Tuesday, December 04, 2007

For consultants, adopting the "Google 20%" is vital

Let me paint you a picture. You're a consultant, and a company makes you an offer: Please work full time on our account. We'll take all the hours you can give us. Imagine, further, that this assignment lasts two or three years. Then, as with all consulting arrangements, it ends.

Now what do you do?

Paradoxically, the assignment has been so good that it has left you unprepared for the next one. And the more of yourself you devoted to that one assignment, the less time you spent keeping your contacts up to date, learning new skills, and marketing to other clients.

No one would trade the two-year client for a six-week client, but the six-week client cannot put your consulting business into the kind of long-term jeopardy the two-year client can.

The answer? Adopt the "Google 20%." Recall that Google asks each of its employees to dedicate one day per week to new projects of her choosing. A consultant who does the same automatically has a bank of time to spend on projects that, while they may not have a near-term payoff, are vital to the long-term health of the business. Examples: reading new literature, writing journal articles, taking on speaking engagements, trying brief assignments that open up new areas of experience, writing a blog, writing a newsletter, serving on an advisory board, developing a product idea.... The list of useful projects is endless, if only you dedicate the time and commit to using it productively.

It's not a strategy that's easy to implement. Convincing the client to take a little less than all of you can be tricky. Fitting in the 20% work around client needs also takes flexibility. And forgoing the immediate income can be very, very difficult.

But the payoff is great. Rather than being at the mercy of your client (no matter how wonderful they are to you), you are in control of your career and destiny. Frankly, continuing to build your skills (even in areas outside your current assignment) is something your clients should demand of you anyway.

(Photo by michelleho via stock.xchng)

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Sean Murphy said...

In "Secrets of Consulting" Gerald Weinberg proposes that you spend 40% of your time on billable work, 40% of your time getting work (marketing) and 20% of your time sharpening the saw. Those three activities strike me as necessary to a sustainable consulting practice, if you work 80% and sharpen the saw 20%, too few prospects may be aware of your firm and what it can offer: you need to devote a certain amount of time to marketing on a sustained basis as well.

John Caddell said...

Sean, your comment makes a lot of sense. Without marketing your services, the saw-sharpening won't benefit you too much. It also underlines how important it is to have a rate that can pay the mortgage at, say, 800 billable hours per year.