The difference between a consultant and a contractor

Last Sunday I was enjoying a coffee and a slice of home-made carrot cake (her baking, not mine) with Sally, a friend who runs her own small digital consultancy specialising in product development, especially in the area of mobile and tablet apps.

We were talking about our businesses and settled on a rather good explanation of the difference between a consultant and a contractor. I know I’m sometimes asked the difference.

A contractor usually works >60/70% time for a client, and generally comes into the clients office to work a fairly standard 9-5-ish workday. They generally work an entire day for that client. They may only have one or two clients on the go at once. If the client hasn’t got any work for them that day, they still get paid (while they sit there and, if it’s their kind of thing, download pictures of cats).

A consultant works for several different clients at once. When the client buys a day off them, it may not be delivered in one day, but spread over the course of several days. Consultants generally get to turn up when they say they will, rather than exactly when the client wants them to, but the corollary of this is that the consultant doesn’t generally get paid more if the working day is greater than 7.5 hours long (or am I just doing it wrong?). If the client hasn’t got any work for us, we don’t get paid, and have to earn our money by working for one of our other clients.