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Business Consultant or Business Coach: Which Should You Choose for Your Business?

Telling the difference between a consultant and business coach is confusing!

Telling the difference between a consultant and business coach is confusing!

Over the course of my corporate business years I used the services of business consultants many times. My clients and I have discussed the work of their consultants, from direct mail consultants to product packaging consultants. Professionals that are experts in their fields can be just what the doctor ordered when you have a particular, focused question.

In the best scenarios, the business receives an expert answer to a specific issue or question that was holding the company back. However, in the worst case scenarios, the business simply receives a ream of notes that collect dust and a large invoice.

In those latter situations, it’s often the case that what the business truly needed was a small business coach, instead of a consultant. Let me explain the differences between small business consulting and small business coaching and when to use either:

Small Business Consultants

Chances are, your business already has a roster of Business Consultants – CPAs, attorneys, and insurance representatives are good examples.

A Consultant brings expert answers to specific questions or challenges. Common questions that Consultants might handle are “How do I increase business profitability?” or “Is my corporate structure appropriate for my business?”

The job of a consultant is to bring solutions to small businesses. The communication is primarily one-way, with the consultant delivering a prescribed solution for the small business owner to implement, although the consultant may sometimes complete some or all of the work.  An example of this is the social media consultant who recommends a marketing strategy and then creates a Facebook and Twitter presence for the business.

Consultants often teach skills, allowing the business staff to implement recommendations made by the consultant. Consultants focus on improving business weaknesses over developing business strengths.

A consultant is best used when you have a specific question or challenge to which you want a directive answer. You are willing to either pay to have the solution implemented or have the time and energy to implement it yourself without varying greatly from the prescription.

Small Business Coaches

A Small Business Coach may be an expert in a field, but that expertise is used as a backdrop to how a Coach works with a small business owner. A Business Coach looks at the whole business and the owner’s goals with respect to the business, and integrates the owner’s personal goals.

Communication between a Business Coach and a small business owner is generally two-way, with the business owner doing more of the talking than the Coach. The most skilled Small Business Coaches are masters at asking questions, in drawing out the best solutions for a particular business owner. Once solutions are created, a Coach provides accountability to agreed-upon actions and changes to achieve the results they want.

Coaches generally focus more on business strengths than weaknesses, although it is every Coach’s mission to develop you, the business owner, to be the best you can be.

A Small Business Coach is best used when your questions are “big picture” in nature OR when you aren’t certain you’re focusing on the right questions to grow your business. Many clients hire a Coach because they want to follow their own path or they have a general feel that “something isn’t quite right in the business”.

There is a place for both Business Coaches and Business Consultants in your small business. To choose the right one and get the most value from your investment, start by knowing what questions you’re trying to answer.

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Helen Dutton, A Vision of Your Own, has provided business and personal coaching for small business owners since 2000, providing online and face to face coaching for entrepreneurs, small business owners, start-up businesses as well as established businesses across the country. Clients come from New Hampshire, her home state, but she has also acted as a mentor to business owners in Atlanta, Chicago, Los Angeles, the Denver area, and closer to home in the Boston area. Helen helps her clients develop their small business ideas, create marketing plans, improve operation efficiency, build customer service systems, build management and leadership skills, and develop confidence as a business owner. Helen provides business tips and resources through her blog and her newsletter, where you can also find business templates to help your business prosper.