Consultant vs. Advisor – Why Wingspan Legacy Partners is an Advisory Firm

Vicki Morton
March 23, 2023

For most people, the terms consultant and advisor connote the same thing: a professional who provides expertise to a business or group of people. While that is generally true, the client experience – and likely results – can make the roles quite different.

Consultants focus on solving specific issues in a finite amount of time, contributing skills or expertise that a business might not have internally. The work tends to be retroactive as it is the result of a problem that currently exists. Consultants typically spend time getting to know an organization, make tailored recommendations based on best practices, and then leave the organization to implement the results (likely hoping additional problems they can ‘solve’ arise in the future).

Advisors, on the other hand, are long-term partners that work collaboratively with their clients to improve systems and processes to achieve sustained success. Advisors are often hired proactively, using their experience and expertise to drive strategy and predict problems before they arise. Unlike consultants, a good advisor has “skin in the game” – they’re on the hook for helping to implement their advice and have to be a part of solving any challenges that arise as a result of their recommendations. Tax advisors and General Counsels are good examples of this, due to the perennial nature of their engagements. Success in their roles is contingent on building trusting relationships with the stakeholders, understanding the underlying fundamentals of the business, and seeing their advice through to results – all of which can be better achieved through long-term partnerships.

Family enterprises can be particularly complex to manage due to concentrated ownership and multigenerational family dynamics. That is why we designed Wingspan Legacy Partners as an advisory firm – to partner with founders and enterprising families for the long term and to align ourselves to achieving the desired outcomes. Matters of governance, succession, control, and financial remuneration tend to be more susceptible to emotion (and therefore harder to implement) in family-owned businesses.

A Wingspan engagement involves a deep dive into the entire ecosystem – the operating business, wealth or family office, giving and impact strategies and family dynamics. We conduct extensive interviews with all family members, relevant non-family employees and service providers. Through this work, the ‘right answer’ or ‘challenge areas’ often becomes clear within the first few weeks.  If we were consultants, at that point the job would be done – but, as advisors – that’s when our job is just beginning. We partner with founders and families to quarterback all the internal and external resources needed to affect change, and we stick around until we’re confident the necessary changes have taken hold and beyond.

If you’re a founder or part of an enterprising family looking for advice on best practices or for partnership through a complex change, ask yourself which would better suit your needs – a consultant dropping in to address a narrow concern or an advisor who partners with you for the long term to ensure your lasting legacy?

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About Vicki Morton

Vicki is a former finance executive who manages Wingspan's finances, marketing, and content. Raised in a family with a 150-year-old maritime business, she has a lived understanding of family enterprises.