Last summer during a social event at Agile 2019 in Washington D.C. I had an interesting conversation with a fellow entrepreneur about being busy. This conversation started with telling each other what we were working on and from both sides it sounded like a lot! The question that came up was: So, how busy are you?
As busy as I want to be!
Having two companies and being the eternal (unpaid) intern at my girlfriends’ company, may seem very busy. But on average I work about three days a week. Work that I am being paid to do. One of these companies focuses on Agile training and consulting and this service is what pays the bills at this moment.
However, I made a deliberate choice not to fill my entire week with providing service. Of course, I could do that since Agile is a big thing in the industry now. I believe, I could have earned a lot more over the last couple of years. But I didn’t do that. I decided to limit the amount of time I spend on doing work so I can free time to work on new areas like entrepreneurial ability, working with four generations and the voice of the system. To make this happen I take up new assignments following these principles.
Maximum 24 hours a week
I do not believe a consultant should be present for more than 24 hours a week. An organization needs time to get work done, practice and internalize new insights.
This means that I spent no more than 24 hours at an organization and this not the same as 3 days! If it means I need to spread the 24 hours over 5 workdays at this organization to make an impact, I will do so. That is the risk I take as an entrepreneur.
You pay when I am there.
I only show up at the organization if I believe I can add value. Being there for 8 hours just because my contract say so is bad consultancy in my opinion. The organization only pays for the hours I actually spent and the hourly rate is a little higher than they are used to. But when I am there, something is happening. If not, they don’t have to pay.
Longer engagements are more expensive
This principle feels counterintuitive for most organizations. They assume a consultant is aiming for long term engagements (and most consultancy organizations do believe that). A long assignment is predictable revenue. So organizations know this and expect a lower hourly rate for longer engagements since consultancy firms value steady revenue. I believe it should be the other way around. The longer the assignment takes, the higher the (hourly) rate. As a consultant, I add value based on the knowledge I have and share and the experience from many different environments I bring. So, if you hire me for a longer period of time, I take myself off the market for a longer period of time. Only gaining experience at one organization, decreases my value for future assignments.
Therefore, a longer engagement has to be compensated so I am able to invest in additional knowledge gathering, training etc.
You do the work!
There is a huge risk being a consultant that an organization starts to depend on you. Everything is fine as long as you are there. As soon as you leave, things fall apart. From the first day I enter an organization I say:
The only thing I do is to teach the organization to be able to do things themselves. You do the work! I will help you, guide you along the way but change is up to you! For example, I have set up a course at one of the organizations I worked with as a consultant. This course is designed for a couple of talented employees to teach them what I do. Over the next couple of months, I will work with these five people so they will become the experts on Agility. They will learn and put it into practice at the same time. This way the organization will build their own capabilities to change and I will guide these experts along the way. They do the work, I will guide, coach and teach them. So I can leave as soon as possible.
Applying these principles work very well in being as busy as you want to be, freeing up time to invest in learning new things. But it is scary as well. You do not have long term assignments, you might end up working 5 days a week and only get paid for 24 hours. So money might not be as good as it could have been. And since your approach to the work you do is to teach organizations to do it themselves, might make you start looking for a new assignment sooner than you expect. But so far it has worked great for me. I am as busy as I want to be.