Mark Ellwood’s Brainy Blog of Fascinating Facts and Timely Tips

How Do Consultants Spend Their Time?


I recently conducted a presentation for the Association of Independent Consultants, highlighting some of my time study research.

Independent consultants work on their own providing a range of services from accounting to cost management, coaching, productivity improvement, graphic and web site design, and strategic planning. Some bill their time by the hour; others bill by the project and some are on retainer.

Over the years, a number of them participated in a time and motion study using our innovative TimeCorder device to track how they spend their time. Most tracked about 100 hours.

The main categories of activity where they spend their time include planning, marketing / selling, client service, administration and travel and other. The “other” category includes activities that are not part of other categories as well as personal time.

Overall they work 52 hours per week, a considerable increase versus other knowledge workers in our database who work 47 hours per week.

Selling time takes up 11 hours per week or 20% of the time. Veterans who had many years experience and a full calendar of clients spend just about as much time selling as those who are new to the business; 10 hours per week for the veterans and 12 hours for the rookies. The message for consultants is clear; you always need to be marketing.

As for client service time, it would be great to be billing every hour of the day. But the reality is that all the other activities need to be done. So client service time, most of which is billable, only reaches 13 hours per week, or about one quarter of the time. For those who are really successful, service time is higher, in the range of 20 hours per week or 36% of the time.

Planning is a key activity that represents 3.5 hours per week. Critical within this is 2 hours per week spent developing new products and services. Consultants recognize that they cannot rest on their laurels; they constantly need to be thinking about what new products and services they can introduce to their clients.

Administration is a huge time hog for most knowledge workers. And so it is for consultants who need to take care of all the tasks that are not connected to sales and service. General paperwork represents about 4 hours per week; filling out reports, submitting tax forms, and everything else that is required to keep a business going. This along with other administrative tasks adds up to 10 hours per week.

Finally, travel is also a necessity. Consultants who deal with local clients need to be there to do on-site work, present reports, and gather data and implement their recommendations. Typically consultants make 8 trips per week of 47 minutes per week, adding up to 6 hours altogether, or 11% of the time.

Check out the video below where I highlight some of the key points from the time study of successful consultants. If you are a consultant, be sure to allocate your efforts on your highest priority activities. After all, your time is worth it.

Mark Ellwood is president of Pace Productivity, an international consulting firm that specializes in improving corporate productivity. His passionate mission is to improve people and processes through consulting and training. 


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