A freelancer is a self-employed worker who is engaged away from their client’s place of work – usually from home. They tend to work on multiple projects at once, or with significant overlap between their contracts. Engagements are usually shorter-term and payment is on an hourly or per-project basis. Freelance work is particularly common in creative industries – graphic designers, copywriters, ad hoc developers, animators, musicians and producers are more commonly freelancers.
A contractor is also a self-employed worker, but tends to be hired for longer-term projects. A client will engage a contractor in order to deliver a particular project or task – the rate is agreed before work begins and typically takes the form of a daily or hourly rate. Unlike freelancers, contractors will work on-site with the client and often have more interaction with people within the organisation than a freelancer would. Since contractors are engaged on a fixed-term basis and don’t have the same benefits as a permanent employee, daily rates can be considerably higher than the equivalent for a permanent worker. Contractors are engaged in all industries, but are particularly common in skilled industries with variable workloads, such as IT, construction or project management.
Consultants are highly-skilled professionals who usually have significant expertise in their chosen field. Consultants aren’t hands-on workers, in the same way that a contractor or freelancer might be – instead, they are engaged to assess an entire business or specific section of a business. The consultant will make suggestions and provide guidance to the client at a senior level and often be retained in order to help implement their proposals. Due to the expertise required to consult, a consultant will usually command a very high rate of pay.
A locum is brought into an organisation to replace absent staff members. Contract length can vary widely – from a few days or weeks, to several months. Locums are often required to cover periods of illnesses, transitional periods after staff move on or maternity leave. The most well-publicised user of locum workers is in the healthcare industry, where locum doctors and nurses are used to provide short-term cover across different areas, but any industry can engage a locum.