As a contract consultant, every six to 12 months, on average, you’re going to have to transition off of one contract and start another. From time to time, this can be difficult to manage. The challenge can arise when you have 30 days left on your current contract and a new one-year contract becomes available a week or two before your contract ends. It can be difficult to stay two more weeks at your current engagement, knowing that it will soon be over, and having to pass up on a new contract that can secure your income for the next year. So, how do you handle this situation? What can you do ahead of time to make the transition from your current contract as smooth as possible so that you don’t 1) miss out on the new one-year project and 2) do not leave your current client in a bind?
When you don’t have an option:
First, you have to understand when you really don’t have an option to leave early. When I say you don’t have an option, let’s face it: You can always just leave, whether or not the people you’re working with will like it. So, when I say you don’t have an option, I mean there is no way you can leave early and keep your highly regarded professional reputation intact. This would occur if you’ve been with your current client for a long period of time and know that your presence until the end is necessary for the client’s success. This can occur in many different situations, but the most common one would be to leave before a go-live date, when your knowledge can directly impact how smoothly the client will be able to deal with unforeseen go-live issues. In the case where your end date correlates with a go-live or something as critical, professionally, you really don't have options. You have to stay to the end.
Set expectations up front:
The best time to discuss the fact that you may have to leave a project early is when you’re starting the project. The firm you’re working for should have a discussion with the client (as we do hear at Healthcare IS) about the necessity for flexibility around the contract end date. There are many circumstances that will allow a consultant to complete work for a client without having to be at the client’s site for 40 hours a week. Options include: finish the work remotely, have another consultant assist with the work for a brief period of time, or even being on-site every other week. The point is, if expectations for this type of conversation are set ahead of time, a good resolution can be achieved for all parties. The key here is to avoid bringing up any last-minute surprises for your current client. No client I’ve ever worked with wants to deal with any surprises that could’ve been avoided.
In closing, your primary takeaway points are:
1) Know when you cannot expect the client to be flexible.
2) Set up expectations properly, so that the stage is set for a discussion.