Web Development

Nine resolutions for a new year of consulting

Chip Camden grades himself on how well he lived up to his six resolutions for 2008 and then adds three more to the list for 2009. IT consultants, what are your resolutions for the new year?

Believe it or not, it's 2009 already. If you believe that seven is a lucky number, 2009 is the year for you. It's not only a multiple of seven, but also a multiple of seven times seven (with the only other prime factor being 41). And nine minus two yields seven. But I'm not superstitious.

The changing of the calendar is the traditional time for changing your life (or at least, promising yourself you will) by making resolutions. Last year, I posted six resolutions for 2008. Today I'll review my performance on those commitments and set some new goals for 2009.

First, a look back at last year's best laid plans:

#1: Do more of the work that I want to and less of the work that I have to.

I was able to spend more time with languages and technologies that interest me, but still not as much as I would have liked. I delved deeper into Ruby, mostly by reading Hal Fulton's The Ruby Way and by playing around with the language on my own. I did manage to land one paying gig that used Ruby, but I didn't end up writing any of the code (which was disappointing). I also learned a lot about Lisp by reading Paul Graham's On Lisp (well, I'm on the last chapter), which I can highly recommend to anyone with a strong programming background who wants to learn that most elegant and powerful language. I continued writing for TechRepublic and [Geeks are Sexy], both of which I thoroughly enjoy. I turned away a couple of projects that didn't interest me, and I convinced a couple of clients to pursue projects that did interest me and to involve me in them.

Grade: I have to give myself an A in this category, even though there's more progress to be made.

#2: Spend evenings and weekends face to face with my family instead of my monitors.

Oops. Although I have been pretty good about evenings and holidays, I worked far more weekends this past year.

Grade: I score a D, but my wife gets an A for her patience.

#3: Make more money than last year.

I increased my 2008 gross receipts by about 20% compared to 2007, via a combination of significantly raising my rates and working more hours. I could have done even better if it weren't for procrastination.

Grade: I still have to give myself an A here. Any time you can engineer a 20% increase in revenue you should be happy with yourself. I don't think that will happen again this year though -- given the state of the economy, I'm not planning to raise any clients' rates in 2009.

#4: Do something for each of my clients that makes them say, "Wow, I'm glad we hired that guy."

I definitely created some of those moments in 2008, but I have to admit that not every one of my clients experienced that feeling -- and I probably missed some opportunities for those moments.

Grade: Of course, you can't please everyone, so I'll give myself a B here.

#5: Don't put up with clients who stretch the terms of their agreement.

I took this one seriously and got tough this year: Clients who habitually paid late were put on a "show me the money" plan -- they paid in advance, or I performed no work. Period. All my other clients who did pay on time remained on terms, with my heartfelt thanks.

Grade: It's definitely an A.

#6: Make sure that my good clients know that they're appreciated.

I gave out a couple of customer appreciation credits this year, and I made an effort to tell each of my clients how important they are to me. But I could have done a lot more; for instance, I didn't send out any holiday cards or gifts.

Grade: I'll give myself a C. Using the traditional four-point scale, that gives me an average of 3.0, or in other words, an overall B (presuming that each resolution carries an equal weight). Not bad, but I could have done better.

For 2009, I'll continue to work on each of the items above (which also look a lot like my 2007 list), plus I'll add the following three resolutions:

#7: Kill the procrastination monkey.

This is, by far, my biggest obstacle to productivity. For a quick measurement, compare my total billing for the year against a 2000 hour work year. The resulting effective rate is pretty depressing -- only about 60% of my mean billing rate. Now of course, a lot of that difference can be accounted for by activities that are required to run the business but aren't billable. Still, I know that a lot of time gets wasted just getting myself started on each project.

#8: Stop thrashing my mental swap space.

Dividing my attention too finely between multiple projects makes me less effective on each one; this effect gets multiplied when procrastination enters the picture. I need to be even more disciplined about avoiding interruptions and focusing on a single task for long periods of time.

#9: Act on more ideas.

I have a lot of ideas, but most of them never get past the "oh, that would be cool" phase. I need to allocate more time to making some of these ideas into more than thought bubbles.

How about you?

How well did you keep your 2008 resolutions (that is, if you believe in making resolutions at all)? Do you have any new ones for 2009? Can you offer any tips that have helped you keep resolutions -- perhaps posting a printout of your resolutions in your workspace or assessing mid-year how you're faring with your resolutions? Share your thoughts and tips about resolutions in the discussion.

