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This chapter is from the book

The Three Words You Want to Hear: You’ve Been Extended

During good times, you should strive to work for different clients so that you can build out your network and diversify the amount of vertical industry knowledge you bring to the table. However, when bad times hit, you are most interested in being extended at your current client.

Most firms consider the strongest consultant during a recession to be the person who has been at a client forever, who somehow manages to get that client to bring others in when everyone else is sending consultants packing. To get to that position, not only do you want to extend your term as much as possible, but you want to do everything you can to become the trusted advisor to management. You want to be the kind of person about whom, if your name is Sam, people say, “We need three more Sams to get this critical thing X done.”

  • Survival Strategy #9: It is always in your interest to get extended on an engagement during a recession. More than ever, during bad times, you should do everything possible to get contracts at current clients extended, even if the client isn’t your “favorite” client.

When times are good and the market is constrained by the recruiting pipeline (a seller’s market to the consultancy), it is in the mutual interest of the consulting firm and you to get exposure to different clients because it is easy to spread good people around to different clients. On the other hand, when times are bad (it is a buyer’s market), that same collusion of interests makes it better for you to stay with a single client. If you are doing your job well, that client probably will value you more than any new client is likely to. To put it another way, all things being equal, the rate at your current client during a recession is likely to be higher than your rate at your next client. The reason is that deals are harder to close, and in many firms (though not all), rate cuts become a tool to secure the subsequent engagement.

So how do you go about getting extended? Coming in early, being extra vigilant about documentation and putting in extra effort to make it effective, going the extra mile in small ways and large ways so that you demonstrate your value—these approaches are all helpful. That all said, the one single best way to become indispensable to the client is to speak and act as if you own the deliverables you are working on. If you can manage to treat each project for the client as though it was your business and your next meal depended on doing the best job you possibly could, chances are you will deliver value at a far higher rate than the median software developer.

Of course, to be extended, you need to be aware of how long your current contract is going to last. Whereas some firms post this information on a staffing sheet, others are less public about this information, and still others don’t really know how long a given project will last or when the next round of project funding will come in. That said, it never hurts to ask your project manager, account manager, or other person at the consulting firm when your end date is and what you can do to help tip the scales toward getting extended as that end date draws closer. Most of the time, based on their knowledge of the client relationship, those people will have real good ideas about what can be done to help.

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