Fear… and Consulting during a Downturn

Lets face it, when times are good in consulting, when recruiters are constantly complaining that “there just are not enough people”, it is easy to feel secure in your job so long as you are not gratuitously unqualified.

When things are going the other way, however – when business declines – my god how things turn.  Every day, I hear from people who are afraid… very afraid, of what might happen when they hit “the bench”.

I understand this fear.  For the record, I have it as much as anyone.  When times are hard, and you know that even good companies are not going to keep you on a bench much beyond a couple months, it is easy to start to assume the worst – and plan your life as though the worst will happen.  You assume your client will kill your gig for “budget cuts”, you will hit the bench, nothing will happen in two months, you will be laid off, you will burn through your savings, your wife will leave you, your kids will hate you, you will live in a park nearby your house, and your wife and kids will be walking your dog with “the new daddy” – who got the gig you didn’t – and your old dog will pee on you while you are waking up after sleeping that night in that park where your old family decided to take a walk.  And that is all before you contract Swine Flu and die a horrible death, alone.  You laugh – but this is not that unusual of a thought process that someone hitting the bench might have in their head during bad times.

Whatever you do, you have to get past this.  Things were not as good as you thought during the good times, and things are not as bad as you probably think now.

I am not saying bad things can’t happen.  Indeed – they can.  But chances are – just like it is unlikely that you will get a coin flip right more than a few times in a row, chances are, all the bad things will not happen in a row.  My guess is that most consultants wont end up with their former dogs peeing on them.  And if that does occur, at least misery has company.

My theory – and I have at least some reason to believe it is true, is that many tech consultants, when presented with layoff, will get creative.  Some will go independent – taking shorter term gigs until a longer term opportunity comes along (and who knows, perhaps finding they like the indy life and staying there).  Some will form startups (note, if I find myself unemployed, I am going full bore developing Twixcel!)  Others might even change careers.  And that is for the – in the worst case – 20% or so in this business that end up getting laid off.

I could be wrong.  Maybe Armageddon is here.  But even if it is, if things are that bad, I might as well live with it, since there is nothing I can do about it.

So… what can you do about it?  Well – how to survive is another post.  But in the short term, dealing with the fear is the most important thing.  In the short term, my best advice is to focus on your client now.  The client you have now, even if they are not perfect in every aspect, is golden – do everything in your power to get extended.

Now, assuming that does not happen, what to do next?  Stay positive.  Show up to the consulting company office every day (if you can) – and volunteer to work on anything and everything you can – especially anything related to helping in the sales cycle.  But don’t overdo it by trying to work 60+ hours per week.  Keep your sanity – work out – and pay attention to your family and hobbies.  You need your support system intact if anything bad does happen.

Lastly – do not let fear paralyze you or demoralize you.  If, for no other reason – you gain an advantage in the market, either within your consulting company – or external to it, by being that “positive, high energy person”.  Remember, you can adjust your sail, but not the wind.

This is, of course, very easy to say, harder to do!  Those who know me know that I often do more than my own share of “worst case scenario assumption” when I do planning.  Half the reason I wrote this post is to remind me what I need to do to deal with this :)

Fear… and Consulting during a Downturn

4 thoughts on “Fear… and Consulting during a Downturn

  1. nugent says:

    If you consider yourself a ‘consultant’, then why have you been paying in to a bench that doesn’t exist when times are tough? Companies like Magenic aren’t really consulting firms, but body shops. Sure, they survive by their MSFT connection and breed a culture that perpetually circles around ‘the next thing’ out coming out of redmond, but why bother? The bench exists to keep mediocre ‘consultants’ at the ready during good times and disappears in hard times – the only time that good developers might find it useful.

    Keep the money for yourself – go independent!

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