(Credit to Jeff Foxworthy)

I’m routinely asked for a referral to a consultant who will do…something. Or have someone introduce themselves as a consultant. And yet…I think it’s time to get our terms straight. After all, we’re communicators aren’t we? There definitely is some grey area among these three categories but I hope this helps makes things just a bit clearer.

You might be a consultant if…

  • You provide primarily knowledge, advice and counsel rather than communications products or tactics.
  • You work for multiple clients on multiple projects.
  • You manage your own time, work place and work systems.
  • You are accountable to your client to deliver a final report, guidance on a particular issue or challenge or something similar.
  • You provide a scope of practice or project as part of your proposal.
  • You have your own business and are incorporated – either on your own or as part of a partnership or agency.
  • You have contracts for your work with clearly articulated deliverables.
  • You get paid for the project, a specific project outcome or by the hour for some types of work.
  • You’ve made this your career choice, rather than what you call yourself “while you’re looking for a real job.”

You might be a contractor if…

  • You provide either a combination of knowledge, advice and counsel AND work products such as executing communications plans or tactics OR just the execution part.
  • You have a contract to work continuously for the same client for a period of time rather than for a specific project (although you might be supporting a specific project). This may be full time or some regular time increment such as 3 or 4 days a week. Although you may work for other clients “on the side”, you work all or mostly for one client.
  • You work onsite at a client’s office using their office space, processes, technology. You are responsible to work according to their schedule.
  • You provide work that is similar to an employee and are accountable to respond to client instructions for your work. Your scope of work is in the hands of the client for the most part. To insiders, you may be indistinguishable from an employee.
  • You’re on the client phone list and may or may not have client business cards.
  • You may have your own company and be incorporated…or not.
  • You get paid a predictable amount either by the hour or by the week or month for time spent rather than attached to a specific deliverable.
  • This can be an interim arrangement or an ongoing way of work.

You might be a freelancer if…

  • You provide primarily execution of a communication product or tactic. E.g. write and produce a newsletter, edit a website etc.
  • You work for a variety of clients, although it is common to work for a small number of clients with lots of repeat business.
  • You work in your own space, provide your own work systems and technology.
  • You provide work that could be done by an employee in most cases.
  • You are contracted to complete tasks or products for either a project fee or on an hourly basis. In some cases, writers are paid by the word count.
  • Your scope of work is determined by the client.
  • You may have your own company and be incorporated…or not.
  • This can be an interim arrangement or an ongoing way of work.

Glenna Cross, ABC, MC
Cross Wise Communications Ltd.

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