If you’re confused by some of the terms we use in the consulting world, here are a few definitions for terms that might seem odd to the non-consultants that hear them:

Shop:   Consulting shop. Consulting company. Services vendor.

Body Shop:     Those companies that try to place a lot of people on a project and whose main criteria for finding resources to send to customers seems to be that the body has a pulse are called “body shops.” They send a customer “bodies” rather than “brains” where we often consider that someone being sent to truly consult (give advice) as being someone with a “brain.” “Body shops” focus on quantity over quality. However, some of the better ones will verify that the people they engage have at least some minimal skills for the positions or have other checks in place to make sure they are sending “bodies” that will provide the right skills. Of course, just because a consulting company sends very few people doesn’t make them quality people, either. In fact, any company that sends people to a customer merely to fill a “req” (see next definition) might be termed a “body shop.”

Req (pronounced “rek”):      This is the requirement or requisition a customer puts out to obtain outside assistance. It could be something like, “We need two LIMS BAs (Business Analysts) and ten validation script writers.” Companies sometimes try desperately to fill a “req” merely to get a presence on the project. After all, when you have one person on the project, that person can report back the events of the project making it somewhat easier to push others from the consulting company into those roles as they arise. And, you can imagine, that some companies will put anyone they can find with a pulse into a “req” just to get that presence (see “body shop”).

Closer:            No, not the TV show. Well, not exactly. A consultant who is a “closer” has the role of “closing the deal.” This person is a person highly-skilled at the work to be done who is going to impress the customer in an interview. In a good “shop” the closer will actually end up working on your project. If you have other people from the same “shop,” the “closer” will help the others being sent so that they can do the best work, possible, and mentors them, to some extent. In a REALLY good “shop” the other people will also be extremely good and won’t need a lot of help. In a bad “shop” the closer comes for the interview but is conveniently busy when your project starts or comes just for an initial short period before suddenly needing to leave for another project. In these cases, the “closer” is always available to make sales calls and impress customers to sign the deal and does not get tied-up with inconvenient project work. If you’re skeptical and wonder if companies really do this, it’s more common than you think. It’s also known as bait-and-switch and companies that want badly-enough to fill the “req” sometimes resort to these extreme measures.

Consultant versus Contractor:          These terms have nothing to do with legal or tax definitions. They merely refer to the type of external resource that is being used. When a person is working on a very long-term contract and appears no different than an employee, they are usually considered a “contractor.” Someone that occasionally comes in to give advice or provide consulting and who is clearly not an employee is often called a “consultant.” And, going back to the body/brain distinction, if someone provides low-level work (such as data entry), they are usually referred to as a contractor, where the person giving high-level advice (such as strategic planning) is usually called a “consultant.”

IC (Independent Consultant): An independent consultant is a person that gives advice relatively unfettered by ties with whatever it is in which they are giving an opinion. In recent years and, depending on the country you are in, the term has begun to be muddled to have a tax meaning and also to mean “small.” But while the taxing authorities in some countries do have checks to verify that people are independent from a tax perspective, that is not what the phrase means. Nor does it mean small. Often, I give the example that if IBM is helping your company select an ELN, they are an independent consultant, because they don’t happen to produce an ELN nor do they appear to have strong business ties with any particular ELN vendor.

Gloria Metrick
GeoMetrick Enterprises
http://www.GeoMetrick.com/

4 Thoughts to “Consulting Terms”

  1. Lynn Schwartz

    Gloria,
    I enjoyed this blog! Informative and humorous. Are you an IC? Do you have any other ICs that work with you on larger projects?
    Regards,
    Lynn

  2. Lynn,

    When I wrote this post, I thought it was a bit dry and serious. After you mentioned you found it humorous, I reread it and realized I had inadvertently injected some of my personal humor into a topic that I didn’t imagine would be especially gripping. So, I’m glad you enjoyed reading it.

    As for being an IC (that is to say, being “independent”) the answer should depend on a specific situation. Also, the company answering the question should be able to readily admit when they have a conflict of interest so that customers can decide for themselves if the conflict is a serious one.

    With regard to LIMS products, I would say that my company is independent because it does not depend on the software vendors for clients nor does it represent them in any manner nor does it have any interest or stake in their business propositions nor anything to gain from their situation in the marketplace (wow, does that sound legal enough?!). But I should add that my company belongs to some of the MicroSoft programs. While I do not feel that I’m especially biased toward their applications, I do depend on them for quite a lot of software and information. Some people might feel this could unduly influence me, so I think it important to admit this relationship with MicroSoft.

    With regard to working with other specific people, I do not have a specific list of people whom my company works with; however, when a customer is interested, I do work with them to suggest people I know to be reputable. Most customers that contact me are interested specifically in my services, fewer tend to ask me to bring a team with me, and this is the main reason that I do not have a specific list that I tend to work with on a regular basis. Also, even on larger projects, customers sometimes bring me in as a high-level person to take on a great variety of roles or large portion of work, as is possible to do when using an extremely senior industry person. What I mean is that, when a customer finds someone with a great variety of experience and/or with a deep knowledge of the product being implemented, that single person can take a rather varied and/or large load, all alone, in many cases.

    Take care,
    Gloria

  3. Great job Gloria.
    To “Body Shop” I would add that they usually have no technical stake in the project. Usually there is nothing about the project in the agreement between the client and the body shop, and the shop usually does not have anybody inhouse with technical knowledge of the project. If a person leaves, dies, or fouls up, the only obligation of the body shop is to stop billing until they find a replacement. Now this doesn’t mean it is always ‘low level. There ARE shops that specialize in doing this for nurses and emergency room doctors. However all the ‘shop’ has is a list of names of people with current RN or MD licenses. In other ‘project’ type firms the management understands the project and is at least trying to bring the project to a succesful conclusion. This may not guarantee results but at least they potentially have some ‘reputation’ at stake.

    I disagree about Consultant vs. Contractor. It IS true that this has gotten really tied up with tax issue etc. (although that is mainly in the computer and high-tech industries, not so much elsewhere. Here is my personal opinion:
    CONSULTANTS – The client comes to a consultant with a problem and asks for advice (and sometiomes listens). The client is usually “sold” before they make the call.
    CONTRACTORS – The client knows (or thinks they know) EXACTLY what is needed. “It is 90% done and we just need X”. This is often a real problem for consultants (it is like the homeowner who wants somebody to replace their kitchen floor tile when the real problem is that the entire house is about to slide down hill in a mudslide). This also usually is a case of “selling engineering services” and the best salesman (not necessarily the best technical people) usually win.

    Anyhow: If this was simple/easy anybody could earn a living doing it.

    Tom Vaughan

  4. Tom, you’ve brought up an issue that is truly a problem for customers — it’s when they hire a consultant and treat them like a contractor. I usually see that type of situation work badly for all involved. The customer is frustrated because the consultant keeps giving advice on the issue, at hand. The consultant is frustrated because the customer isn’t interested in hearing about potential issues the consultant sees with the method being employed. If things go badly, the consultant might know how to avoid it or fix it but is often not allowed to do so. To a true professional, there is probably nothing more frustrating than that.

    But, it’s a tough business and the consultant will survive (probably). As you said, if it was easy, everyone would be doing it. I couldn’t agree with you more!

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