Consultant vs. Freelancer

Consultant. The word conjures up thoughts of business attire, meetings, and an expensive invoice. When you're going to hire a developer, you usually don't seek out a consultant. In fact, you might steer clear of them for fear that they're only out to line their pockets. What you're looking for is a freelancer. Someone you can trust. Right?

It's difficult to discern the difference between the two, so I want to explore what each term means and how to gage whether the person you're hiring should be deemed a consultant or a freelancer.

The biggest distinction between a freelancer and a consultant is that a freelancer thinks in terms of deliverables, while a consultant thinks in terms of outcomes.

Imagine you're losing sales to your competitors and you attribute this loss in sales to your competitors' superior online sales experience. You want to hire a developer to build an online store that can rival your competitors.

When hiring a developer who bills themselves as a freelancer or contractor, it's likely they'll focus more on the deliverables. They'll take orders from you and you'll (hopefully) end up with the online experience you envisioned.

But what if that online experience doesn't result in the outcomes you expected? What if it has a net negative impact on your sales?

It's not your developer's fault, necessarily. They built what you asked for, focusing on what to build. But their interest and focus is on deliverables—the website, the technology, the means. Yours is on outcomes—the traffic, the sales, the customer satisfaction.

But what if your developer understood your desired outcomes? And what if instead of billing you merely for the time it took them to produce deliverables which may or may not achieve those outcomes, they billed you for actually achieving the outcomes?

That's the essence of hiring a consultant. You're not paying for a web application; you're paying for the results that come from that web application. A consultant is a partner. Their interest is your interest. They guarantee outcomes that they believe they can deliver, instead of billing you arbitrarily for their time which may or may not produce the desired results. They seek to intimately understand your business and how it can be improved through technology. And because they're billing you for the results they achieve, they're not going to sell you technology you don't need to achieve them.