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Consultants vs Contractors

Are you a contractor or a consultant? I’ve noticed that with the “gig-economy” these terms have gotten jumbled. Let’s see if we can tease them apart, and possibly put them back together.

Here are some working definitions:

Contractor: Person who gets paid for work without being an employee. In corporations, this is often for staff augmentation or temp work.

Consultant: Consultants are people who serve multiple clients, with specific expertise.

But the differences go deeper. The differences are in the stance and approach. And note that the payment situation may be the same, the difference is in how the individual thinks of themselves. These are generalizations of course, but a starting point for discussion.

  • Contractors: Does what the client says they need.

  • Consultants: Tells the client what they need.

  • Contractors: Vy for a full-time position at the client.

  • Consultants: Are in the position they want.

  • Contractors: Build security by doing a good job.

  • Consultants: Invest in relationships and learning.

  • Contractors bring a set of skills to the table.

  • Consultants bring a set of experiences to the table.

There is nothing wrong with either of these stances. I would like to suggest that whether you are a contractor or a full-time employee, you consider the consulting stance for specific interactions.

For example, are there situations when your expertise puts you in the best position to make a decision? Does your expertise get overridden by those in charge? In these cases, to better serve the organization, I encourage you to push forward regardless of your position.

When a consultant sees a client facing critical business challenges, they seek knowledge that can help serve the client, even if it’s not what they were hired for. Consultants constantly invest in relationships and learning. The consulting stance seeks to better serve the client, not how to improve my resume or marketability.

For each client they serve, the consultant also picks up valuable experience. Like wandering gypsies who bring goods and news from faraway villages, consultants help cross-pollinate ideas between organizations. Stories of what works, what doesn’t work and why are very valuable as organizations implement new thinking. I recently met a contractor who was previously at a place I was familiar with. I knew that they had solved some of the challenges she was facing now, so I asked her why she didn’t suggest we make the improvements. She said “It would be great, it worked really well at the other place! But that’s not how they do it here.” Opportunity missed.

Are you in the role of Consultant or Contractor? Do you work with either? What do you see as the key difference? Please let us know in the comments!

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