Advisor, Consultant, Coach: What’s the Difference?


Advisor, consultant, coach – you can find various professionals touting these titles. But is there a standard definition or concept that highlights the difference amongst them? The reality is that each title can mean different things to different people. If you’re looking for any of these services, be sure to verify that what you want is what is being offered.

Now let’s talk definitions. What I’m about to say here is by no means the law of the land but, rather, my perspective on these roles and how I identify myself. All three roles imply some level of experience and expertise. Consultants typically provide expertise for a specific task or role. They are hands on at analyzing and providing solution options for a problem and executing the chosen solution, if desired. Coaches typically provide guidance and motivation to someone as they analyze, identify a solution and execute. Coaches try to help bring out the best from within someone to help meet their goals (whether personal or professional).

I refer to myself as an advisor. In that role, I function as a consultant and a coach switching between these roles as necessary to best support my clients. As an advisor, clients bestow a great deal of trust in me, and I strive to offer my clients the gift of T.I.M.E.:





In order to effectively do this, it is critical that I know how to consult and coach. It is this hybrid consultant-coach role that I associate with being an advisor.

I think I developed this concept while matriculating my PhD program. I had an advisor (as all PhD students typically do) for my dissertation work. My advisor helped me identify a viable research topic and work through technical aspects all along the way (consultant). He also encouraged me to keep going when I hit a technical brick wall or just generally felt like there was no way I was ever going to get through my research (coach). I guess I should also give my parents kudos for also serving as coaches during that time. I know I called my mom on several occasions to tell her I was just going to leave with my Master’s degree and get on with life…I thank her for talking me through it and ‘coaching’ me back.

When working with a small business client, I may perform a formal business analysis which falls more into the consultant role. I may also help identify their business and personal goals, how they connect, and what’s holding them back from reaching them which falls more into the coaching role. I help clients identify problems, solutions, goals, and fears. And through it all, my motivation is to help them be the best they can be for themselves and others they support and serve.

When seeking out someone to support you in your business or personal life, make sure you understand what is being offered. Someone else may call themselves a consultant and actually offer services that I refer to here as coaching or vice versa. Understand your needs and ensure that whatever professional you choose to work with will give you what you need to succeed.

I’d love to hear your feedback. What do you think distinguishes consultants, coaches, and advisors? Leave a comment to let me know your thoughts.


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