I’m getting ready to meet with a number of other consultants for a Memorial Day meeting and one of the topics that we’d recently discussed was that the question sometimes comes up regarding what the difference is in a contractor versus a consultant.
The Basic Concept
The general definition is this: a consultant is a brain, a contractor is a body. Thus, if you consider that you bring someone in for their expertise then that would be someone who is “consulting” with you and working to bring value to your project. Another way to look at this is the a consultant is supposed to add value to your project. On the other hand, a contractor is meant to be a worker bee – someone there to do the work and not necessarily to add a specific expertise or help drive the project.
Or, another definition is short-term versus long-term: someone who comes in for a short time to “consult” with a customer is a consultant. Someone who is brought in for a longer-term almost as if they are an employee to do some long and possibly indefinite amount of work is often considered a contractor.
Does it Matter?
This is similar the discussion around what it means to be “independent” as a consultant, and there’s a lot of confusion between the traditional definition that it’s someone that is someone whose opinion depends on someone else and between the definition in the tax code, which aren’t contradictory, just focused differently. The question is this: why does it matter? If the customer has the terminology different than what they should, it’s through discussions between the customer and the people they want to bring onto their project that drive out what the customer is truly trying to attain.
While I always encourage people to use the right definitions, we all have to be aware of the fact that people don’t always know the definitions nor do they necessarily agree on them.
What Does GeoMetrick Enterprises Provide?
Generally, people are looking for expertise from GeoMetrick Enterprises. Whether taking on one specific part of a larger project or the entirety of a small one, there is often some type of expertise the customer needs. If we look at an example of doing a LabWare implementation, the customer might need someone who has the expertise to develop an entire block of work, from speaking with the end-users to get the business analysis work done and also doing the LIMS Basic or VGL programming and testing to get the entire block of work done. Or, it’s sometimes something on the front end such as doing an RFP (Request For Proposal) and product selection.
Here’s another way to look at it: if you look at the really large projects, they usually want something like 10 warm bodies to do 2-3 years of work. My company is too small to provide that. If such a project had a need for someone to take a specific block of work on and deliver the entire block, that is something my company would handle. Or, if a company needs ongoing work over those 2-3 years but not on a permanent basis – only on an as-needed basis when they truly need some expertise to move the project along.
What Brought This Up, Again
I’ve written about this topic, before, but I ran into one of the larger services groups advertising specifically that my company and those like mine only provided long-term contracting as a subcontracted resource to larger vendors and do not provide entire solutions. This is false. While the larger companies make up things like this to scare customers into selecting them, this is absolutely not true. Each company provides different services and levels of service based on their abilities. The size of my company does mean that I can’t provide true contracting, because I can’t staff a large project with a mass of bodies for a long-term. I can usually only provide consulting and mainly with value-added activities.
How Do You Know?
How do you know I’m telling the truth on this, that I don’t just spend all my time as a subcontractor on large projects? Because I have customers to give you as a reference. I don’t publish them because it’s none of my competitors’ business who they are (so they can call them and try to pull the business away from me), but I freely give those contacts to serious potential customers. And, by the way, the main people who complain that I don’t publicly give my customer list tends to be my competitors, so I’m not lulled into thinking I need to put them out on my web-site as I had in the past (and had comptitors bothering my customers knowing there was an active project going on). Since I do actually care about my customers’ privacy, and in keeping the projects I’ve worked so hard to land, I’m not apologizing for not being interested in helping my competitors out in this manner.
While some of the larger and smaller services vendors in the industry work together, sometimes on our own projects, other times collaborating together or subcontracting, there are some that are insecure in the competition that the small companies provide. Once a customer finds out what great and individualized service they get from us, they realize that they’re not bound to a services vendor just because they’re large or belong to the software vendor.
Both large and small, there are great services out there. If you are a customer reading this and not getting great laboratory informatics services and are certain its not due to the way you’re working with your vendor, then it’s time for a change. There’s plenty of competition out there. Don’t let people fool you into thinking you have to put up with crummy services from them. But part of this is making sure you look for the right level of services for your needs. This part means quite a lot of work on your end to both look for the right company to meet your needs, but also to monitor them to make sure you selected properly and that they’re living up to their end of the bargain.