What is the Difference Between a BA Contractor and a Consultant?

Many business analysts are looking to “go out on their own” and are thinking of contracting or consulting. Either option is a great way to increase your income, flexibility, and gain valuable experience across a wide variety of experience. While they can overlap (at certain times in my career I’ve considered myself a contractor and a consultant) the roles do vary. Let’s take a look at how contracting is different from consulting.

A few characteristics of independent contract work:

  • Fill a temporary need of an organization.
  • Often work full-time (40 hour + work weeks) for a specific duration.
  • Paid on an hourly or daily basis.
  • Typically do not have access to benefits, such as health insurance and vacation time.
  • Often brought on to work on a specific project.
  • Often find the contract through typical job search / application methods, i.e. the employer has an open position that you are hired to fill and may work with a recruiter or recruit independently.
  • Will spend the vast majority of their time doing contract work and less overall time marketing themselves (except during “in between” times when they are not on a contract).

A few characteristics of independent consulting work:

  • Typically work on an “engagement” or make a specific contribution to an organization.
  • Often contributions are strategic in nature, such as establishing a new process.
  • Often paid a set fee for the engagement that represents a high hourly rate.
  • Bring special expertise or experience that is high-value to the client.
  • Often find opportunities through professional networking it is more of a sales process than a job application process as often there is no open “position”.
  • Will often spend a larger portion of their time marketing their consultant practices and less overall time doing consulting work.

Of course, there are gray areas. My contracts often blend elements of consulting and contracting. I might find the opportunity on my own, but bill hourly. I often combine project and strategic work as I help establish new business analyst practices. It’s less about following rules and more about finding a mix that works for you (and that’s marketable to potential clients).

As business analysts, I think it’s rather difficult to work on more than 1-2 big projects at once, making full-time contracting a more attractive option than consulting in many cases. However, spend too much time on contract work and your marketing/networking time goes down, resulting in difficulties finding your next gig.

What path is right for you? I’d start by asking yourself the following questions:

  • How much time do you want to spend marketing? (networking, selling, researching potential clients, etc)?
  • How much time do you want to be doing business analysis?
  • Are you willing to have longer periods of time between engagements in order to secure a higher rate / hour?
  • Do you want to secure some time off between contracts to pursue other interests?

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