I have been running StrategicLee, a PR agency, for over 15 years now. And like any other career, being a consultant has its ups and downs. However, 2017 has been particularly tough and not in the usual way. I have amazing clients with great products and have been busy. But I am really burnt out. I have had several weekends where I have fallen into a recovery lethargy that won’t let me leave the couch. My partner has been worried about my stress level and frankly so have I. It has caused me to need a break – a significant one – so that I can get back some balance and be the kind of consultant my clients need me to be.
So, I am taking a few months off, re-evaluating what StrategicLee will look like moving forward. I’m realizing, though, that I contributed to this burn-out in the worst ways. And it got me to thinking that there are other consultants out there that are, for lack of better terms, rolling in self-sabotage. There are things we’re doing to ourselves that make us hate what we do.
But we own these businesses! We have our dream jobs! So let’s make a pact. Here is a list of 11 mistakes I’ve made that make me hate my job. I am going to stop doing them right now. What say you?
1. Being arms and legs – We are consultants and experts. Our major value is the breadth of our experience, working for hundreds of companies. After 25 years in the business, it is my strategy that is worth the most. We should not be arms and legs but brains and counselors. Yes, there is work to be done. But strategy is where we shine and what we love to do. If clients don’t value or listen to your strategy, then they’re really looking for someone to simply follow orders.
2. Not raising rates – With every year and month, you gain experience and bring more to the table. When it is time for contract renewals, you already know the value you bring to your clients. Just as they raise product prices, so should you raise your rates. You don’t have to go crazy and double them, but an increase is realistic as time goes by.
3. Saying yes to everything – We are asked to do a lot of things. But some of the things we are asked to do can affect your business reputation. In the PR business, these kinds of requests put future business and relationships with media in jeopardy. You don’t have to say yes to everything your clients ask you to do. Sometimes it is better for you (and for them) if you just say no. I know we can get beat down by their arguments, but if you feel sick to your stomach by a client request, it might be time to say no and walk away.
4. Not going on vacation – I know, I know – we don’t have paid sick leave or vacations. But we make our own hours. Just as vacation time is mandated for in-house jobs, you should mandate it for yourself. And you should be out of reach for the entire time. Unless you are in the medical field, you aren’t saving lives. So go, take a break.
5. Answering email late at night – When was the last time your dentist answered your call in the middle of the night? NEVER. There are crisis moments, and they are few and far between. Turn off the phone. Tell your clients you are closed after 5:30pm and you open at 9am. Remove yourself from the drama of late night internal emails from a company you work with, not for.
6. Being super consultant – I was recently asked to do something amazing in less than 24 hours. I did it. And I am amazing. It should have never come to a 24-hour turnaround though. Once you do something like this, they will ask you to do it again. Not to mention the stress you put yourself in for 24 hours just for everyone to say thanks and then move on to the next thing. Save yourself. Sometimes pulling a rabbit out of a hat (or more accurately, your own ass) is not worth the pain.
7. Not defining your services – Speaking of being amazing – I am sure you can do a lot of amazing things. As a matter of fact, you excel at everything you do. But what business are you in? What actually pays the bills and is rewarding? What does the sign on the door say you do? Great. Now look at your to-do list. How many of those things don’t fall under your mission statement? I know it seems like taking on more and more work is good, but that extra stretch costs you more per hour than your core business. Stretch too far and you end up losing money.
8. Acting like an employee – This one is hard. You see good businesses make clients feel like they are part of the team and on the same page. But good businesses are also businesses. Your contracts are between two companies. Not a company and a person. If your contracts read that way, you need to fix them ASAP. Your business is providing services for a finite price. You are not salaried, receiving benefits, or overtime pay. So you need to act accordingly. Respect your work and your clients will as well.
9. Always being available – How is this different from #5 and #8? I am talking about always having more capacity for more. Stop taking on more work than is reasonable. I know, I know, it is just a 3 week project. Well, it will take another 3 weeks to catch up from the distraction. Sometimes we just don’t have the bandwidth and that’s ok. It is ok to leave work on the table if only for your sanity. Which leads me to…
10. Not turning down work – Yes, consulting can be feast or famine. But you should know those business cycles by now and should have planned ahead. Stop taking on soul-killing work because it is there. Don’t take on work out of your area of expertise unless you plan on eating the cost of your hours spent learning something new. Don’t say yes just because it was referred by someone you respect. They will respect you more for turning down work you don’t really want to do.
11. Not letting your work shine – Is your work hidden behind someone else. Do your clients not really know you are there? Are you a hidden asset? Well, guess what is the first thing to go when the budgets get cut—you and your services. Because too few people know the value you bring to the overall business. Get out from behind that wall and let them know you are there.