Weathering uncertainty as a software professional
Updated: Aug 4
I’m often asked as an independent consultant if I fear what the future holds. What if you lose all of your clients tomorrow?
You must have constant sleepless nights and require TUMS to soothe your stomach ulcers. To those in full-time corporate positions it always sounds like there is this ominous cloud of risk hanging over my head.
I went through my first layoff when I was just a college intern. At the time, I was working at a telecom company when the telecom boom came to an end. The entire division I worked for was eliminated. The experience was enough to shred the security blanket that I believed was a corporate job. A changing business climate could eliminate the need for my position at any moment.
I decided contract work and eventually independent consulting was something I wanted to try. But, I had a family to support. I had to hedge my bets. There would always be outside factors I couldn’t control, so I needed some strategies that I could control to increase my chances of success.
Regardless of whether you become an independent consultant or decide a full-time role is best for you, these tips will help you weather uncertain times.
#1 – Build a significant emergency fund
If you’re breaking into consulting, I recommend doing this before you even start. An emergency fund is recommended by most of the budget gurus out there so this should come as no surprise. That said, as a consultant, I try to extend this beyond the standard recommendation of 3 months of salary. Being a bit more conservative than most, I feel that a full 9 months of salary avoids the concern of “losing all my clients”. Even if I did lose all my clients, I wouldn’t fret. I have plenty of runway to regroup and find a new opportunity.
#2 – Keep investing in yourself
As a consultant, learning is certainly critical to success. You can learn more about this in my recent article, Becoming the Expert in the Room. Learning is a habit that you have to develop, no matter who you are in the tech industry.
You just won’t be successful long-term without building this habit and sticking to it. Find ways to constantly learn and improve yourself. Test your knowledge by writing and presenting at local user groups.
Build a portfolio of code or projects that you can show to potential employers or clients. This can be pet projects or contributions to open source. Not only will this help you with learning, it will show prospect clients or employers that you actually have built useful software.
#3 – Keep your online presence up to date
You may have seen your LinkedIn feed explode with posts over the past couple of weeks from those who have been impacted by the layoffs. My heart goes out to all of them. I was impacted by a layoff in college and I’ve been a consultant at several organizations during layoffs. It’s a difficult time for everyone involved.
If you pay close attention, you’ll notice that those who have curated their online presence over the years have received significant responses and offers to help. Maintaining an online presence increases your exposure to potential opportunities. Even if you love what you’re doing and plan to never change, you want to be able to reach out to those who can help if the need arises. Which brings up my next tip…
#4 – Never stop building your network
My network has been invaluable to me in finding opportunities over the years. 95% of the opportunities I’ve had have come from my network. I try to reach out to at least 2 previous or new contacts every week.
This ensures that I’m actively building new connections and continuing to stay on the radar of those I’ve worked with in the past. If an opportunity comes up in their organization, they are much more likely to think of me if we spoke recently.
Always connect with those you meet on LinkedIn and keep up with your connection requests. While it can be annoying sifting through the requests that are just trying to sell you something, it’s easy enough to ignore the noise. The long-term payoff is worth it.
#5 – Always maintain your reputation
This is something I can’t stress enough. When you do a great job for a client or your employer, they are going to have great things to say about you. Burning bridges just isn’t productive.
If you have a network filled with people who would love the chance to work with you again, this will go a long way to finding a new opportunity. Not only will they be more apt to recommend you within their organization, but they will be more likely to mention you to others.
#6 – Diversify your work
For those who invest, you are familiar with diversification. It’s the idea that you don’t want to put “all your eggs in one basket” when investing. Investing across asset classes, industries, etc, is supposed to help avoid a catastrophic loss if one of these investments starts to drop in value. The same can be said for your work. Try not to put all your hopes on a single employer or client.
If you are a full-time employee, create a “side hustle” that brings in some additional income. This could be doing some consulting or starting a separate business of your own.
If you are an independent consultant, try to have multiple clients at once. If you can vary your clients across industries, even better. Try to build some clients on a retainer-based arrangement. This type of arrangement can help you scale more clients in your practice.
#7 – Help others when you can
And expect nothing in return. It’s a great feeling to help others. If they are successful in your organization, or with one of your clients it can even be a feather in your cap.
They even may offer to help you in the future or they may not. Either way, you’re building good will and they will at the very least have great things to say about you. Those who have been impacted by the recent layoffs will certainly appreciate the assistance.
#8 – Finally, have faith in yourself!
When I took the leap into independent consulting, it was certainly nerve-wracking. I had to believe in myself and my abilities. There have certainly been leaner times when I had to take what seemed like less appealing opportunities to keep the lights on.
Even then, those opportunities turned out to be great experiences that helped me further my network and learn skills I might not have otherwise. You can bounce back from anything, just look at every experience or setback as an opportunity to learn and grow!