When you are consulting, you work with a client for a pre-determined period of time. Usually it is a time period that both you and the client have agreed upon because you both feel that time frame is adequate enough to get the desired task completed. Sometimes things get in the way and your "contract" is extended or, you finish the task and are sent on your way. So what happens now?
Finding What’s Available
The first thing that should take place when you realize you are finishing up with your current client is to find out what projects are available. Since I work for a consulting firm, I will focus on this aspect of things. The general ideas though can be applied to a contract worker who finds their clients and jobs on their own.
Lets begin with the basics. What does "rolling off" mean? Quite simply it means that your work for the client is complete or they have decided to let you go. Either way, you will no longer be working for that client and hence will not be billing any hours, thus not earning any money.
Once you know you will be rolling off a project, you need to alert the account mangers in your firm of your availability. This initially can be done via email, while still on site with your current client. The email should include the following:
- Your name, position, and primary skill set. You might also include basic information about the skill sets used at our most recent client
- The date of your immediate availability. This is the first business day after your last day at the current client.
- Finally, any specific projects you might want to be a part of, specific things you would like to work with/on
This lets your account managers know that you are available and what kind of roles you can fill. Once you have rolled off your current project you need to follow this email up with in person meetings.
Getting to Know Your Account Managers
The account managers in your firm need to be your best friends in the firm. They are the ones that find you a project. They will get you back out in the field and billing for a client thus keeping your overall utilization up (utilization is important when working for a consultant firm it represents how much money you bring in versus how much you don’t).
So your first day off a project should be spent going around and meeting as many account managers as possible. These guys have their ears to the ground and know what skill sets are popular and most requested. They can help you figure out what you need to focus reading up on, learning, and general knowledge growth direction. Some questions to ask the account managers are:
- What current projects do you have openings on?
- What skill sets are you seeing a lot of requests for?
You should also reiterate some of the things you sent in your initial email. Stating who you are what skill sets you have, what you are interested in, and so forth. Remember, you need to be on these account mangers’ minds. If you are, when they get something they will remember you and get you on the project quickly. These folks can not sell who they don’t know, so make sure they know you.
When you roll off a project, you are usually considered to be "on the bench". This is something I have written about previously (On the Bench). When you are on the bench, you want to also be working on improving your skill set. If you work for a consulting firm, chances are they have made training materials available to you or have a very rich library that you can use to help learn new skills or improve existing ones. Once you have spoken with the account managers to find out what clients are looking for, you can begin researching and learning about the skill sets in question. If you already have a needed skill, make sure to speak up. The sooner you can get on a project the happier everyone is.
Being off a project is the life of a consultant. Some times you are on a project other times you are not. It is a cycle. The important thing is what you do with your time that you are not on a project that will help you become the best consultant you can be. Talk to your account managers, refresh and better current skill sets, make sure to work at learning new skill sets. All of this will help you stay off the bench and billing at a client.