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About

Chip Camden has been programming since 1978, and he's still not done. An independent consultant since 1991, Chip specializes in software development tools, languages, and migration to new technology. Besides writing for TechRepublic's IT Consultant b...

24 comments
bwatkins
bwatkins

Nice list, Chip! And I admire you for having the guts to drag up last year's list and grade yourself.

PMPsicle
PMPsicle

They often are better known as good business practices ... and there are a lot to choose from. So once you run face first into one they tend to stay on the list until you forget about them! One of the things I like to do is split my full-tilt wall impacts into two lists ... objectives (make more money!) and resolutions/habit changes (stop procrastinating). Objectives I need to break into a task and results plan. I usually do this by breaking them into annual goals, quarterly and then weekly goals as a first step. (BTW make more money doesn't work ... be specific ... how much money?). After all if I don't schedule time to them they won't happen. Resolutions or habit changes are a little more difficult to specify. I'll identify tasks to be accomplished over the coming year, and general ideas to be watched for on a regular basis. So to use the don't procrastinate example, I'll identify a particular time on Monday to plan my week's objectives tasks (remember them). This helps me to train myself not to procrastinate (active habit breaker). I will also put a nice big sign over my desk (Do It NOW!) to remind me not to procrastinate. (Actually I get really nasty with my signs otherwise I don't pay attention to them.) At the end of the period (week, month, quarter, annual) I check to see if I'm on track or if the track has changed. (e.g. Find work in September became find a better way in December). I try to keep my objectives few. My resolutions are either being actively worked on or just kept in memory. If I'm actively working on too many of them, then I've got to split them up over the year. (Basically break one habit at a time then go on). Otherwise I'll end up doing nothing except working on my business. I also suggest keeping your resolutions/objectives SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time Sensitive or Timely). BTW, I suggest reading The 4-Hour Workweek by Timothy Ferriss (keep a salt shaker handy). He has a lot of good ideas and points to be made which IT consultants especially tend to need to be bonked on the head with. BTW... Happy New Year. Glen Ford, PMP http://www.TrainingNOW.ca

reisen55
reisen55

Agree with many of your points. In 2008 I made consistently one weekend visit to two or three area based clients, but only because that is the best schedule for me. About 4 hours on Sunday and they are out of my hair entirely for the week ahead. Working in a non-production environment helps alot. Money = 2008 was the first year of independent consulting full time and I do not want to repeat that scenario in 2009. Ever. More money this year. Client appreciation: I have had only two real incidents this year which I took to be positives with my clients and used them to change 2009 support structure and generally have may client appreciation moments from from me to client and client to me. My regular clients pay me on time and what I find most interesting is that the smallest ONE of the lot, which is a used book store, and the fellow doesn't have two dimes to rub together - HE is the one who always pays on time and appreciates me. The larger ones have argued far more about trivial stuff. Go figure sometimes. Procrastination - I have a only a few things I have put aside, but more for the " if it ain't broke, I could fix it WORSE " school of thought. I enjoy pre-testing solutions. I do have a colleague who does not procrastinate BUT JUST CHARGES AHEAD WITHOUT THINKING and that has cost me money. In Corporate IT we always pre-tested everything. Peirod. So for 2009, I want more clients, more money if billed properly given economic conditions and maintain stable balance between family and job.

joshua
joshua

A great list, thanks for the inspiration. I don't normally make new year's lists, but may consider it now. I did send out Christmas cards this year. I think customer appreciation is important. Stick to it next year!

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

Is there a reason why I need more resolutions this year than last? Am I kidding myself that I'll be able to spend less time in front of LCDs? Stay tuned.

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

Lots of good ideas there. Measurable goals are great. I could try to increase my revenue by 10% -- and I can easily monitor that on a monthly basis, knowing what my monthly average was last year. I've heard of the book, but haven't read it yet. I'll add it to my list. Thanks, and have a great 2009 yourself!

