Coach, Consultant or Strategist: What’s the Difference and Why it Matters

You’d like to get some outside marketing help for your small business, but you’re confused about whether you need a coach, consultant, or strategist. This article will explain the difference and why it matters.

What’s Your Boggle?

The first step to determine who can help is to define what the problem is. Are you stuck for ideas in your overall marketing strategy? Is your social media a mess? Does your target audience even know who you are? Let’s sort it out.


Define the Stage

All small businesses have bottlenecks but not all small businesses are in the same stage when they happen. Different issues arise depending on whether you are in the startup, growth, or scaling stage. Determine what stage you are in in your business, but don’t stop there. The sales funnel stage matters, too. When a new client comes to me, they often tell me that their marketing “isn’t working”. Here’s how the dialogue generally proceeds: Client: “My marketing isn’t working.” Me: “What do you mean by ‘isn’t working?” Client: “It’s not converting.” Me: “Not converting in what way?” Client: “Well…I hired a social media manager and I’m not getting any conversions. I feel like I’m wasting money on Facebook ads.” Me: “Are your Facebook ads part of an awareness campaign or a sales campaign.” Client: …” a sales campaign, maybe?? All I know is I’m spending money on advertising but not making any revenue from it.” In this example, the Facebook ads could be focused on awareness: getting people to visit your website or visit your group page, acquisition: promoting a free download, or sales: asking the audience to make a purchase. How to determine if the marketing tactic is working or not depends on the goal for the stage of the funnel. For instance, if you’re in the early startup phase of your small business and you aren’t hitting your goals for new website visitors from Facebook, then your social media marketing in the awareness phase might be the stage of the funnel that needs attention. The stage of the funnel matters both in defining the problem and in deciding who can help to solve it. Here are the stages of a sales funnel, the definition of each stage, and the corresponding stages of the customer journey. (*The Pirate Funnel is a helpful customer-lifecycle framework invented by Dave McClure that you can use to map out and optimize your marketing funnel). pirate funnel

Describe the Problem

Clearly defining the problem before you invest in the solution will save you time, money, and frustration. Revisit your goal, mission, KPIs, north star metric, and OMTM – one metric that matters. Then, write out what the problem is in a sentence. Here are definitions that might help: 1. Goal – what’s your overall goal for your business? Ex. I want my online course business to make money for me while I sleep so I can quit my 9-5 retail job. 2. Mission – what is the problem you need to solve, for who, and why? Ex. Women spend too much money on uninteresting, uncomfortable shoes. My online course teaches them how to DIY great sandals so they save money and create something they love to wear (this is a real, top-selling course on Teachable, by the way). 3. KPI – what is the key performance indicator? Ex. Increase in revenue from course sales. 4. North Star Metric – The main metric you are measuring. This is most often revenue. 5. OMTM (One Metric That Matters) – The one metric that matters for the stage of the funnel/ customer journey that you are measuring. This is where you can take action to change an outcome as long as you have a good product-to-market fit. Ex. The % of leads from Instagram that convert to course sales. From the example dialogue above, the problem could be defined like this: “I’m not getting a high enough percentage of leads that convert to sales from my social media marketing efforts. My course has sold a few units, but, as a new business, I need to increase my revenue from course sales month over month so I can quit my retail job by the end of the year.” Who is best suited to help you? We have one more step before we can make that decision.

Define the Desired Outcome

What does success look like? In order to make the best choice. Define exactly what success looks like for you. And here’s the key, it’s important to recognize that a business coach, consultant, and strategist each approach solving your problem from a different perspective and expertise.

What’s in a Name: The Business Coach

“I have the resources to help you find the answer.”


Think of a business coach as your guide, mentor, and motivator. This professional can motivate you to break through boundaries and find resources.


Motivation, education, and support. Your business coach can help you to find small business marketing resources or suggest a tool for more effective email marketing, for instance. He or she has broad expertise in what makes a business work well.

But, don’t expect…

Don’t expect a business coach to have deep expertise in any one area of small business or to do the work for you. Just like a football coach doesn’t block, tackle or throw a pass, a business coach calls the plays from the sideline.

