Coaching vs. Consulting – A Case Study

We’re often just a half-step from doing something right. 

Depending on what you’re doing, talking with a professional can get you to finish that half-step and take a few more.

That kind of guidance can come through coaching or through consulting. The following example illustrates why I choose coaching.

I used to use the terms coaching and consulting interchangeably.

I was neither of them professionally, and I just did what I did and didn’t pay much attention to the details of what it was called. 

In the early years of my career, I did cross-cultural coaching as a side hustle for big corporations who sent their managers either from Switzerland to the US or the other way around. My job was to coach them on how to set themselves up for success by not committing cultural suicide (It happens more often than you think). 

I learned – very quickly – that the people I met who had just come off the boat didn’t have much reference to what I was talking about, because they hadn’t started their new positions yet. They politely nodded for 90 minutes, didn’t ask many questions, and left.

The people I coached who had already been in the US or Switzerland for several weeks, sometimes months, were a totally different ball-game. 

They had “aha” moments, brought examples of situations where they were stumped by responses, or where they realized they had done something “wrong”, but couldn’t put their finger on it. 

With these clients, the 90 minutes flew by in no time. When we were done, they were lit up, energized, ready to apply what we discussed, and had – for the most part – found a new appreciation for their bosses and co-workers.

I loved those sessions. We had two-way communication and I could guide them to discover for themselves where they had misunderstood, judged, or misinterpreted a situation. It wasn’t theory, it wasn’t a list of 10 things they hadn’t yet encountered to look out for, it was founded on real examples of situations they had lived through. I scored 10 out of 10 on every one of those sessions.

Today I understand the difference. The first set of clients I consulted with, the second set I coached. 

So, when I coached my video client Erica Keberle and her side-kick Jessica I knew this was going to be fun because they had already done video. Erica is a realtor in Brooklyn and her hobby is buying old, dilapidated houses in the Catskills and gut-renovating them for a new owner. 

Erica had started a YouTube Series called Flippn’ Skills. Her video production person, Jessica, was right out of school, didn’t know that much about filming and editing, AND was a super quick study. 

I sat with them for 90 minutes on a video conference. I had urged them to have a list of questions and they did! All I did was talk to them about the videos they had done and how they could be improved. We talked about equipment and about editing techniques. We talked about social media strategy and I answered all the questions they had on their list. This was a year ago.  

They are now on Episode 13 and the episodes are super cool, informative and fun.

Why the quick success? Erica and Jessica had already done about five videos and knew what was involved and what worked and what didn’t. 

They asked specific questions and most importantly I had videos to look at and critique. I wasn’t on a fishing expedition and talking about “theory” aka consulting. I was able to coach with real-life examples. It made all the difference.

In the end, there’s a fine line between coaching and consulting.

By definition, a consultant is an expert who is called on for professional or technical advice or opinions. In pure coaching, the answers come from the client (those aha-moments).

How have you coached and consulted within your own career? Do you see a difference between the two for yourself? Leave a comment below!