How to Balance Your Consulting Life Without Going Crazy

A long time ago I started a family and after taking some time off work completely, I was ready to get back to into the game. However, being a mom, I did not want to have a typical 9 to 5 job because I needed to be available to take my kids to school as well as continue to be the main caregiver.  I eventually took a job doing consulting work. Consulting, to me, makes me think of having some freedom within your schedule and not the typical 9 to 5 hours. (A testament to this statement is that it is currently 9pm on a Monday and I am writing this. The downside is that I left my house to go to work at 7am this morning and am still working.) But I do enjoy my job. It consists of new implementations, software upgrades, training, and support. Something new that challenges me every day. But the question still remains (and sometimes, I still struggle with) is how does one handle the process of juggling the demand of multiple clients, multiple projects, and a family life outside of work?

Use your resources.  
If you have a Project Manager (PM), make sure you use them to the full extent that you can.  Your PM is your main source of communication with your client.  Sure you are onsite and in contact with your client on a daily basis, however, if you need backup and someone to help communicate realistic expectations to your client, that is what your PM can do.  Sometimes when we are working on a project and onsite with a client, that particular client forgets that they are not our only client and can have some unrealistic goals for deadlines, etc. It is always helpful to have someone else help communicate that to the client. Although you want to keep your clients happy and make them believe they are your number one priority (because they are at that particular time), you need to use your resources to make sure your other clients don’t fall behind as well.

Keep an eye on the calendar and don’t overbook.  
If you have work to get done for a client and you have booked your site to be onsite every day, it is going to be hard to get that work completed on time.  Make sure that you know where you are going to be prior to setting deadlines. This also coincides with using your resources. Your PM should be fully aware of your schedule. If they are not, make sure to share your calendars with them.

Make sure people know your availability.  

Part of a consultant’s job is support for their existing clients.  Yes, most employers have a support web site for clients to log support issues, but let’s be honest, most clients contact their consultant first because the consultants know the client and can usually help faster.  If you are not available, turn on the out of office on your email and voicemail. This will let your clients know that you are not going to responsive. It’s also best to put a link to the support portal in your away messages on your email or direct them to it over your voicemail. This will help avoid any confusion or frustration on both ends.
The key to being successful as a consultant is and will always be communication.  I have at times overbooked myself, not had the best communication, and not used my resources to the fullest extent. Don’t be afraid to communicate to your PM, to your peer consultants, and to your clients. Communication can and often does solve some many of the problems. Don’t be afraid to tell your client that you have overlooked or that you aren’t going to make a deadline. At some point, we are all human and everyone appreciates honesty.
These are just some of the things I have learned in my years as a consultant. These have helped me maintain a more balanced work agenda (most of the time) and thus reflected more positively on my family life.  I am nowhere near to being perfect and still make mistakes with all of the above, but I try my hardest and my goal is to keep my clients happy and my projects on time and on budget. If my clients are happy, I am happy. If I am happy, my family is happy.


COLLEEN WILLIAMS | Senior Business Software Consultant

Colleen graduated with a Bachelors of Science Degree in Accounting from California State University San Bernardino.  She has extensive accounting experience over the past years working as staff accounting and controller.   Colleen has over 10 years Great Plains experience which includes many implementations for private companies.  She also has extensive experience with Business Intelligence, budgeting and report writing while working on BI360, QuickBooks, Oracle, PeopleSoft, Timberline, and Solomon.  Colleen has worked in various industries that include: real estate, property management, timeshare sales, publishing, and insurance.  These various industries have given her the necessary experience to handle large company consolidations and report writing, budgeting and forecasting, project accounting, sales invoice processing, and fixed assets.

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