Read This Before Hiring a Coach or Consultant

May I call it the expert business? It’s kind of like a zoo (no offense intended). There are coaches of all varieties, from business to life to style, to executive and leadership and others. And management consultants, planning consultants, strategy consultants, marketing consultants, public relations consultants, etc. And designers and programmers, project managers, event planners, graphic artists … I’ve been both seller and buyer, and I’m thinking I can help you figure out which section to go to, and which cage to rattle, by sorting through some of the species, and some of the differences.

I worry that people use these terms indiscriminately. To me, a coach teaches you to do it better, helps you, and trains you to do things better. A consultant delivers a report telling you what you’re supposed to do.

A coach watches you do it, then reviews your performance. A consultant studies, listens, concludes, and delivers the conclusions.

Can you tell I lean towards coaching? Maybe because I made a living consulting for 20 years, both on my own and as an employee of brand-name firms. And in my specialty, business planning, having it done for you doesn’t work. It’s like paying somebody to do your exercise. Coaching is more likely to work better. I’ve done strategy consulting, and that’s very similar. Strategies are to develop and implement yourself, over a long term. A coach might help, a consultant, not so likely. I’m immersed in social media, and I think that’s another example of something you so yourself, ideally, rather than have done for you; which means it’s another area for coaching more than consulting. And PR? Maybe you have somebody do the press releases, and arrange the meetings, and suggest tips and techniques, but do you believe in anything actually said by a spokesperson?

Ideally, you look for a relationship in which you are buying, and paying for, just the expertise. Pay the expert to coach you as you do it yourself. You pay for fewer hours, but you still get the benefit of somebody else’s experience and expertise. That’s the best of both worlds.

(Note: as the conceptual author of Business Plan Pro software, I’m completely biased on this point, but I’m amazed that any business plan coaching or consulting relationship doesn’t include two copies of business plan software, one for coach and one for client. That empowers the client, who has to own the plan to implement it, and focuses the consulting work on coaching, not doing. Both sides win.)

(image: REDMIRAGE/Shutterstock)


  • Tex Hooper says:

    I agree that you should do a bunch of research on your prospective life coach. I need someone who will motivate me to finish my goals. I’ll have to hire someone with good online reviews.

  • Lara Schmoisman says:

    Great post! Tim

    Being a business coach, I want to say that, if you are going to hire a business or marketing coach. Must read about his history, his client reviews, and many more which is possible.

    Keep writing such kind of great helpful articles.


  • Tex Hooper says:

    Great tip about how a coach can help you with reporting and accurate numbers. I need to get a consultant to help with my dad’s business. He wants to recoup his costs from the shutdowns.

  • Sue says:

    As an Executive/Business Coach, I think it’s better not to abdicate these important processes, but instead find a guiding, reflective coach with the business expertise to address important roles and competencies. However, I found a few years ago I wanted to bridge the gap of my knowledge and obtained my CPLP through the top training and development organization in the world, ASTD. Before this certification I was always worried I was steering my clients in a direction because I didn’t have any other knowledge. Now I feel I have a full spectrum, broad based understanding of all the aspects of business. However, I still prefer to sub-contract work out to the “expert” if it is not my strength, and stay within my preferred roles and knowledge base. Hope this makes sense. Better said, I don’t want to be all things to all people, especially in business!

  • Life Coaching says:

    Life coaching is actually a process of helping individuals reach their goals. Different people have different goals. While other people want to achieve a new lifestyle, others want to change careers. While goals vary depending on what certain people want to achieve in their lives, the main thrust of life coaching is making sure that these people achieve their goals.

  • helen maleviti says:

    from egaleo city,february 9th,2012.hi.greeting from might sleep right is 10.45 am.iam ahousewife,with husband and a son fifteen years old. my grandpa used to say when i was very young that if you gain 1000dra.chmas and you spend the 999 ones,then you do not owe to noone.if you have 1000 drachmas and you spend 1001 then you are not in a good position.i only have what is in my head.but i owe to anyone who ask for my help.i know that instead of giving a fish to someone who is hungry it is better for him to showhim how to fish and have food for the rest of his life or at least until the sea has fish left.bye.

