Do You Need a Coach or an Advisor?
Tom Stimson
December 30, 2022
A successful business owner stands smiling with his arms crossed in front of his leadership team.

A lot of people who come to me have never hired a consultant. If they’ve worked with a coach, it was often some sort of generic or programmatic business coaching where they spent a lot of time explaining how their business works rather than learning how to run that business.

By the time they get to me, they’re not really sure what they want or what they need. But they know they need something.

We start by talking about where the rough edges of their business are or where the problem might be. This helps me determine whether I’m dealing with an individual who needs to know what to do and in what order, or someone who needs to know how to do it and how to do it faster.

In other words, does the client need a coach or an advisor?

The Coach

Coaching helps clients determine what they need to do. It lights a path, a next sequence of events, depending on what’s prominent in the client’s current situation.

Coaching helps answer the question, what do you need to be working on?

If you don’t have a strategy, for example, that’s probably why you’re having a problem. So we work on strategy. Or, if your processes aren’t clear, we work on processes. Coaching is all about what a client needs to be working on next to solve the problem at hand.

The Advisor

Advising, on the other hand, is really about how to do things. Some owners who come to me already have a pretty good idea about what to do next, but they’re not clear on how to do it.

They want to know how to take those next steps the right way, and how to avoid pitfalls. They know enough about what they’re trying to do to make room for somebody who’s done it before. The problem is, they may not have anyone on their team with the right experience, or their team may disagree about how to carry out the task.

That’s where an advisor comes in. They find out what the client is trying to do — something like, “make our processes more painless” — and introduces some best practices to make it happen.

Explaining the how is the role of the advisor.

Infographic: ISL - 1/2/23

Coach, Advisor, or Both?

Coaching and advising are not mutually exclusive.

You can start with a coaching need and get very clear on where it is you’re trying to go and what you’re trying to accomplish. Once the goals and next steps become clear, though, you want to move a bit faster.

This is where an advisor helps you bring in best practices and implement them. It’s how you get to your goal more quickly with fewer mistakes.

But it can work the other way, too. I’ve worked with clients who came to me with advisory goals about how to do things, but then they reached a point where they needed to move back into coaching because they’d reached a new plateau.

Even clients who’ve moved along in the process eventually reach an unfamiliar pinnacle. At that point, they need to know what to do next before getting caught up in the how, and coaching is the strategic answer. After they get crystal clear on next steps and start to get a handle on coaching assignments, I’ll move back into the advisory role on best practices.

A lot of clients move back and forth between the two. Many times, then, the question is, “Where to start?”

Do You Start With Coaching or Advising?

A lot of people approach me with how questions. They want to know what the best practice is for their situation. Often, though, they’re not prepared to execute the how because they’ve left too much of the what unanswered.

In an ideal situation, I’ll have the opportunity to develop background information and study the business in such a way that I can help the client understand where they are now, what their goals are, and what path they need to take to reach those goals. This is called roadmapping.

We work together to build a roadmap that gets the client to where they want to be in the most efficient manner. This is very much coaching — it’s what to do and in what order to do it.

We enter advisory conditions when we need to talk about how to do something or how to do it faster. This can include things like how to reduce internal resistance, or how to take advantage of assets, talents, and skills. It’s when the creative job of the consultant kicks in.

In an advisor role I might say, “In your situation, given what you have to work with, we could do [this].” Together, we find ways to apply best practices that weren’t available before because the client hadn’t yet decided what they were trying to accomplish.

Even though coaching and advising are both very real needs, most people think they just need help on the how. They want an advisor to share best practices for putting a process into place.

The trouble is that the most important step is making sure you have the right what that’s going to help you accomplish your goals. That’s where coaching and a roadmap come in. Then we can determine the best practices for your situation.

Get Started

The question you can ask yourself to get the ball rolling is, “Where does it hurt?” On the days when you, as a business owner, are in pain for your business and for yourself, what’s going on?

We’ve all been there. And we all want the pain to stop — and to avoid more pain in the future.

After answering that question, you’re ready to take a step toward realizing that goal. Schedule a call, and let’s talk about whether you need some coaching or advisory help.

About Tom Stimson
Tom Stimson MBA, CTS is an authority on business and strategy for small- to medium-sized companies. He is an expert on project-based selling and a thought leader for innovative business processes.
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