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The ups and downs of consulting

In my first week as an independent consultant, I wrote a blog post boasting about my 33+ hours of billable time.

Now that two more weeks have passed, I thought it only fair to share some of the obstacles I’ve experienced as well.

(But before I do, let me say this: I have awesome clients. The people are fantastic, and I really believe in their products/services/businesses. Still, the process rarely goes as planned. But in the end, great work is produced. So I’m not complaining, just making some observations. Please don’t stop sending the checks. Thanks!)

The bait-and-switch

You’re hired to do one thing and end up being responsible for something else entirely. The number of hours required to do the work increases significantly, but the deadline doesn’t change. So you clear your calendar, find a quiet spot, and don’t look up until you’ve managed to weave a tapestry out of the littlest bit of thread you were given. But when it’s done, you’re prouder of this than the work you had expected to do well from the beginning.

The spam box

You were supposed to receive feedback a week ago, but all you hear is crickets. Turns out your e-mails were marked as junk. You hope that isn’t a bad omen. When the client finally reviews the work, he’s really pleased. But can you just change one thing…

The infinite loop

Your contract said two rounds of review on that deliverable, but you find yourself up at 3am working on a file named v5. The feedback you received from the client didn’t include the notes from the guy in the satellite office. And he happens to disagree with the CEO, so you get stuck making changes on the document nine times before everyone is satisfied. Ultimately it works out in your favor because you get to bill more hours than projected.

The timezones

That guy in the satellite office is 3 hours behind so his version of EOD is midnight (3am your time), but your primary contact is expecting the revisions by first thing in the morning (9am your time). You pull an all-nighter so that you don’t miss the deadline. Your eyes may be bloodshot, but once you send that e-mail, the day is yours. You choose to spend it sleeping in the park.

It may be erratic, unpredictable, and totally unstable, but damn I love the rush!

Anything else you’d like to add or warn me about? Please let me know in the comments :)

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  • http://www.perfecttuna.com Samantha LeVan

    Getting paid:
    Never expect to be paid on time. Make sure a late fee or interest is built into the contract but also don't expect the company to pay it out. Don't fuss over a few weeks late. Do start complaining after a month past due.

    Who is in control:
    Who is the primary decision maker at your client's company? It may not be the person claiming to have final say. Always be aware that there'll be “just one more presentation” several times.

    Vacation:
    Plan vacations well in advance so you have actual time off, not thinking about current work (projects inactive or complete) and new clients lined up for your return so you don't worry about losing touch and not having anything to do.

    • http://www.whitneyhess.com/blog Whitney Hess

      These are great tips, Sam. Thanks so much!

  • http://www.felttip.com Lucius Kwok

    Having a good contract lawyer on your side is never a bad thing. Business liability insurance is also a good idea. That's my advice, from my experience.

    It sounds like you're having a really interesting experience so far. I haven't done much consulting work, instead I make Mac software.

  • tsakell

    Whitney, nice blog. Sounds like you're learning the fine points of consulting. My suggestion: start applying project management principles. In your consulting principles, you may not be leading the project — but you can lead your end. Example: Dear client, revisions rec'd by 4 p.m. (Eastern) can be delivered by 9 a.m. (Eastern). Even as a consultant, you CAN manage expectations and delivery. Thought: Add an overnight fee? If late requirements force an all-nighter, charge the all-nighter fee.

    You'd be surprised how open clients are to this idea, when you originally pitch your services. My motto: If you allow people to do whatever they want, they will.

    • http://www.whitneyhess.com/blog Whitney Hess

      Brilliant! Thanks so much for this great advice.