Coaching vs. Consulting: Overview, Differences and Similarities

By Indeed Editorial Team

June 10, 2021

Coaching and consulting are two related services that differ in significant ways. While coaching usually targets an individual looking to become a better version of themselves, consulting provides businesses with expertise that they currently lack. Knowing the definitions of coaching and consulting can help you decide which one best meets your needs. In this article, we discuss coaching versus consulting, including the differences and similarities of both careers.

What is coaching?

Coaching is a self-development tool in which an experienced person, or coach, helps a client or group of people achieve a specific personal or professional goal. Coaches help their clients identify personal challenges and become aware of their environments so that they can make the changes that they seek. Coaching aims to provide direction and help people become the best at a particular activity. Coaches help clients achieve objectives by making them accountable for their actions, improving goal setting and providing encouragement.

Professionals may hire coaches to improve time management skills, self-esteem, public speaking, leadership abilities or confidence. Coaching does not require the coach to be an expert in the client's profession. The most important thing is that the coach has the expertise to work with the client's personality and collaborate with them on their goals.

Related: Your Guide To a Career in Executive Coaching

What is consulting?

Consulting involves providing expertise to help a business or organization achieve specific objectives. Consultants typically work with organizations, although their work may require collaboration with a company's employees. Unlike a coach, the consultant is a subject matter specialist in a specific area of the client's profession. They help clients identify and assess business problems, then provide solutions. A consultant may provide advice or training, or they may act as a facilitator. Consultants can work with businesses on both short-term and long-term projects.

Related: Learn About Being a Consultant

Differences between coaching vs. consulting

Here are some differences between coaching and consulting:

Contact person

Coaching typically involves the coach working personally with one client. A coach can work with multiple individuals in an organization, but it is usually on a one-on-one basis. Consulting often involves working with several people within a team, department or company.

Modes of operation

Coaching requires developing the client's abilities to solve a problem themselves using a wide range of tools, such as goal setting and accountability. However, consulting involves helping the client solve their problems. This can be in the form of training or other collaborative exercises.

Focus

The focus of coaching is to identify and enhance the client's inner abilities, which the client can then broadly apply to many areas of their professional life. Consultants typically focus on a specific problem that needs immediate attention. This may mean that a consultant's efforts are more data-driven and may have results that are easier to quantify.

Types of expertise

Coaches typically provide relationship expertise, as they often work with the client to develop soft skills like communication and organization. In contrast, consulting often requires the consultant to provide technical expertise relevant to the client's industry. Consultants may have an advanced degree or certification in this area.

Types of change

Coaching is often the preferred tool when a client needs support with behavioral changes, such as improving their time management. Consultancy typically does not focus on behavioral change and instead looks at more industry specific or technical topics. Because of these differences, a coach often highly customizes their approach to each client, while a consultant may be able to apply certain solutions in various environments or scenarios.

Duration

Coaching often lasts until the client achieves their goals. While a coach may implement a timeline at the start of the partnership, the coach and the client may adjust this timeline as they learn the speed at which the client tends to overcome challenges. If the client enjoys working with the coach, they may work with that same coach to master other topics, continuing the contract. Conversely, projects that involve consultants usually have more distinct start and end dates.

Commitment

Coaching requires a strong commitment from the client in order for it to be successful. The coach only provides guidance and measures the client's progress: the client implements the strategies needed to achieve results. In consulting, the consultant does most of the work and implements strategies for solving the client's problems. The client's role is to support the consultant to achieve the desired results.

Related: What Is a Consultant?

Similarities between coaching vs. consulting

The major similarity between coaching and consulting is that both help people solve specific problems. While the two roles are different, they often use similar methods to achieve results. For example, both consultants and coaches rely on asking questions to gain an in-depth understanding of the client's issues. Doing this allows them to identify and analyze the client's problems and create strategies that will provide lasting solutions.

Consulting and coaching also aim to achieve the same result, even though coaches mostly work with individuals while consultants work with businesses or groups of people. Both roles are invested in their clients' success, and successful consultants and coaches work as both advocates and partners for their clients, offering support and expertise in any way they can.

Related: What Is Management Consulting?

Should you choose a consultant or coach?

There are several instances when a coach or consultant can make a difference in the life of a professional or a business, but it's helpful to gauge which choice is more appropriate for your situation. If the change you want is at an individual level, you will likely benefit from the services of a coach. Company-wide changes may require a consultant's expertise. Consultants are also suitable for one-time problems, while longer-term problems relating to a specific person or style of management might require coaching.

You may also wish to consider the amount of influence you want to have while the expert you work with helps implement your changes. Working with a consultant often requires giving someone else control over a project, while a coach operates differently since they usually work on a one-on-one basis. If you are ready to do the work required to achieve the desired changes, then coaching may be a good option. However, if you want an expert to complete the work and deliver results, a consultant may be the right choice.

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