By Brad Egeland
IT consultants can get worn out or burned out for a number of reasons, but those reasons can help you identify possible next steps to take to keep your career going. Let’s look at the reasons first, and then examine possible ways to combat burnout and keep moving forward.
Consultants have a reputation for living on the leading edge of technology and often see that as a reason they’re called in to save the day. It’s difficult to wake up and realize that the tools you’ve been working with are no longer cutting edge and may not produce a strong enough client base to keep your practice going. Many consultants say that the specialties that earned them a solid six figures for many years begin to evaporate when the marketplace makes a radical shift in direction.
For consultants who are starting to burnout because marketing their existing skills is taking up more time than the work itself, the answer may be to stop spending so much energy on that frustrating task and instead acquire new, more marketable skills. It can take time and money, but may pay back huge dividends.
Another cause for burnout is monotony. Many consultants report that they’ve become stuck in a niche that just isn’t challenging enough. 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 become a burden.
What this may be saying is that they should be acquiring new skills to keep themselves motivated and interested, and also to make them marketable down the road when the tasks that are boring now are no longer in demand.
Social isolation may be the most commonly reported problem for IT consultants. This type of burnout comes from getting tired of working for yourself. While you always have that status of the outsider that comes in and saves the day, consultants are rarely viewed as truly part of the team. Instead, they’re regarded as saviors or subject matter experts. They’re often revered, but not often “included.” This can make you feel lonely over time, and again lead to frustration and burnout.
Burnout of this nature may be a signal that your peer network should be stronger. One remedy is to become more active in organizations that cover your niche or area of expertise. For example, a project management consultant may want to join the Project Management Institute (if they haven’t already) and start taking part in monthly local charter meetings and other networking events.
Consultants who are starting to see signs of burnout can take a few actions to help rejuvenate their career. Let’s look at them.
If you find that you’re working eighty-hour weeks and never take a vacation or spend time with your family, 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 some who are taking advantage of your working relationship? Are they asking too much and possibly using a lax billing arrangement to their advantage? It may be time to cut that cord or firm up your billing cycle and collections.
Being selective in what new work you take on can serve two purposes: It can keep you from getting overloaded, and it can also help you to select those 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 practice and earning potential.
Increase Your Rate
All IT consultants struggle with this and, yes, 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 strategy in the long run. You’ll likely find yourself working fewer hours, but also working in more challenging and career-growing assignments that will help you gain new areas of specialization.
Get Out of the House
Some consultants who work from home end up feeling like they’re always at work. It’s too easy to sit down in the evening with your laptop just to check on a client and find yourself working till 2 a.m. One remedy for this is to rent office space. If you don’t want to spend the money, find a locale – a local coffee shop or similar place – to work from, say, every afternoon from 1 to 5. Doing that can also give you a clean stopping point for the day.
IT consulting can be very rewarding and often presents unique challenges that can carry your enthusiasm from one project to the next. But it also confronts you with the potential for burnout. The only way around that is to actively combat it. It’s not always easy to keep things fresh, but seeking out new challenges and growing your skills can go a long way to keeping you happy and on top of your game.