If someone pays you for doing something, you’re a consultant. That’s true even when the IRS calls you an employee.
I used to put this different – telling people that every employee is an entrepreneur, for example. Or by talking enthusiastically about how everyone at the office is really a customer support representative (N.B.: The definition of “customer” changes depending on who you are and what you do).
You could also say, everyone’s a freelancer (or “free agent”? :-)).
It’s about individualism.
Maybe you know what I mean, maybe you don’t. What I’m getting at is that whatever you do, you’re responsible for what you do (your work), you have complete control over what you do, your compensation (dollars or otherwise) depends directly on what you do, and you alone carry the burden of the risk that tomorrow your “job” will disappear.
Wow – that’s a lot of loaded statements, and a few of them definitely need a bunch more discussion before they’ll make much sense. Plus, all this applies to information, knowledge, and service workers, not so much to folks who are purely manufacturing goods (although even being a manufacturing employee still involves a lot of service to your company and those around you).
The point is, work – your work – is not something you do, and then just throw over the wall while you wait for your paycheck. It’s also not something you do in hopes that your grumpy manager or cost-cutting finance department won’t whimsically decide to eliminate your position tomorrow.
Work (your work!) is something you do, under your control, and with benefits directly related to the care and thoughtfulness you put into the work. Yeah, 80% of most jobs is fairly routine, stuff you don’t really have to think much about – but still, that 80% is directly possible because of who you are and what you think about.
I always tell people that the best companies go in whatever direction their best employees (or consultants… :-)) take them – despite what those companies think their original plan was and despite how the execution of the business plan is later described in reports and press releases. Companies go where their employees take them, because that’s all they can do – the company doesn’t exist without the people and the people, even under the best guidance and most wonderfully strategic direction, still do what they do best, which is sometimes a little or significantly different from the original plan.
They consult. By providing their best service and ability to help the folks who pay them get to where they all, collectively, are able to get to, by each making use of what they individually can do best.