I’m going to show what the difference (and similarities are) between freelancing and consulting are.
If you look online you’ll find a plethora of different advice on what they are and are not.
Unfortunately, most of these articles are written by people who have very little experience in either one of these fields. I’ve had experience in both, so I’m going to shed some light on it for you.
So …What’s is the difference between freelancing and consulting?
Drum roll …
They’re basically the same thing.
… with some small differences that I’ll talk about below …
There will be many people who disagree with me, but that’s ok, let me explain why I think there’s not much difference.
Take a look at this graphic …
In this graphic, I’m illustrating that there’s about a 50% overlap in consulting and freelancing. This is all based on my 20+ years of experience in freelancing and consulting.
When you freelance you often will be given a project or a task and you’ll get it done. That’s it.
The task might be to create an app, or a website or a graphic, etc. In the “25% Unique Freelancing” section above these would be jobs that you’d find on sites like Fiverr or a quick job on UpWork that has very specific and defined guidelines (and usually a short time frame).
Examples of freelancing gigs would be …
– Create a script that scrapes example.com and if it finds the text “chicken wings” (hey, what can I say … I’m hungry) then it needs to send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org
– Create a logo with a bird holding a kettlebell
– Set up a WordPress site
These are simple and well-defined minute tasks that can take a few hours to a day or two. They’re usually very small and often don’t end up in longer-term work (though they can). As a freelancer, you typically get in, get it done, and move on.
When you strictly consult, you’re often brought on to provide advice for a given system, architecture, and systems installation and configuration.
You’re using your expertise in the industry to help a company solve a particular problem. This advice often turns into a statement of work in which you will then be the one implementing the solution for the company. Often, consultants advise companies of the best solution for their given problem.
For example, if a company knows there is a problem with its data management procedures it might bring in a consultant who deals with big data implementations and optimizations to help them figure out the best solution for their problem.
Consulting problems are often vast and the consultant needs to understand the business, what the business needs are what the current problems are. They have to get into the business to figure this stuff out. After they come to their conclusions they will advise the company on what to do. At that point, the company will often decide to accept the advice and often hire the consultant to implement it, or look for another opinion/refine it with the consultant until a suitable solution is found. This is 25% of the unique consulting.
Note how I said that consultants can and often will implement the solutions? This is where the overlap with freelancing comes in.
On a similar note … oftentimes, freelancers will be with the same client for several months (even years) helping the client implement various solutions. This is where the freelancer overlaps with the consultant.
The work of implementing solutions is the 50% overlap you’ll see in consulting and freelancing. It’s where the work is done.
The main difference is the origin of the work.
Small task? Freelancing
Advice and Guidance? Consulting
Implementation: Freelancing and Consulting
Who typically does freelancing?
Freelancers can be found almost anywhere. However, for purposes of this article, you’ll typically find programmers, graphic designers, bookkeepers, copywriters, translators, and more will be who represent freelancers the most.
Who typically does consulting?
When you look up consulting online, you’ll often find that consulting is usually referenced in the financial, management, and planning areas of business. You might see roles in areas such as financial planning, business management, medical implementations, law, etc. However, there are also technical consultants as well that help with systems integrations and implementations.
You might be wondering now …
Are you a freelancer or consultant?
Does it matter?
That’s a good question. Yes, it does matter, based upon your client.
Ultimately, I think this is something that someone has to answer for themselves, but here’s my heuristic:
If I’m being hired for advice on systems, what systems to build and how to implement them, and more: That’s consulting.
If I’m being hired to implement an app, a website, a script, etc: That’s freelancing.
There are times when they can overlap with one client. I’ve had instances where I was hired as a consultant for a particular project. That project was a success and completed, yet the client wanted to keep me on for additional work that they had, and that turned into more of a full-time freelancing project that consisted of a bunch of smaller tasks. However, an occasional project would show up where they’d need advice and implementation support and it would ebb and flow back to a consulting project.
Furthermore, I’ll often be consulting for a client for a long period (6 months to a year or more) and during that time I’ll pick up a small freelancing project that might take me two days to a week to complete. I’ll do that on the weekends and off time to make some extra money.
In other words, you can do both, at the same time.
What should you call yourself?
This is a big one for a lot of people.
The word “Consultant” carries more professional clout than “Freelancer” does.
The term ”Freelancer” feels more “fly by night” (without reputation).
There’s nothing wrong with either term, I’m just explaining how the industry sees the words. This typically only matters when you’re trying to garner the attention of a larger client though,
Please note … the term “Consultant” comes with some additional requirements: You should be an expert in your field for you to be calling yourself a consultant.
Assume that you’re fresh out of school. You’ve never completed a project with XYZ technology. At this point, you should not call yourself a consultant on XYZ technology as you have no experience with it. However, you can still be a freelancer with it as you’re probably confident enough that you can figure it out and help the client project succeed.
If you’re talking to a larger client and you’re an expert in the technology or field then I recommend that you go with “Consultant”. It has more of a professional ring to it.
That about covers it.
For the most part, they’re the same thing, it just depends on the angle in which the client engagement starts and what they’re looking for. After that, the waters get a little muddy as implementation work is … implementation work – regardless of how you look at it.