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Contractor to consultant: part I – comparing contracting and consulting

Rather than contracting and being involved in the day to day doing of the work, you may decide that you would prefer to go into consulting. Consulting normally involves helping and guiding firms, offering expertise for short bursts.

This three part series of guides explains the subtle differences between contracting and consulting and offers advice and guidance for becoming a consultant.

So, what are the differences between contracting and consulting?

The contractor business model

As a contractor you’ll probably be working full-time as part of a team doing similar things to when you were a permie.

Contracting is an attractive model and provides extra financial rewards, and more flexibility for you and your clients.

In this model, for example you are an IT contractor, your job is to deliver working systems. The client is renting your capability to deliver, and when you’re gone you take that capability will you.

Take a simple analogy: If you walked to Liverpool from Central London it might take several weeks. If you rent a car, it takes a few hours. When you hand the car back it continues to take several weeks again to make the journey.

Similarly, your client may not have your capabilities to develop software, so they rent a team who can do it in less time and produce better results. Once the team has left, they return to the previous capability level.

The consultant business model

A consultant’s job is different. You’re not there to primarily deliver software, although sometimes you’ll have to roll up your sleeves and help out.

The end product for a consultant is change. Or more specifically, change for the better.

When you leave, your client should be better at whatever it is you were helping them to get better at. If it’s delivering software, then they should be able to deliver more software, quicker and of a higher quality than when you arrived.

The difference is subtle, but critical.

Working as an independent consultant, you are primarily an agent of change, and change can be difficult. It’s often easier and safer to get your feet under the table and try not to rock the boat.

Consultants don’t try to become part of the client’s organisation, largely because that carries a big risk of becoming part of the problem they’re trying to solve. So they tend to not be around for as long as contractors, but the effects they can produce can be profound even after a few days of guidance.

In part II we will look at the general approach that consultants use and compare it to contracting.

Updated: 06 October 2017

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