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.