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People Who Create Profit Don’t Get Fired

It can be said with certainty that if you are a billing consultant on a long-term project, you will probably keep your job ... as long as you keep billing. Now, this doesn’t mean the converse is true: You are probably going to be fired as soon as you hit the bench. However, it certainly means that recessions are not the best time to start complaining about the lack of a nice window with a view at your client’s facility.

In fact, your company can go bankrupt, but if you are still on a billing contract, you will almost certainly have a job with a firm that acquires the “assets,” that is, billing engagements, of the bankrupt company. During the dot-com crash, many technology consulting companies that were servicing venture-funded companies either got sold in fire sales or filed Chapter 11, “An Anthology of Sage Advice.” Groups within those companies that constituted billing teams of consultants were traded like baseball cards between various private equity groups until a more permanent buyer, usually a larger firm, bought up the billing consultants. Although this is certainly not a terribly fun scenario for the participants, if nothing else, it provided secure employment as long as the billing continued.

  • Survival Strategy #2: Consultants who create profit don’t get fired. Do everything you can to be the go-to person that your client depends on. Getting extended at a client during a recession is never a bad thing.

That all said, such a scenario is really the worst case. Many consultancies go flat during recessions, and some get acquired. But most good ones manage to stick it out and use the recession as a mechanism to “clean house”—that is, allow some attrition from lower performers and upgrade the talent level of the company. Your chances of survival have more to do with the perception you help create; you therefore should do everything you can to be so valuable to your client that you can stay there throughout the recession. Although such conditions are not entirely under your control—clients can go bankrupt, or orders can come from the CEO to get rid of all consultants—doing everything you can to be “sticky” helps create confidence in management that regardless of what client you are working with, you will likely continue to bill and have high utilization. Being a highly utilized consultant, even during the majority of a recession, is a great way to increase the likelihood that you will survive a recession without layoffs whatsoever.

So what are some specific ways to be sticky? Although these approaches might not seem fair, being sticky is more than just doing good technical work. Stickiness has the following dimensions:

  • Trust: Have the trust of your client. Of all the factors, this is probably the most significant.
  • Identification: Culturally identify with your client. If you seem like “one of them,” the client is more likely to not see you as an outsider and therefore dispensable.
  • Skills: Have specific skills the client needs. This is about continuing to build skills relevant to your client, not hoarding and protecting knowledge to protect your job. Doing the former puts you ahead of over half the people who work in technology and therefore increases your sense of value.
  • Low Maintenance: Don’t be “a problem.” Although there are as many valid reasons to complain about things that are not perfect, unless a situation is serious, the less you are seen as high maintenance, the less likely some people will see losing you as a consultant as a way to reduce their own work (the “don’t be a pain in the rear” rule).

It is no accident that these are also good things to do simultaneously in reference to the firm you work for. When times are tough, being the person who doesn’t act from a place of fear, but rather moves forward, builds skills, anticipates needs, and delivers value is a sure path to survive any economic downturn.

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