A coach, not a consultant

Calling on consultants for business advice is a time-honored practice, but sometimes the need calls for something different.

Enter the coach.

Coaching is not about giving advice. A personal coach, like a sports coach, tries to find and enhance the talents the client already brings to the game.

A consultant, for example, generally evaluates the situation and offers suggestions based on the way other, similar businesses operate.

Most coaches believe the client holds the answers, and the coach's job is to find it by listening, probing, and asking lots of questions.

Coaches, says coach Bill Thomas of San Antonio, stand on the sidelines of your life and have the perspective of the whole field. They won't call the plays, but they'll help you figure out the best ones you should be calling.

"People are sometimes afraid to go for what they really want," says John Seiffer, president of the International Coach Federation and a personal coach based in Brookfield, Conn.

Instead they look at what they think is possible. "Coaching is about giving the client permission to explore their own mind," he says.

A consultant brings in expertise from the outside.

"A coach," says Mr. Seiffer, "helps you focus the expertise and actions and energy you already have in the right direction....

"You start by finding out what the client wants to have different in his or her life: Where they are and where do they want to be." A coach's job, he adds, is also to make sure their clients are going for the right goal and that they accomplish that goal.

When Nick Seamon approached Seiffer for advice on expanding his Amherst, Mass., food-service business, Seiffer asked about some of his ideas, and "they were very good."

When Seiffer suggested Mr. Seamon hire more help so he could spend time on expansion strategies, "Nick said, 'Yeah, I know, but...' "

Seamon worked up to it slowly.

He had hired consultants before but says they often brought a cookie-cutter model based on how a restaurant ought to grow, a model he felt did not fit his business.

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