!).

    I definitely agree that both words are used too broadly these days!

  • Coach – someone whose primary aim is to aid in your betterment (whether individually or a team)
    Consultant – someone who has expertise in a subject matter and shares that for a fee
    In my experience, coaches operate beside you – consultants out in front
    I prefer coaches – they are more vested in your success and hold you accountable. We sometime call ours Accountability Experts…

  • I think a coach is like a personal trainer…pushing you into action until you feel the burn and reach your goals. A consultant will outline what you need to do and you decide if you will do it or if you want to pay the consultant more money to put a team into action to make the plans happen. Many probably use the words interchangeably depending on which term they prefer.

  • Been involved with below the line marketing since 1997, servicing predominantly small to medium sized businesses. Have directly dealt with 1000’s of business people, mainly helping them plan and implement simple campaigns and unique projects like show stands, etc.

    The amount of prodding and steering required to keep these people on track has never ceased to amaze me. Still seeing the same pattern today, where one has to beg people for content and signing off of artwork for their websites.

    So the consultant inevitably ends up being a bit of a coach, most of the time, in my experience….

  • John, thank you for starting all of these stimulating conversations. I have used Mr. Marketing Integrity’s idea when developing some copy today, using the navigator thought.

  • As a corporate trainer, I walk the line between coach and consultant in just about every meeting and Webinar.

    Coaching is probably easier from a presentational perspective because it requires less “authority” or “credibility” other than knowing your internal product or services in a way that you can effectively present them to an outsider.

    Consulting, on the other hand, requires a higher level of trust and integration with your client. Anyone can be a “consultant,” but without credibility, your consulting becomes nothing more than “just another opinion.”

  • Interesting idea, distinguishing between coach and consultant. The best consultants have to be coaches as well. Average consultants are… well, just consultants.

  • As co-owner of a practice development firm for accountants and CPAs, I spend the majority of my time consulting with small business owners who want to learn how to transition their accounitng practice from a job into a successful and profitable business. The real joy comes when that relationship reaches the next level and some of them engage me as their personal coach. This is a much more intimate relationship built on trust.

  • Coach or consultant – I’d advise you to look for someone who does both for you if you want to find the solutions you need for you current challenges, the process that can help you find your own solutions in the future and the ability to help coach others on your team.

  • I always relate to my basketball days. My coach worked with me everyday. He gave me drills to run and measured the results. He was able to adjust workouts based on my personal needs. At one point he brought in a basketball consultant, that spoke to us about drive, determination and dedication to the game. I came away knowing all of the cliches for the sport but nothing that could really help me grow.

  • John, I do both as you describe. Some require more of one than another and this can shift during the relationship. I’m a chameleon within the parameters of my services. But more importantly, it’s based upon the goals the client sets out when hiring me.

    And this can only succeed with a confidential and trusting relationship.

  • I think, in terms of strictly defining either, that a consultant acts more as an advisor exposing the client to the myriad options and possibilities, while a coach takes a more assertive role, leading the horse water AND making it drink… Having said that though, I do believe that a consultant with any integrity, not to mention a healthy respect for his own good name, will take a more agressive stance with a client that refuses to take good advice.

  • To me a consultant implies expert knowledge in a specific field. A coach deals more with the “soft issues” – motivation, direction, leadership etc.
    A good consultant needs to incorporate some coaching in his/her armoury to be able to keep the ship on an even keel and heading in the right direction.

  • Fuzzy

    Having worked as a consultant during the dotcom days, I have fond memories of the word “consultant” but not “coach.” I agree with Dianne. To me, a consultant is someone who has real skills and expertise in specific subjects. When I think of a coach, I tend to think more of philosophical stuff.
    Definitions aside, the best part of working as a consultant is working for myself. However, I would be lost without Nolo’s Working for Yourself
    Law & Taxes for Independent Contractors, Freelancers & Consultants. I was clueless on how to take care of the legal aspects of working for myself until I got this book.

  • I agree with Dianne to a large degree; what she writes is looking at the subject from the senior consultant point of view. But the fact remains that pure coaching is growing. People are taking on so many new roles in this dynamic economic environment that they are needing to work on themselves to enhance their success. It is the top athletes and actors, not the beginners, that seek our coaching. I’ve been ruminating lately on a quote I came across from Sir Edmund Hilary who was the first Westerner to climb Mount Everest: You don’t conquer the mountain, you conquer yourself. Back to Dianne’s point, I think the best coaches have subject matter expertise along with substantial coaching skill.