When I started in the online business world, there were a lot of terms thrown around and I had no idea what they meant. What exactly is a “coach”? What’s a consultant? What about a strategist or a service provider?

Not only are there so many of these terms, but many are at times used incorrectly, only adding to the confusion. 

First, let’s start out by defining these terms.

What’s a Strategist?

From the highest level, there is a strategist. A strategist is going to help you get clarity on the plan for your business. Often they help you figure out exactly what your next steps are. A strategist is always looking for an actionable plan and something that is customized to your particular business.

They help you find three key elements; clarity, purpose, and direction. A strategist is ultimately going to point you in the right direction.

In my business, I’m a strategist first because the first thing I do is sit down with my clients to make sure that we get clear on what direction they need to move into next. As a brand strategist, I’m specifically looking at their branding through that lens.

I’m looking at how we can differentiate you from the rest and how we can do it better. What direction do we want to move in? We’ll then look further into brand strategies from there.

What’s a Consultant or Service Provider?

A consultant is someone who’s going to take something very specific off of your plate. They are usually an expert in their particular area and they understand that topic better than anyone.

A consultant is a subject matter expert. They’re the person who understands a very specific area and how it functions. Often, this is where the service provider will fit in.

A service provider is someone who implements the subject matter. For example, let’s say you’re not sure how to market your business. You know from the strategist that the next step involves you marketing your business aggressively.

Let’s say you decide you’re going to do that using Facebook Ads. A consultant would tell you, “okay, this is how I’d run the Facebook ads. You’ll need both graphics and copy. Here’s how I’d target things based on the strategy that you’ve brought to me.” This would be the consultant’s approach.

They know Facebook ads backward and forwards and in some cases,  might also implement them. That’s where the service provider piece comes in.

The service provider would be running the Facebook ads for you, coming up with the graphics and copy, and figuring out the targeting.

They take care of this so that the business owner never has to look at their Facebook ads. A good service provider will check in with the business owner and review the results with them periodically, to keep the business owner in the know, but that doesn’t mean that the business owner is interacting with their Facebook ads on a day-to-day basis.

What’s a Coach?

Finally, we have coaching. Now, the term coach gets thrown around so often nowadays that their services could involve any number of things.

They generally help a business owner figure out what their ultimate goals are. They try to help you get to where you want to go, but do it in a very different way than a strategist.

A strategist will get you clarity and will tell you where they think you need to go next, including action steps. A strategist and a consultant will both give you concrete action steps.

On the other hand, a coach is going to help guide you by asking you leading questions, but won’t give you the answers.

Coaching is something that’s a real gray area out there, where many people label themselves inaccurately. This ends up becoming a huge issue within the online space, because you may not know who you’re hiring.

A coach is truly supposed to be someone who’s experienced in supporting their clients in getting to a very specific, personal, or professional goal. That’s all done through different training and methods of guidance.

A coach is someone that’s going to help you maximize your potential, making it a more touchy, feely relationship. It’s much more based on your feelings and mindset.

Coaches are fantastic if you need help figuring out how to get to the next level, towards a specific goal, in which your personal behavior and mindset are holding you back. That is when you want to be hiring a coach.

Coaches will typically work with you on a one-to-one basis, or in a group program. This is usually in the form of a course, where the main goal is to help you break through whatever ceiling you’re up against at the time, which may or may not always be specific to your business.

It tends to be more personal because it’s built around mindset and behavior. What gets confusing with business coaches is when you say, ” I’ll hire a business coach to help me with my whole business”, but they’re not there to support your entire business.

They’re there to help you run your business better. You are the key part of the equation.

You could also hire business strategists, who’re going to look at your business as a whole. They’re going to look at what clarity they can provide regarding your business and what action steps you need to take to move your business forward. 

What Should I Call Myself?

It’s important to know what to call yourself.

If you’re someone that’s helping your clients find clarity and vision, if you’re giving them action steps to really figure out what their next direction needs to be, you’re a strategist. That’s very different from a coach.

