Evolution – from permanent employee to contractor to consultant

As you are reading this article, it’s pretty clear that you are already considering the move from permanent employment to a career as a contractor, but is that the last move you will make?

For many, becoming a contractor is the biggest career move and the contracting lifestyle satisfies their career aspirations. After all, it offers variety, a great salary, you are your own boss and you can pursue opportunities wherever, whenever and for whatever you like. So why do some permanent employees make the jump straight into consultancy and some contractors evolve into consultants? Is there really a difference?

What is a consultant?

A consultant typically consults with clients rather than fulfilling a specific contractual role. They often work with multiple clients at a time and their remit is traditionally more fluid than a contractor’s within an organisation as they are usually brought in to consult on a particular project to resolve a problem. The client tends to rely on the consultant to provide a solution package, therefore a consultant’s role is usually defined by the consultant themselves rather than the company specifying their remit within a fixed contract. Essentially the consultant defines the contractual remit of their role, which the client then accepts.

Differences in working

A consultant will work with a client to shape their specific role within the parameters of a project or a period of organisational change. Consultants are often used to solve nebulous problems or define particular outcomes as projects evolve. Whilst they may be contracted for a specific amount of time, similar to contractors, they rarely have set working patterns where they sit within the client’s business.

Consultants have a more direct relationship with their clients as they tend to source their work directly rather than using an agency due to the nature of their role. This in turn requires consultants to have a greater level of control over the contractual and billing side of their business as they enter into direct contracts with the client.

Is consulting the next step for you?

As a contractor, you may naturally evolve into a consultant if you have a specific skill set that lends itself to problem solving or solution design rather than fulfilling a specific role. Some forms of contracting do not typically support this or you may prefer to move between pre-defined roles for specified periods. It is dependent on your personal choice and the availability of contracting and consultant roles within your field of expertise.

If you do find yourself evolving into a consultancy business, there are some areas that you may want to focus on in terms of personal development:

  • Client management – you work direct with clients and therefore need to be confident in winning and retaining their business.
  • Contractual knowledge – you define your work remit and provide a more solution-based contract to a client. This is often defined in contracts and scope of work documents that you produce rather than the client so it is essential you have the expertise to define what you do, plus a legal expert to draw up the relevant stock contracts for you.
  • Change management and dealing with uncertainty – clients want consultants to come up with solutions, often in periods of change. Having a good understanding of change management and how others deal with uncertainty are core attributes of any successful consultant.

Knowing your market and what your core strengths are will enable you to decide if you are best suited to being a contractor or a consultant. If you are a consultant at heart, then the end-client remains your core focus, but if you are a contractor at heart, your agency contacts will be your core focus. The role of agencies will be explained in more detail in the next article.

It is worth bearing in mind that as your career evolves, so too will your focus and along with refining and revising your personal development plan, you need to review your overall life plan, something we call the big plan or your plan B. This is something we look at in our final article in this series.