Why cover this topic?
If you are thinking of working for yourself, understanding what you are offering to your client-base makes it easier for your Client base to understand you. People often mix-up the two terms and not knowing yourself can lead you to confusion, ambiguity in your offering to your Clients and a reduction in confidence for the capabilities you are offering. One good example, the top four management consulting firms in the world offer both consulting and contracting under the one roof of ‘consulting services’ – but which part is consultancy, and which part is contracting?
For those of you in the project management world you will be familiar with the RACI (Responsible, Accountable, Consulted, Informed). It is a responsibility assignment matrix that comes in many forms to suit specific functional needs. It enables a project manager to know which stakeholders can contribute to the successful completion of a piece of work.
The C for Consulted, is to get information or advice from someone, especially an expert or professional.
These people are not actually doing the work; they asked for your opinion and knowledge on the task at hand. You are considered a Subject Matter Expert (SME). This can help those doing the task to have most informed assessment on how they will carry out the work successfully.
If you offering consulting services, what are you an expert in providing advice on? You may need to deliver a piece of work to provide the advice you have agreed to give, but you are not actually delivering the work your advice is giving.
As an example, your expertise as a Project Manager may lead to a Client asking you to provide advice on how best to deliver something, report on something or implement a project related business process (e.g. PMO). Providing your input is leveraging your knowledge (training, certifications) and your experience (previous company learning + current company observations) to provide the company valuable insight in what may or may not work for their organisation. The organisation may then choose to take that advice, ignore it, or more likely – merge with other considerations to provide a solution they believe is best suited for their organisation, at that time.
To achieve this goal, you will deliver a piece of work that has observed the organisation’s current state, articulated some observations and made recommendations for improvements going forwards. You have not delivered the recommendations themselves.
Contracting is the act of doing the work. This work could be to implement the advice you have given through consultation (consulting) with the Client. Where you are doing the work, you are delivering work in accordance with the terms you have agreed within a contract.
If we continue with the example in Consulting above, then the Client will ask if you can deliver your recommendations into their business. You have been contracted to deliver those services as they believe you are the best person suitable to do this.
By understanding what contracting is, you can begin to break down what it is you can and cannot do. Can you do project management? What type of project management do you want to specialise in? Construction project management? Digital project management? Retail project management? What sector, industry and function are best suited to your type of project management? What skills can you offer to deliver value in project management?
Realise that focusing your offering in project management in this way enables you to provide a compelling reason why your Client should engage with contract skills over hiring internally for people that may not have the skillset, or attempting to hire permanent people that may have the skillset.
What do you enjoy doing? Do you really enjoy doing it? If you do, what you do will be more natural for you, produce quality work, enhance value and enable your Client to recognise you were the right investment decision to take.
If you are offering yourself into the marketplace as a specialist or expert in a skill, whether for a specific function and/or industry – you want to make sure you can deliver that task using the skills you have. You want to offer the best possible value you can offer. Doing so provides genuine self-worth and confidence in yourself. Moreover, the Client can trust you to deliver to the agreed terms and will consider you for future contracts where your skills align with the needs of the company at that time. Your contact with the Client may also move from company to company; the problem statement your contact look to solve may be similar from company to company. If you help your Client to solve the problem well, then the solution, and your business repeats itself.
Always discuss the terms of your contract in advance. If in the UK, always ensure the terms of service you are to provide are documented clearly. Think carefully about the services you are agreeing to. You are the specialist and often, you will be able to articulate the terms of the service agreed to better than the Client can – so take interest in controlling your destiny in this area.
Go further and get the contract reviewed by lawyers. There are specialists that review contracts in as little as 24 hours dependent upon the urgency of your need (and depth of your pocket). Their service ensures the contract reads truthfully and you are not about to sign up for something you did not agree to do.
Submitting your contract for legal review will ensure you are informed on whether the contract abides by HMRC laws and your lawyer should provide recommendations on where changes (red lining) in the contract should be made. Do not be afraid to recommend changes to your Client. Your Client should be willing to make these changes in the interest of co-operation; they want your skills and expertise after all. Be prepared for your Clients legal team to review the proposed changes before they can be accepted. In some case, you may consider starting an engagement in ‘goodwill’ if their process is recognised to take longer than the preferred/agreed start date. Be careful with this position, you risk delivering services with zero payment and zero recourse – regardless of how well you ‘get on’ with the Client.
Why mention this about differences between Consulting and Contracting? Because the terms of consulting and contracting can be very different. You may even end up having two separate contracts, one for the consulting piece and one for the contracting piece. If it is one combined contract, ensure the terms of service are clearly laid out and referenced to the consulting and contracting sections correctly. Get to know what the contract is saying – you will be reading a lot if you are successfully agreeing to Client engagements. You will begin to spot the similarities, the changes you believe should be required and even afford you an informed opinion as to whether your lawyer really is good at what they are doing or not.
The difference is whether you are offering an opinion or delivering an opinion. For either scenario, you need a contract with appropriate terms and in an ideal world you can do both. If you understand this now, the articulation of your offering to your Client is a lot clearer. Your ability to articulate the value you will offer the Client becomes clearer. Your understanding of self-worth and the confidence in the value you can offer your Clients is clearer. Finally, it makes it clearer to you as to whether you want to do more of the ‘thinking’ or the ‘doing’ or specialise in providing both.
Would you like to know more?
If you found this article useful, do let me know, it will encourage me to do more. If you want me to write about anything specific about contracting, get in touch. I plan to release more under the title “Consulting Life” so follow/subscribe to be notified for the next one.
The Consulting Life series, and this article in the series is also published through Medium. Read Here..
Featured photo by Dan Dimmock on Unsplash