Strategist vs. Coach vs. Consultant: Which Do You need?

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Where to get help

If you’re an entrepreneur trying to build, improve, or grow your business, it can be a bit confusing to know where to turn to get help. We’ve all been told that the most successful business owners don’t do entrepreneurship alone, but who is the best resource to help you reach your goals??

With so little time and energy left to figure it out and find the right person, some of us just forgo getting help all together.

Yep, I’ve done that. It sucks:

  • You swirl around in your own head and struggle to find clarity in what to do

  • Its difficult to make big decisions or big moves

  • You don’t dedicate enough time to work on your biz versus just in your biz

  • You never seem to reach your goals

  • You start to doubt if you’re cut out for this or have what it takes

I’ve also hired someone only to realize it wasn’t quite what I needed. That also sucks on many levels:

  • You feel like you wasted money

  • You know you wasted time

  • You still don’t have it all figured out

  • You still aren’t sure who can help you figure it out

So both of these situations sucks. And I’d like to solve that problem.

Strategist vs. Consultant vs. Coach: What’s the difference?

When I first started with this work, I struggled with what to call myself for the longest time. I would say that I was sort of a coach, sort of a consultant. These are terms people are familiar with, but neither felt like they properly captured the essence of what I really did.

A strategist, on the other hand, is something that people aren’t that familiar with, but once I locked onto that term, myself and all my clients felt it was the perfect description of what I am.

If I was confused at the differences, I can only imagine how confused the people are trying to hire us! In the table below, I’ve laid out how I define the differences between a strategist, consultant, and coach. We all have distinct skills that help people with different things for different purposes at different times.

That’s why it’s so important to hire the right one (and why when I didn’t, I wasn’t happy with the results).

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Who you should hire for what

If you need to figure things out like what to do with your business - go to a strategist.

If you need help actually doing specific things for your business - go to a consultant.

If you need to work on your mindset so you get better at doing the work - go to a coach.


Go to a strategist if

  • You’re starting a business and trying to figure out exactly what it looks like

  • You want to launch a new program or figure out where to focus your work

  • You’re not sure what kind of clients you should go after, how to package and price your services, etc.

  • You don’t love your business (or things aren’t working) and you’re not sure why or what to do about it

Go to a consultant if

  • You already know what your business strategy is and need new messaging, branding, website, etc.

  • You want someone to, for example, manage your social media for you

  • You want to learn something new, like how to launch an online course

  • You want expert guidance on how to do something, like hire your first employee

Go to a coach if

  • You have behaviors that are holding you back from doing your best work like procrastination

  • You know exactly what you want to accomplish but are struggling to push yourself to do it

  • You want to be a better manager or business owner

  • You want someone to hold you accountable and talk through your concerns regularly

What not to do

DON’T hire a strategist and ask them to execute the work for you (but they can guide you) or to be your therapist (but they can help you figure things out).

DON’T hire a consultant to write your copy, develop a brand, build you a website, manage your social media, etc. unless you are already 100% clear on who you are as a business and what you do (and will do for the foreseeable future).

DON’T hire a coach and expect them to work hands-on with you to figure out all the strategic details of your business.

How I messed this up

I hired a coach

Back when I was trying to build and grow my first business, I knew I needed help. Something wasn’t working but I wasn’t sure why. I was going back and forth on things and wanted an expert to help me.

I first tried a business coach. Everyone always says you need a business coach. That may be (and he may be a great coach), but that’s not what I needed at the time.

I didn’t know what I really wanted or what to do about it. Because of that, I didn’t know what questions to ask to get the type of help I needed from this coach. I could tell he wasn’t used to helping people figure that kind of stuff out (because that’s not what a coach usually does) and I often left our sessions feeling like I was just checking the box versus actually making progress. I still felt like I was going in circles.

Eventually I started trying out different ways to figure this type of stuff out myself. I would show him my work (or sometimes try out a process in front of him) and just look to him for confirmation that my thinking made sense. He’d always say yes and tell me that he was fascinated by how I thought through things and the process I used.

I had hired a coach, but it became clear that I needed a guide to strategically help me figure stuff out.

I hired A consultant

I had also hired a few consultants to help with certain areas of the business, like social media. It quickly became clear that because my strategy was in flux, we were often not on the same page with how to approach social media.

They were doing the work, but it just never felt quite right and I couldn’t figure out why.

Some consultants will ask you tough questions upfront about your strategy so that they can do their work effectively to deliver on that strategy. When you can’t answer these questions easily, it’s a clue that you need to first go do that difficult thought-work and THEN come back and hire them to implement and execute.

Other consultants don’t know to even ask these tough questions (or don’t bother) and this is when you’re likely to be unhappy with the work because you’re likely not going to be on the same page (even if you do have the answers in your head).

I’ve messed up and hired both of these types of consultants (the ones that ask good questions and the ones that don’t), but it became clear that I wasn’t ready for a consultant.

What I really needed that I didn’t find

You may be seeing where I’m going here.

I hired a coach, but that wasn’t what I needed.

I hired consultants, but I wasn’t ready for them.

What I really needed was a strategist - someone to help me think through the tough stuff and develop a plan. I needed to figure out:

  • What I really wanted

  • What that meant for my work

  • What to do about it

A problem for me turned into a business

You know how when you can’t find a solution, sometimes you end up creating it yourself? That’s what happened with me.

The silver lining of these hiring mistakes is that I figured out how to guide myself through this strategic thought-work and realized that I’m darn good at it! I changed course with my first business and launched this second business by taking myself through my own strategic process.

In developing a way to figure this tough stuff out myself, I better understood my unique skills and how I could use them and the process I developed to help others figure this tough stuff out too.

In a nutshell: When to hire strategists, consultants, and coaches

Start with hiring a strategist. They will save you time and money (and sanity!) by helping you quickly figure out exactly what to do with your business or a specific thing you’re working on.

Once you have all the strategic details figured out, you may choose to hire consultants to help you implement and execute your strategy. You may also choose to eventually hire a coach to help you be better at running your business.

At key times you may want to check in with your strategist such as when you

  • Hit roadblocks or get stuck

  • Want to launch something new or are evaluating new opportunities

  • Want to focus your efforts or change course

  • Hit a life change that affects your business

  • Are goal setting or strategic planning

  • Are thinking about hiring a new consultant and want to be sure you have the right information to pass off to them so they can effectively implement and execute for you

Ready to hire a strategist?

If you’re at the stage where you could use a guide to help think through things to figure the tough stuff out, it’s time to hire a strategist.

How it works

Book a strategy session with me. Then we can book additional sessions or quick 30-minute on-demand office hours as things come up and you need more help. Simple as that!

Want free help getting started?

The next best thing to working directly with a strategist is to use a guide made by a strategist. Here’s a free one from me to help you figure out what meaningful and fulfilling work looks like for you so you can build a business around that. Download it for free below.


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stacy kessler - pathfinding strategist

Hey There!

I’m Stacy, an entrepreneur, strategist, and adventurer dedicated to helping you craft your dream business out of your skills & passions. Why? Because I think you should love your life and that’s kind of hard to do if you don’t love your work.

You are meant to do important and amazing things in this world and I’m here to help you do just that.


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