New Year’s Resolutions for Smart Consultants

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I hate New Year’s.

Let me correct that — I don’t hate New Year’s, per se. After all, what’s not to like about beginnings? But I hate the fact that each time the New Year rolls around, I’m reminded, none too gently, of last year’s resolutions, half of which never made it past the paper on which they were written.

Here’s a sampling of last year’s list:

1. Find at least two new major clients. (In fairness, I did that.)

2. Find and marry a celebrity, vacation on private jet. (I blew that one big time.)

The fact that half my resolutions went bust leaves me completely unqualified to offer you advice on making yours, so I’ll do exactly that below. (If Paris Hilton can have a CD, then I can pontificate on paper.)

The Main Thing
As the saying goes, the main thing is keeping the main thing the main thing. We owe that nugget of wisdom to Steven Covey, guru of business advice and author of the ever-present “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.” One of the hardest things for an entrepreneur to do — including the IT consultant, whose work life is defined by insistent clients and a constantly changing landscape of new technologies and skill sets — is filter the signal from the noise. To focus on the few things that truly matter is a rare skill.

So let me ask you: What one or two things (not 10 or 12) will make your business fly this year? A focus on new clients? A new cert? What about a commitment to ditch those clients who suck up your time but add little to your revenue or even subtract from it with excessive demands? Here, it pays to remember the Pareto principle, also called the 80/20 rule, which was named after the Italian economist who observed that 20 percent of a region’s activity accounts for 80 percent of its wealth.

So again I ask: What are the two-tenths of your work that, if pursued like an old West outlaw, could add eight-tenths to your bottom line? I’m willing to bet your two-tenths are precisely the one or two things you’ve avoided because they’re hard, they mean fixing a bad habit or they swiftly take you out of your comfort zone.

Be a Solver of Problems
Speaking of comfort zones, much of our best work — that which isn’t just productive but progressive — is work we avoid because it’s unpleasant. So when crafting your resolutions, why not frame them instead as problems to be solved? It’s one thing to set goals and indulge in pie-in-the-sky thinking. It’s quite another to find solutions, that is, to take a hard-nosed, honest look at your problems and bite whatever bullet that’s needed to fix them.

Let me share a few of the problems I often see with IT consultants and colleagues:

 

 

  • Slow payment cycles. Some clients pay with all the speed of slugs, leaving you with cash flow nightmares. A potential solution: Offer discounts for quick payments or cut the slowest clients loose to focus on the 20 percent who provide 80 percent of your earnings.
  • Work-life balance. Was the last time you took a Sunday off sometime last year? A potential solution: Get your butt out of the office. It takes discipline, but it pays dividends.
  • No cash cushion. Work comes and goes. You need a safety fund for the lean times, and I’ll wager your car is not a nice place to live. A potential solution: Cut back everywhere you can and save, save, save, then save some more, until you have at least six months of cash on hand. It’s even better if you have a year’s worth.

 

Get Certified
Why not add a cert or two to this year’s resolutions? Or at the very least, start the training (or merely the reading) for one of the certs you’ve been meaning to get? Two points of advice: First, give yourself a deadline. A task without a deadline is just a wish, a way to convince yourself that you’re working when you’re not. And second, go for certs in your niche, that is, specialize. As the IT market rebounds, companies are more likely to hire specialists, not generalists.

Dream
And why not? I’ve advised you to be a hard-nosed pragmatist, to flee your comfort zone and to become a solver of problems. Fine. Just don’t forget to train your eyes on the horizon every so often and imagine what lies beyond it. After all, it’s the New Year. It’s time to get started.

David Garrett is a Web designer and former IT director, as well as the author of “Herding Chickens: Innovative Techniques in Project Management.” He can be reached at editor (at) certmag (dot) com.

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