The Difference Between Consultants and Advisors

What is the difference between consultants and advisors in business? Beyond my own opinion and experiences I researched both roles as well as history of the activities and etymology.  

Etymology

The term “consultant” originates in the Latin word “consultare” which means “to discuss something” or “to deliberate”.

An “adviser” or, the more popular alternative version, “advisor” is derived from an old French phrase that goes “ce m’est a vis” (in my view).  The  “vis” originally comes from the Latin word “visum” which is the past participle form of “videre” (to see). Before people used the word “to advise” there was an old version written “to avise” which fills the gap between origin and current use.

What does a Consultant do?

A consultant is engaged in fulfilling pre-defined terms such as solving problems or underlying constraints. These terms are defined by a sponsor or stakeholder and usually the consultant is presented with a task after the need to solve a particular problem has already been identified.

Sometimes it is expected from a consultant to take care of the problems on their own and report the solution to the sponsor. More often however the consultant will prepare options of how to solve the problem and then discusses pro’s and con’s with the sponsor.

In rare cases a consultant is used to replace a management position temporarily until a long term replacement has been hired.

What does an Advisor do?

An advisor has deep knowledge across multiple disciplines and has experience in working in several functions. The role of the advisor can be compared with a mentor or guide around a wide scope of subjects and differs categorically from the scope of a task specific consultant.

The advisor is usually a long term member of an organisation and understands the organisation’s strategic targets of near-, mid- and far-future planning.  He or she knows the staff, the leadership, clients and all other related individuals and their services / products very well and is able to translate perspective and verbiage from one angle to another.

Advisors identify issues (or tasks in general) before they become a problem and share their opinion and insight with the stakeholders. They raise their concern in an adequate way and help to address work items in order to clear out the “threat” of not engaging in this particular activity. The advisors usually decides on their own how much of their own time they invest in the activities, based on the issues severity.

Comparison

So in a compact format, what is the difference between a consultant and an advisor?

  • Consultants act retroactive, advisors act proactive
  • Both consultants and advisors can be either external or internal
  • Consultants have functional roles, advisors are usually part of the leadership
  • Consultants are usually hands-on problem solvers, advisors lay out the plan and explain necessity
  • Consultants usually work with sponsors or stakeholders and not with advisors directly
  • There is no difference in the quality of work about these two roles, they do different work

Zeitgeist

The reputation of consultants has suffered severely in recent years. If you provide professional services as freelancer or within an organisation and feel that you cover the activities from both roles, as described above, I recommend you to market the services as advisory rather than consulting to avoid such issues.

Further Learning

The-Trusted-Advisor-book-coverWhen I started work in the newly established “Professional Services” team of GMS Global Media Services GmbH in early 2013, the CEO Tobias Enders gave a book to all founding team members. The book was titled “The Trusted Advisor” (written by David H. Maister, Charles H. Green and Robert M. Galford) and lays down a great framework about the good practices of advisory work. It splits up into client relationship management, professional services and a guideline to being a (…you guessed it) trusted advisor.

If you have not already read it, I strongly recommend all consultants and advisors alike to check this out. Also – if you are a service provider of another nature, reading this will also greatly help you augment your advisory senses and maybe it allows you to even further your career based on practices described in this book.

I would be delighted about any kind of feedback around this in the comments section below. I understand if you don’t agree on my definition here, but please be so kind and explain your thoughts in a few sentences.

Photo credit: Sebastiaan ter Burg

Christopher Isak

Christopher Isak

Managing Editor at TechAcute
Hi there and thanks for reading my article! I'm Chris. I write about tech news, management subjects. Reach out via Twitter or comments, if you like. I'd love to hear from you!
Christopher Isak

@ChristopherIsak

Hell-bent for truth and progress ✖ Founder of @TechAcuteCom ✖ Journalist for Tech News and Innovation ✖ Geek and Gamer with a heart ✖ Influencer of nobody ✖
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Christopher Isak

Christopher Isak

Hi there and thanks for reading my article! I'm Chris. I write about tech news, management subjects. Reach out via Twitter or comments, if you like. I'd love to hear from you!

  • Hi all, this is Chris here.

    If anybody has further pointers, agrees or disagrees on something in this post please engage here in the comments section.
    I know such ‘definition’ posts are usually critical and even though I feel like I researched this well to back my experiences, I look forward to your thoughts. Many thanks!

  • Diana Adams

    Hi Chris,

    I own an Apple certified consulting company, and I’ve been a consultant for many years. I agree with how you’ve described each one of these roles.

    The only thing I would add to this is that depending on the client, sometimes the line between the two get blurred. According to how you’ve described it, I now realize that sometimes I’m the advisor, sometimes I’m the consultant, and in a few cases, I’m both.

    Then there are a few clients who view the person in my position as an extension of their own staff. For example, a new company might not have enough work yet to justify hiring a full-time IT person, so they’ll pay a consultant at my company to come in a few hours a week to fill in the gap until they have enough work for a full-time position, and then our work is done and they hire someone.

    I got off track there, but the point is, nice post!!! 🙂 🙂

    Diana (@adamsconsulting)

    • Hi Diana

      Thanks so much for dropping by and taking the time to read the article and give your feedback.

      I absolutely agree with you here but this is to me such a omnipresent guideline that I must have forgotten the emphasis within the article. Let me put it this way: Every client is unique. There is no ultimate guideline or role structure that is deployed across all organisations and it’s good that it is that way.

      Thanks so much again for your insight into your angle on this. There is no better feedback than the one that comes directly from a affected person. So you making your path as consultant, adds a lot of value and I appreciate it.

      Have a great day, Diana!
      – Chris

    • Steven Schulz Tyler

      Perfect addition!

    • Robin Nagele

      Diana, I would tend to agree with you. Although advisors are proactive in role, they also become the consultant and help with decision recommendations and execution. At least that’s how it roles out for me.

      Rob

  • Sanjay Sharma
  • Robin Nagele

    Chris,

    I thoroughly enjoyed reading this piece. It really cleared up some unanswered questions I had looming around. I am also going to purchase and dive head first into the book. “The Trusted Advisor”.

    Thank you for sharing. I also intend to share this article, of course citing you as the source.

    Respectfully,
    Robin C. Nagele
    Security Advisor

    • Hi Robin,
      I am very happy that you read the article and thought it was of value to you and possibly to others as well.
      When you look around in the enterprise world and even in the scope of SMBs – everybody uses role names differently. I think there is a lot more to each individual profession than just a name – they all do different things after all. So this is not a science to define things like that globally. It’s not a fact but I hope my take on it makes sense.
      Thank you for reading and have a great day!
      – Chris

  • Badr Bellaj

    please correct in french they say “ce m’est avis” not “ce m’est a vis”