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

It doesn't always work out that way for me, but I have seen the same trend -- it seems that they know how hard it is for a small business to wait for cash. So if they appreciate your work, they want to pay you on time. Bigger companies assume that the only person they're stressing out is your manager of Accounts Receivable. Little do they know that he is also you -- but even if they did, the person in their Accounts Payable who is deciding who to pay when doesn't know you from Adam. Along those lines, I've found it helpful to develop a relationship with whoever cuts your check. Sometimes you can't even find out who that is, but in some bigger companies they'll have you send the invoice directly to someone in AP -- in that case, I always include a little personal note or innocent humor. People are people, and they hate to screw someone they've laughed with.

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

I planned to do it this year, too, but then December got amazingly hectic. I guess I should sign them all during the Thanksgiving holiday!

ssharkins
ssharkins

I'm tired just reading your list. :) I thought I was doing good to draw up a new schedule that includes "getting a life" items. :)

PMPsicle
PMPsicle

Start by looking out 10 years (retirement yay!!!). How much will you be making then? How much do you want to be making then? Do you even want to be doing what you are doing? Then cut it in half (5 years). Where do you need to be in 5 years in order to be where you want to be in 10. Then cut it in half again (2.5 years). In order to make your 5 year objective, where do you need to be? Then cut it in half again (1 year). To make your 2.5 year plan where do you need to be? And so forth, into quarters and months. Let your 10 year plan drive the shorter plans. Otherwise you'll end up at the end without having what you want. Keep the 1 year out only plans for when you're in deep doodoo and are looking for a short term exit scheme. Glen Ford, PMP http://www.TrainingNOW.ca

GeneS
GeneS

I agree completely on developing a relationship with the person who writes the check. I usually give a little "home help" or a trinket from a trip out of town. They usually reciprocate with timely payments. One guy even holds my check if he thinks he'll see me before the mail will deliver the check. It's a comforting feeling that someone's got my back

reisen55
reisen55

Chip - just had one this morning. My technically gifted colleague (brilliant beyond any measure) is also a business moron. He spent a day on-site yesterday rebuilding a computer we did NOT set-up (a point of sale system) and after a full day learned that the purpose of his efforts to fix a problem (a report) was not really needed anyway. So then he told the client that this was a TOTAL WASTE OF TIME. Oh Beautiful. As Sir Francis Urqhart may say, " you may think that, but I cannot possibly comment." KMS - Keep Mouth Shut. I often curse my clients under my breath or in public if I am on-site on a Sunday and nobody else is around!!! But you NEVER EVER TELL THAT TO A CLIENT. At the very least he just voided an invoice for an entire days work for a "waste of time" which a client never wants to pay for anyway. Solutions: tough day, cut a deal, blame a thousand other problems, or worse and sometimes best - laugh and lump it. But NEVER call your day a waste of time to a client. I am burning at 400 degrees this morning over this one.

GeneS
GeneS

Do you have any employees? They can be fabulous or a time drain. Mine are a mix. They certainly help get stuff like "customer appreciation" tasks taken care of but suck up your billable hours with management and training issues.

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

"Getting a life" is pretty important, otherwise what are you working for? Good luck, Susan!

PMPsicle
PMPsicle

Oh darn.... no one wants my help with their credit problems ... guess my escape didn't work :

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

... but saving is difficult. Actually, I got really good at it -- right before the market crashed.

PMPsicle
PMPsicle

One thing I learned during my escape into Insolvency & Credit Counselling was that most people have a problem with saving. Also it doesn't matter how much you earn ... you'll always find things to spend it on. Now on the other hand, if you want to hire me for a Credit Counselling gig I'm sure I can come up with some good advice :> Glen

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

... I have difficult planning that far out. I know basically how much money I want to have in the bank when I retire (if I ever retire), but how much I save doesn't seem to correlate well with how much I make.

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

Unfortunately these days most of my checks are electronic, and I often don't ever get to meet the person who pushes that button.

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

... between different types of consulting. In my business, I'll gladly tell my client when we're wasting time -- it's important for both of us to know so we can change course. But that's software development. And I'll tell them diplomatically.

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

There have been times when I considered hiring, but I used to be in corporate management and I hated all the personnel issues. Besides, at least in the US, employee regulations would require hiring another someone just to take care of that. It's much easier just to sub out work on 1099-MISC when I need to. Sometimes my wife helps out with the holiday stuff.

ssharkins
ssharkins

It's been a difficult year -- the dh has been seriously ill, not working, a lot's been on my shoulders, but that's not the norm for us. He's getting better and I expect to get my life back by winning the lottery. ;)

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