If you give a client 40 hours a week, and take up residence, what happens? Are you still a consultant? For a few minutes maybe, but you very quickly become a de facto employee. You lose all the benefits of being a consultant and you get none of the benefits of being a full-time employee. Aye yi yi… On top of that, if you do good work, they will make you a job offer. UGH! The dreaded job offer. It may surprise you to know that I have specific strategies in place to prevent job offers. So must you.
Never Give One Client More Than 15 Hours a Week
Never give any one client more than the equivalent of 10-15 hours a week. An occasional 20 under specific circumstances is also okay. This may not mean you do 15 hours a week for that client every week, but over the course of a month or so, that will be the average. If you commit too many hours, that client will come to own your time and you will lose all the freedom and flexibility of being a consultant.
This has the added benefit of protecting you from job offers. What??? Nothing ends a good consulting relationship faster than a job offer. Once they offer you a job that you turn down, you are mostly likely done. If you give them 40 hours a week and take up residence, you are asking for it, so don’t do it.
Work Is Something You Do, Not Somewhere You Go
I do 98% of my work remotely. I have occasional on-site client meetings, but I never take up residence. I have some clients that I have never met in person. I am very skilled at working remotely so I can offer tips and tricks which also save the client time and travel expense.
Because I work remotely, I am available to my clients from 7:00 am to 11:00 pm seven days a week. My core practice is project management (getting things done), so it’s a huge benefit for the client to have someone keeping things moving sixteen hours a day, seven days a week. But they don’t pay for sixteen hours a day, seven days a week; they only pay for what they use.
I am available for client calls in the evening. Many clients come to love this because they can get other things done during normal business hours and follow up with me after hours or on week-ends. Not everyone does this, but many entrepreneurs work nights and week-ends too.
Because I’m not in the building, I’m able to focus on the important tasks and produce results efficiently. That means the client gets a lot of bang for their buck. I can confidently handle a workload equivalent to a full-time project manager billing only 15 hours a week.
How Many Hours Should You Work?
How many hours a week do you think you can bill? In the early days, I thought I could bill at least 40 hours a week and maybe 50 or 60. After all, like you, I had been working upwards of 60 hours a week for several years in my corporate jobs. I mean, who works 40 hours a week? This thinking led me down two bad roads. First, I thought I could work all those hours, so I set my hourly rate too low. Second, it didn’t leave me the time I needed to build my business and keep my pipeline full.
Once I did some research, I found that 30 hours a week is considered fully utilized in industries that live and die by the billable hour such as consulting, law and public accounting. Now I shoot to bill 30 hours a week on average. I spend 10-15-20 hours a week doing networking, marketing and business development. And like it or not, it takes an average of 5 hours a week for infrastructure and admin. That adds up to 50-55 hours a week which Is about right.
I typically have two “major” projects at 10-15 hours a week and drizzles of other projects starting and wrapping up. Having two major projects means not having all my eggs in one basket. This way if a client suddenly cancels the project, I still have billable hours going so I am not thrown into a dry spell. This is very, very important. It’s hard to make enough rain to recover if you are completely dry. If you are routinely billing more than 30 hours a week, what will give? I’ll tell you what gets left behind. You stop doing the networking, marketing and business development required to keep a healthy flow of quality projects.
You Are a Water Faucet Resource
As a consultant, you are a water faucet resource – easy on, easy off. A big part of your value proposition as a consultant is being able to throw you in on a big problem or special situation, often very quickly if it’s urgent, and shut you off as soon as the issue is resolved. One of my key areas is product development program turn-arounds, so I frequently jump in when things are a big, urgent mess.
My longest project ever ran a little over three years. My engagements are typically 9 – 18 months, so it was more than double my usual project. I had a lot of autonomy and I earned over half a million dollars in revenue over the run of the engagement. I knew things were winding down, but I found out the project was officially over when I went to log in one day, and my passwords had all been changed. After more than three years! I didn’t take it personally, no one likes to be the bearer of bad news.\
If you are looking to lock in stability and security, you are in the wrong place. In fact, you probably need to time travel because those days are gone, long gone.
I do a lot of speaking about how to start a successful consulting practice. There is a recurring fantasy that frequently comes up. Someone in the audience asks about contracts or a discounted rate for a long-term commitment. When I dig deeper the person is always looking for the elusive stability and security. They are hoping to lock in a healthy stretch of work, so they can forget about all that nasty networking, marketing and business development required to keep the pipeline full. But here’s the thing, what do you do when the water has been running too long? YOU. SHUT. IT. OFF.
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