When to Hire a coach

Small business coaches are often along for the long haul. They can help motivate you at the launch of your project and support you as you grow.

Best use case example

If your sticking point with social media is that you don’t have an active social media presence, your marketing strategy might benefit from including videos of you that would give a personal brand boost that your target audience needs for trust. Your business coach can help you with resources and motivation to get in front of the camera.

What’s in a Name: The Consultant

“I’m an expert in the solution.”


A small business consultant serves as an advisor with a specialty. Consultants may specialize in small business marketing, small business operations, or even digital marketing sub-specialties like search engine optimization or human resources.


When you hire a consultant, you can expect that he or she will provide an overview of your business as a whole and will then make recommendations based on his or her area of specialization.

But, don’t expect…

If you hire a social media marketing consultant, you might also get a done-for-you service. But, if you hire a small business growth consultant, you wouldn’t. Generally, consultants aren’t “doers” they are advisors who provide expertise in a specific area.

When to seek out a consultant

Consultants can be helpful at any stage of a project when their specific expertise is required.

Best use case example

Let’s look at the example above from the perspective of a small business marketing strategy consultant who specializes in advertising search engine marketing. After reviewing your business, your consultant may suggest that you expand your social media efforts to include additional channels, or that you strengthen your email marketing copy but it would be through the lens of what works best with a paid, search engine marketing plan.

What’s in a Name: The Strategist

“I’ll help you define the goal, the actions steps, and the resources necessary to solve the problem and reach your overall objective.”


The Strategist has the task of formulating an overall plan as well as defining the action steps and resources required to execute the plan. Strategists start with the overall goal of the business in mind and then review and refine the steps to the goal in order to uncover anything that could be part of the obvious, initial problem.


Small business strategists are analytical problem solvers. And, if you are looking for someone whose focus is ensuring your business grows, a small business growth strategist is the expert you are looking for. A small business growth marketing strategist is considered a “T-shaped marketer” or a “CMO Lite”. Strategists have a broad range of skills with expertise in two or three areas.

But, don’t expect…

They’ll help define the goal, the steps, and the resources needed, but don’t expect them to do it for you. Your strategist won’t provide inspirational quotes like a coach or focus on only one area like a consultant, but don’t expect them to run your social media for you. The focus of this professional is on the data. They are an “extra set of eyes” that can uncover the truth in the numbers and solve the problem.

When to seek out a strategist

Strategists are an ideal first expert hire. At the beginning of your business venture, he or she can help you with the market fit, competition, feasibility, and launch. If you run into a problem, your strategist helps you to fix it. And, if you want to pivot your brand, your strategist is there to help you find the way to do it.

Best use case example

Are you sure you should even be on Instagram? In the example above, your strategist would be looking into that question. If you are unclear about what is causing the problem, your strategist analyzes and diagnoses as well as gives you a plan and the resources to solve the problem from a 360 ft. view.

The Best Bang for your Marketing Buck: Think Strategy First

Now that you have defined the problem and you know your options, who is best to help you? It’s important to choose the best problem solver for the problem at hand.

Savvy marketing comes down to focusing on strategy first. The best tactics can’t be effective unless they are attached to a plan.

If you are struggling with social media, you might think hiring a social media manager is your best bet. If SEO isn’t making sense to you, you’re likely to search for a search engine optimization agency to solve your problem. Unfortunately, that’s where most small business owners find out, only too late, they’ve wasted time and spent money but they haven’t solved their problem. Remember the dialogue I referenced earlier in this post? Most small business owners hire a ‘doer’ first. Doers are practitioners with specific skills. They are great at completing the work but completion isn’t the final goal. This is where getting help from a specialist in the form of a coach, consultant or strategist is your best bet. Each of these professionals will help you to define your best strategy first. Then, getting the help of a doer will give you the outcome you’re after. If you use the formulas and definitions above to clearly define the problem and the professional best suited to solve it, you are on your way to business success no matter what marketing snafu you encounter.