  • Lisa Kanarek says:

    I agree that a coach is more effective than a consultant. A few months ago I hired a business coach and my business changed completely. Not only am I getting good business advice, but I have a cheerleader pushing me to move forward in the right direction. My coach seems to be more interested in helping me grow my business than a consultant would.

  • Bruce Brown says:


    Thank you for your thoughts and wisdom on this topic. I’ve found many people often want this guidance and many others need help differentiating between Counseling, Coaching, and Consulting.

    Here’s a link to a post I recently put up with a graphic representation of my take on the difference between the three – it concurs with your views, I believe.

    Bruce Brown

  • Jim Struck says:

    Tim, I am a coach and a consultant, but I consider it all (except some transfer of knowledge) to be coaching. To be able to bring out of a person the answers for themselves is wonderful work, and leads to a much more satisfying outcome given their motivation and energy to implement THEIR work. Reading this also helped me see why I love coaching so much!

    Thanks for adding clarity on this important topic!


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  • Wayne Wilson says:

    Tim, my experience and practice has been that the line between coaching and consulting is a wide band of grey, and consequently I prefer the approach of “trusted business adviser.” My objective is always to leave a client better prepared for success in their business when I leave than when I arrived. The work tends to be a mix of coaching and hands on work – digging into the details of the business to help solve problems while at the same time offering coaching and advice to the owner / management team to strengthen their skills going forward. Whatever the model, the client needs to win.

  • John says:

    Thanks for clarifying the confusing. As a business owner of 21 years, I have hired both coaches and consultants. I have derived my own opinion of a consultant “one who asked to see my watch, and then, in a round-a-bout way, tells me what time it is”! I appreciate your candor and honesty. Todays economy is transforming the model of small business and finding the right person to “coach” one to a level of success is even more challenging than before. Thanks…

  • Joy M. Johnson says:

    I agree with your assessment Tim. I often use the same examples for describing the difference between coaching and consulting. My personal preference is to teach especially when we are talking strategic plans. As you point out the plan is always a work in progress and the person executing must be fully committed to the goals and strategies or they won’t achieve the best results. That being said they also must be free to drop strategies that aren’t working and identify new ones. Success is about flexibility and belief in the path you are taking.

  • Jim Grebey says:

    Bravo! I changed my business name from Diligent Consulting to Diligent for this reason. Wish I could change the URL now!
    Jim Grebey

  • Jacqueline Wales says:

    As a coach, I love to guide people in the direction they want to go, but more importantly, helping them help themselves get past the fear and indecision is the greatest satisfaction. The greatest adventure is the unknown, and as someone wise once said, “fear is the sharp edge of excitement.”

  • Jackie Nagel says:

    Nicely said, Tim. I love how you compare consulting to having someone do your exercises for you. Now that’s a niche!

  • Audrey says:

    Whether coaching or consulting is better really depends on what you are trying to accomplish. I really like a combination of both. Sometimes coaching can only go so far when a particular expertise is needed. Often times when clients come to me, they find it difficult to articulate their new business venture. I coach them and help them envision what they desire in the long term, then bring it back to where they want to start. Collaboratively, we research. However, in the end, I deliver a final product in the form of a business plan based on the work we have done together.

    • Tim Berry says:

      Thanks Audrey, and I hope when you deliver that business plan you don’t call it “final” like you do in your comment, and that you’ve left your clients fully empowered to grab that plan and make it the first step in planning, so that they can meet once a month or so and review plan vs. actual results, consider changes in assumptions, and revise that plan. Do you leave them with the raw copy of the initial plan, and the knowledge and ownership to keep it alive and use it for ongoing management? Or is it just a document, done once, that becomes more obsolete every day? Tim

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  • Chris says:

    Amen. Sometimes I think, by coaching, I’m teaching myself out of a job. But it makes so much sense to help other people become better, when they have the aptitude. It’s about increasing overall efficiency and process simplicity, not the consultant’s/coach’s paycheck.

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