You know my opinions on language (it’s of supreme importance).  But language is complex; one of the most common language questions I get is from service professionals; do I call myself a coach or consultant?  Expert or guru?  Specialist or contractor?   Freelancer or Entrepreneur?

It’s a good question, because what you call yourself can have a strong reflection on how your customers perceive your value.

(Note: if you are a product business, keep reading.  This is still useful perspective.) 


How to decide what to call yourself

I think what you call yourself has a lot of importance, because you have to choose something that makes you feel confident and secure in your domain of expertise, but also resonates with clients as to what you do and what you help them fix.

Every industry is different, so it’s worth the investment of time/money to understand what clients and consumers expect.  Here’s a good example to illustrate – look at each of these pairs of words below, and ask yourself who you would hire, all things being equal (price, testimonials, etc.):

  • plumbing consultant                 plumbing specialist         <— (I think these two things are different.)
  • freelance writer                           travel writing specialist  <—  (I think the latter is a stronger title.)
  • business coach                            business consultant          <— (I think the line here is awfully thin.)

Interesting, isn’t it?  You know, when Dyana Valentine told me I should be calling myself a producer because it is what I do, conversations about my work became dramatically easier. People’s eyes light up when I tell them; the first response is so often “Oh a producer is EXACTLY what we need.”  That’s the knee-jerk trigger you’re looking for so when your title gets that response, bam – you’ve got it.

If you need help with this, tweet me or leave a comment below and we can talk it out.

The difference between coaches, consultants, mentors, and masterminds.

By far, the people who get stuck with this issue are people who fall into the category of “coaches” or “consultants” – whether that’s a fitness trainer or a business plan guru.  Because of that, I wanted to take a minute and discuss it.  Everyone has their own take, but you’re here for my opinions, right?

  • Coaches:   Coaches provide accountability and external perspective; many coaches take the approach of “you have the ability within you, you just have to find the roadblocks in your way.”  In general, coaches do not get hands on in fixing issues but are in the advice business.   For example, a nutrition coach might help you understand why you have sugary cravings that are killing your diet, but he/she is not probably going to come and show you how to make sugar-free brownies.
  • Consultants:  Consultants bring domain expertise and specific skillsets to a business or project; you typically bring in a consultant to resolve a certain problem or carry the company forward towards a specific goal.   Consultants are sometimes hands-on and sometimes not; for example, I am a consultant even though I don’t call myself that; when I do a website critique, I don’t actually implement any changes, but then sometimes I stick around and do help with some of the tweaking.
  • Mentors:  In my view, a mentor is not paid; they’re simply someone with advanced knowledge who wants to help you succeed.   Mentors are typically someone who has already achieved the success you are looking for, and they can come from a variety of backgrounds; for example, earlier this year I worked with a mentor who owned a landscaping business.  She brought me tons of great business feedback every week even though we have totally different jobs, and in fact, the distance was probably a bonus, not a hindrance.
  • Mastermind:  This one is tricky because you have paid masterminds (useful because someone is compensated for all the cat-herding!) and then the more typical non-paid mastermind.  But a mastermind is a group forum where you bring problems and ideas to share and discuss with other members of the mastermind (who are generally your peers).  Masterminds are great because you get a variety of inputs and opinions, but you also have to decide which opinions are good and which ones aren’t applicable.

How can I help?

Need help with language and naming?  Please, get in touch. I’d love to help.