Something to Remember When You’re a Consultant

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This is a very personal post I am writing and may delete later on. Next week and the week after I’m publishing two SEO case studies, so if you don’t want to read this post then leave until next week when I go back to sharing stats and strategies.

This post is for consultants and people looking to become a consultant.  It is a warning about something that causes myself and many other contractors seasonal depression around the holidays, contract anniversaries and birthdays.

consultant holiday depression

For the last 8 or so years I’ve traveled overseas or somewhere for my birthday (New Years Day).  I unwind and unplug and most important I avoid my emails! This year I was not able to do this and it brought back something I had forgotten about. The consultants holiday depression.

I’m writing this post not to vent, but to help other contractors cope with an unexpected seasonal depression that hits many of us. I’m going to share it from my personal experience.  If you have anything to add or coping mechanisms, feel free to leave a comment below. I’m leaving them turned on for a while.

I am very fortunate that I have incredible companies and brands I get to work with. I love each of them for different reasons. But being at home for this holiday season was a big reminder that I am in fact a consultant and I am not and will never be treated as an equal by some of my clients. Not all, but some.

As a consultant you are not entitled to benefits, gatherings, happy hours or any perks employees get. That includes birthday wishes, holiday party invites and participating in gift exchanges. This is totally fair because we are not required to work outside of our agreements whereas an employee is. That is the tradeoff.  It is what we all agree to.  But that is where the fine line that creates holiday depression for consultants comes into play.

As a consultant you are not entitled to benefits, gatherings, happy hours or any perks employees get.

The reason I travel overseas is that many times clients forget about my birthday and don’t invite me to their holiday happy hours. But when they need something they let me know they think of me as “part of the team” and act real nice so they get free work. Especially when it is work outside of our contract and they don’t want to pay for the time, skills or knowledge.

The issue is that when you or I do this work outside of our contract, the clients begin to expect this regularly.

This free work grows their business and enables our clients to provide more perks for their companies and their employees. The clients will also have more revenue from our free work so that they can hire more people. That is the issue.

That time you spend as a consultant doing free work outside of the scope of your work is time you could be making money. You could be learning new skills or simply having some down time to relax or workout. It is even worse when the client says something like “I think of you as part of the team” because when it comes time to being treated equal, you are always excluded.

It is a mental game they play with you, and many times it is not intentional and they are not aware of the negative effect it has on your mental state.

You’re giving away your skills for free because when clients need something you are “part of the team”.  But these same clients magically forget about you when all you really wanted was to actually feel like part of the team which is why you worked outside of your contract and for free.

A simple happy birthday, come join the happy hour or even a thank you for doing free work is all you really need mentally. At least that is for me.

Each year I leave for vacation because I always do work for clients outside of my scope and it hurts really bad mentally when the ones that get the most exclude me and forget about me.

You and I are expected to wish people happy birthday and congratulate employees on work anniversaries. As a consultant you’ll watch as others get well wishes while you’re left out on slack and in emails. Then there will be times you have to listen as the clients talk about the funny antics from holiday and team parties, while you patiently wait for the actual work conversation to start. Then they’ll try to say “we only talked work for 45 min so why are you billing us for the hour?”.

But again, you and I agreed to no perks and no invites because we are consultants and not employees. That is why it is very, very important to stick to your guns.

I am writing this post as a reminder that I will no longer being working for free for any client that does this to me. No more exceptions and no more justifying it to myself when I backtrack on this promise.

I am fortunate in that some of my clients really appreciate me.

One bought me and 5 friends dinner two years ago for my bday as a surprise. He and his wife were invited as guests, and he snuck the bill away quickly. It was totally unexpected.

Another client sent my cat an awesome series of gifts that arrived over multiple days as a fun way to celebrate my birthday week. One client simply sent me a text message to wish me a happy birthday.  Those small gestures make me feel like part of the team and appreciated, especially that text message.

If any of these clients ask me for a favor, you better believe I will be doing it for free and no questions asked because they did something simple to make me feel important vs. just being a consultant. They treated me with respect and like a person.

For the others I will be billing them for my time because this is a business transaction and nothing more. It is important that both you and I as consultants ensure that the relationship stays professional and we are properly compensated for our work. For clients that do not reward you or even say thank you, don’t do free work.

Being home this year ended up being bad for me mentally. But I’m fine now. It hurt really bad when two clients in particular asked for massive quantities of free work last year and one has already started again. Neither one said thank you for the extra work and neither one took the quick minute to wish me a happy birthday. Both clients knew it was my birthday and could have taken that one minute to say something. Instead they just started making demands again that are outside of my scope of work.

That is why this year I’ll be submitting a quote for the costs of additional projects instead of working for free.  I encourage you to do the same.

As consultants it is not our jobs to work for free, only what we’re contracted to do. For the clients that took that quick minute to wish me a happy birthday, or who do invite me to their company happy hours and fun activities, they’ll likely continue to get some free work. But this year I will stick to my guns with the clients that only consider me “part of the team” or “an extension of the team” when they need something. These clients will be required to pay for the additional work.

It might cost me the contract with one or two, but I’ll be able to replace them.  No client is worth that feeling again. It hurts bad.  If your clients treat you well, then yes do some things for free. But for the others, charge them. You are a contractor and should only be doing what is in your contract.

Thank you for listening and feel free to share your coping mechanisms or solutions below if you want.

Stay tuned because next week and the one after I’m going back to sharing strategies and have two case studies to share with you.  Happy new year everyone!!!

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8 thoughts on “Something to Remember When You’re a Consultant”

  1. This was exactly what I needed to read! Great reminder to own our happiness/self-care as well as honoring that there will always be a select few we will go to the ends of the earth for. For the record, your clients are beyond lucky to get to work with you ^_^

    1. Thanks Navah! The majority of companies I work with are awesome and so are their people. This year I’m focusing on me though. I haven’t done that in a long time. I hope the same goes for you.

  2. Happy Birthday Adam!
    You are a very special person! Thank you for all you have taught me and for being a friend!
    Hope to see ya soon

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