As a strategist, you’re someone that’s going to come in and detangle all of these thoughts and ideas. You’re going to tell someone where the opportunities are and how to make the most of them. That is what a strategist does.

If you’re a coach, you’re helping somebody make it to that next goal.

As a coach, you’re going to use different methods to address mindset and behavior. You’re going to help the person tweak those things often in a way that’s focused more on personal development in order to get to that goal, which often is a personal goal.

It could be related to business, but often it’s a personal goal.

If you’re a consultant, you’re someone who is an expert in what you do. Your main service involves figuring out how to best implement and perform a specific task.

You’re someone that’s going to provide your client with expert advice. You’re going to make recommendations, along with a bit of education, around a specific topic that may require implementation.

What you call yourself is critical because just with that one word, you’re communicating what you can do for your client. Saying that I’m a business strategist versus a business consultant versus a business coach, all mean very different things. In only two words, I’m communicating very different ideas.

Who Do I Need To Hire?

Next, it’s important that we understand this for use in the hiring process.

If you’re in a position where you have no idea what your next goal should be, hiring a coach is not going to be the solution.

They’re meant to help you reach a goal, not necessarily to figure out what is that next great goal for you to set for yourself. That’s where a strategist comes in.

If you really need help implementing your marketing, hiring a coach is also not a good idea. A coach is not going to help you by going into your Facebook ad account to design graphics, copy, and targeting. Hiring a marketing coach is not the same as hiring a marketing consultant.

It’s extremely important that you figure out who it is that you’re hiring and what problem you’re trying to solve. 

There have been a lot of times where I have hired coaches when I really should have hired a strategist. In fact, most people will skip hiring the strategist completely and will move directly on to a coach.

It’s basically like throwing darts with a blindfold on where you have no idea what you’re aiming at.

Picture a coach sitting there and telling you, “okay, here’s the angle that you want to hold your arm and this is how tightly you should grip the dart. When you throw, really follow through with that wrist.”

That’s all great advice, but if you don’t know what you’re aiming for, and you’re blindfolded, you can’t even really see the direction to focus on. The coach is telling you to “use your feeling”, but this is not Star Wars and there’s no force guiding us. We need to know what we’re aiming at.

It’s really important that you understand the differences.  

There’s Overlap

Now it’s important here to mention that you can have overlap. In my own business, I’m both a strategist and a consultant.

I’m a service provider, so I provide the strategy, the next forward-looking steps, help people get the clarity that they need, and guide the implementation process. I have a deep, deep knowledge when it comes to branding and websites.

I’ll go off and actually create a website for my client, not just simply telling my client that a website is what they’ll need. I’ll tell my client your next step is a website if that’s truly the case and that’s where that strategy aspect comes in.

I then put on my service provider or consultant cap, and I go off and I implement that in my action brand. They’re two very different services. With one I’m putting on my strategist hat, the second one I’m putting on my consultant hat. So there’s a degree of overlap, which often happens with these different businesses.

What’s your dominent title?

It’s important to understand where you mainly fall and realize how that affects everything else that you do in your business. To recap, strategists, consultants and coaches are all very, very different. It’s important for a number of reasons to understand the differences between these three roles.

There can be some overlap, but most usually fall into one of these areas more strongly than the other so it’s important in how you communicate to your clients and how you brand yourself.

It’s also important when it comes time for you to hire other people, to help you and it’s also important when you’re looking to grow and expand your own business, to make sure that you’re hiring the right person.

If you don’t have a strategy in place, you should not be hiring a consultant or a coach. You should be getting really clear on that strategy. If you have a strategy and you’re struggling with getting to that next step, but you know what the next step is, then that’s usually when you want to hire a coach.

Do you need help figuring out what to call yourself? I have a quiz that can help!


About the Author Jennifer Anastasi

I’m Jennifer Anastasi, an Engineer turned Brand Strategist. I empower other service-based businesses to find that clear brand and online presence using my background in tech mixed with creativity (I'm a lifelong creative after all). Unlike courses or group programs, I focus on each business as a unique entity and break down complex and intimidating concepts into easy-to-understand ideas for custom results.

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