I often get asked this question. Is there any real difference between the two?
Language, as you know, is not regulated. You can use both terms interchangeably, and whichever you prefer the most to describe you and your services. But in my case, it highlights an important distinction for my clients.
It's the difference between strategy and implementation work.
Many agencies and freelancers call themselves consultants when most (or all) of their work consists of implementation. You are selling the execution of a service to clients, performing tasks and activities on their behalf. It can be anything from staff or customer research, delivering specific training, running team-building events.
This is what I used to do in the past at Singular Reach: coaching and done-for-you marketing campaigns for boutique consulting firms. Clients who had junior staff available usually hired us to develop in-house capabilities. Smaller consultancies sometimes needed to outsource execution, and we had a team in place for that.
My work with partners and solo consultants, however, is one of an advisor.
An advisor only sells advice - not execution with advice. Clients are buying access to my practical experience and specific knowledge. When (and if) they need outside support, I’ll make direct introductions to vetted specialists.
It turns out that knowing what to do is the first step to actually do it. When clients hire you, they buy an outcome. And while many can perform a job, very few know which job needs to be performed to generate the desired outcome.
Does it mean you should ditch implementation work? Absolutely not. The best of all strategies will make no impact without execution. But it means you should be highly specialized and uniquely positioned, or else clients will see you as a generalist order-taker.
The common characteristic among successful consultants and advisors is specialized knowledge. If you are not specialized, you won't be seen as an expert. Differentiation will rely on price or personality, which is neither a profitable or sustainable way to grow.