Consulting: How Do You Stay Motivated?

Magic-Server-Pixie-DustIn business there are some things that you’ll find are absolutely true. You’ll have customers that won’t pay, you’ll struggle with cash flow, you’ll hate paperwork. But, one thing that no one will tell you about is how to stay motivated. Yes, there is this sort of power juice that everyone in business needs to keep at it on our worst days. It’s for those days your significant other gives you hell for not devoting time, those days that you’re out of the country and the customer walks away because you can’t take care of them. I want to let you in on a few secrets I’ve learned over the years to keep on keepin’ on.

It has been years too. I have been doing this in some capacity for more than twelve years. Along the way I have run in a great deal of situations that have tried my patience with the very idea of being in business. Through it all, somehow I have stayed the course and continued through the barriers and still get back to it every morning. I learned early on, one of the hardest things we’ll need to do is to start. There are those days you forget to call a customer back, the days that you fail to finish a job on time, the customers that treat you badly. The list of reasons NOT to do this is longer than a donkey’s years

If rosiness was a requirement for jumping into IT consulting,  I think I would have given up a long time ago. Here are the things I think keep me going every day:

1. Be positive – I can’t tell you to do this, so I won’t. What I will tell you is that no matter how difficult things are (or they seem to be), I will always look for an an answer, be patient, be mindful that some things take time, or just generally know that things will turn out well. The key to putting a positive plan in motion is to actually look for positive steps to take.

2. Learn to step away – This may be an easy one – but one we can’t seem to do when “in the moment”. It’s important in IT Consulting to know when the job is too big, when the odds are unduly stacked against you and be graceful enough to step out of the picture. There is no shame in stepping away and either regrouping or simply just back off a job that wasn’t right for you.

3. Be a stubborn pain in the ass – The flipside of stepping away is – when you’ve decided to stay – stick to what you think is right and be stubborn about it. There is a special place in lack-of-respect-ville for those that back down too easy when the situation gets rough. Determine the best course of action, come up with a plan and stick to it when all the IT stakeholders come down on you. Once you have completed the project, you’ll earn the respect of those who fought you in the first place (or, piss them off more).

4. Take time to recharge – So, your thinking – you’ll work so hard, day and night, that your eyelids will feel like a ton of bricks. You’ll do this every day until you get the kind of customers you need to survive. Easy there Tiger, it’s important to balance your life and work for the long term. One of the worst things that can (and will) happen to you is burnout. When you get there, you’ll really know what I mean when I say balance. The best way to make sure you can go for years is simply to try and balance life and work. Exercise, and eat well. Take some time off once in a while and try not thinking about technology. Turn off the monitors once in a while. Take some downtime and recharge.

5. Believe – The simple idea of confidence is very easy to tell people about, and more difficult to actually do. The most important thing you can do to become more confident is to take the risks and fail (sure, be calculated about it) that will get you closer to a feeling of achievement. It is never more important in today’s fast-paced and overly skeptical world to be confident about what you can and will do.  Believe that you can help the customer, and every time you do, you’ll believe it more. Do not underestimate the value of doing things that may be less glamorous or lower-paying because it may teach you something new. What you can get from believing in yourself is more valuable than any amount of money.

6. Don’t let the things you can’t control hound you – If it isn’t clear right now, it will be soon. There are things you just can’t control. How the customer perceives you and your work, how that last mistake you made is going to effect things, how you’re going to pay your bills at the end of the month or when the customer will actually pay you. In business, there are often a large number of things out of our control. We can let those things consume us, or we can learn to put them where they need to be until action is being taken – out of our mind. I think the best business people are more adept at this. Learn to attend to what’s now and don’t let the things you can’t change consume you.

7. Play – The less we play, the more we move further away from what makes us who we are. Listen, if you really do love what you do, a great deal of it is going to be fun. You need to embrace that. Do things only for the sake of fun. Write about stuff you like to do. Take the time to learn about something new in your line of work even though it may not be a currently needed skill. Get your hands on some of the newest technology and have fun with it. Test out a wild theory or three. Essential to feeding your love of the work is giving yourself the time to play around and enjoy it. In my case, I love getting the newest operating system, installing it on a machine and picking over every tool, file and library. It’s such an amazing experience to discover something new and interesting.

That is what I feel makes a person continue in the face of almost impossible odds. Yes, sometimes things will go well and easily, but also at times you’ll be doing something you don’t want too on a day you’d rather be doing anything else. For those that can beat the worst days, those days that make it all worth the trouble will happen. I look forward to sharing more insights about consulting and self employment in the future. I’d also love to know what kind of stuff you might like to see me cover.