IT consultants have a reputation for living on the leading – or even ‘bleeding’ – edge of technology and they often see that as one of the reasons they’re called in to save the day. It’s difficult to wake up and realize that the technology you’ve been working with is no longer cutting edge and it may not produce a strong enough client base to keep your consulting practice going. Many consultants have reported that the specialties that used to earn them a solid six figures for many years started to evaporate when the marketplace made a radical shift in direction.
For the IT consultant who is starting to burn out because marketing their skills is now taking up more time than the work itself, the answer may not be to keep spending your time and energy on that frustrating task. It may be to address the skill set issue and acquire new marketable skills. It can take time and money, but may pay back huge dividends.
Another potential burn out cause is monotony. Many consultants report that they’ve become stuck in a niche that just isn’t offering enough challenge to them. Their clients are impressed and excited about their skills in, say, data recovery. But to the consultant stuck in that single niche, the job has gotten monotonous.
What this may be telling the consultant is that they should be acquiring new skills now to keep themselves motivated and interested, and to also make them marketable down the road when the tasks that are boring them now are no longer in high demand.
Social isolation may be the most commonly reported problem for the IT consultant. This type of potential burnout comes from getting tired, over time, of working for themselves. The IT consultant always has that outsider status that comes in and saves the day. Rarely viewed as really part of the team, but more as a savior or subject matter expert, they are often revered, but not often ‘included.’ This can get isolating over time and is the basis of frustration and burnout for some long-term consultants.
Burn out of this nature may be a signal to the consultant that their peer network should be stronger. A remedy may be to become more active in organizations featuring consultants in their niche or area of expertise. For example, a project management consultant may want to join the Project Management Institute (PMI) and start taking part in their monthly local charter meetings and other networking events.
For consultants who are starting to see the signs of burnout, there are a few actions that can be taken to potentially lessen or eliminate those burned out feelings and help rejuvenate their consulting career. Let’s look at these options further.
If you find that you are working eighty-hour weeks, never take a vacation or spend time with your family – or both – then it may be a good time to reduce the number of commitments you have. Remind yourself that one of the reasons you started consulting was so that you could have more control over your life – not less.
Look at your client list carefully. Are there clients on there who are taking advantage of your working relationship with them? Are they asking too much and possibly taking advantage of a lax billing arrangement you’ve made with them? It may be time to cut that chord or change the billing arrangement.
Being selective in new work you take on can serve two purposes. It can keep you from getting too overloaded and it can also help you to select those new assignments that will offer you the chance to acquire new skills. This will both energize you in the present, and make you more marketable in the very near future. A win-win for your consulting practice and earning potential.
Increase your rate
All IT consultants struggle with this and it may cause you to lose clients, but if you need to cut back on your commitments raising your hourly rate may be a good way to do that. You will likely find yourself working fewer hours, but it may also result in more challenging and career-growing assignments that will help you to gain new areas of specialization.
Get out of the house
Some consultants who work from home end up feeling like they are always at work. It’s too easy to sit down with your laptop in the evening just to check on a client and find yourself working till 2:00am. Renting an office space may be one remedy. Another may be to find a locale – a local coffee shop or similar venue – to work from, say, every afternoon from 1-5pm after working from home in the morning. That can also give you a clean stopping point for the day.
IT consulting can be very rewarding and often presents unique challenges that carry the consultant’s enthusiasm from one project to the next. But there is also the potential for burn out and the only way around that is to actively combat it as we’ve discussed in this article. It’s not always easy to keep it fresh, but seeking out new challenges and allowing your skills to grow can go a long way in keeping you happy and on top of your game for your clients.