How to Prevent Burnout When Working with Clients


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Burnout is an ever-present, evolving threat when you’re a business owner or leader, plain and simple.

While it can affect nearly anyone, it’s even more common for those who work in an agency or consultancy. Recent data found it’s the owners and leaders who often bear the biggest burden of stress and anxiety at work.

They are passionate about their business, but the downside is that this can also lead to a lot of added pressure from others and themselves — not to mention the endless pressure to maintain profitability while keeping clients and staff happy, too. No surprise, 28% strongly feel they are burnt out.

As the CEO and Co-Founder of and a former consultancy owner, I’ve learned a lot about what it takes to manage the particular stresses of managing client work.

Here’s how you can balance burnout before things hit a boiling point.

1. Be selective about the work you take on

Don’t just take on any client or project that comes your way. Work with companies who understand your values and do something you’re excited about. While this won’t eliminate stress, it makes the hard days a lot easier to manage. I’ve seen it too many times to count—clients who don’t align with your mission and values require a lot more effort and resources from you and your team to manage, increasing the risk of burnout.

Start by clarifying your company’s mission, what’s best for your business, and the clients you want to work with. Then, although tough, say no to clients who don’t fit this. In the long run, staying true to who you are as a consultant and only working on projects and with clients that are the right fit will give your business focus and steer you clear of a lot more stress down the road.

Related: 10 Strategies for Achieving Work-Life Balance

2. Rely on the right tool to take the pressure off of profitability

The biggest stressors that keep agency owners and leaders up at night are profit-related. Billing and profitability will always be at the top of my mind; client work, by its nature, will be unpredictable, and the goalposts will constantly shift. Great software can help you manage these unexpected changes and prepare for them.

Even slight scope changes can impact what you can or should be billing, your team’s capacity, how to resource the project and your time. The most profitable leaders I work with rely on the right software to get all this information in one place — one that considers the full client lifecycle and not just the project’s delivery. Working smarter, not harder, with the right tool will reduce profit-related pressures that can often lead to burnout.

3. Set boundaries, and stick to them

Clients are always going to be clients, but that doesn’t mean they should have access to you 24/7 or that you should be in the weeds on all accounts — this is key to preserving your peace. Successful consultancy owners and leaders hire and trust the right people to manage accounts.

If you are a point of contact for clients, it’s important to set clear boundaries upfront. Share your working hours (add them to your calendar), what they should be contacting you for, and how to best reach you (text, email, phone call?). Streamlined communication is critical for day-to-day account management to avoid unnecessary confusion and stress. Clients should have a designated Account Manager and access to the CEO only when necessary.

Related: How to Establish and Maintain Effective Work Boundaries as an Entrepreneur (and Why It’s Important)

4. Practice clear contracting

Bad contracting happens every day. It’s at the heart of frustration and misalignment for consultancy owners and leaders. Normalizing clear contracting will eliminate a lot of stress in your day-to-day life and make you a more effective leader in the process.

In your communications with colleagues and clients, repeat “the contract” or ask and agree on the next steps, dates and conditions. The person or team you contracted is to show their work, report back on delays, and communicate when it’s complete. The most efficiently run consultancies I know use a project management tool to capture all this—to avoid scope creep and help keep both sides accountable.

5. Celebrate successes, welcome failure

As a consultancy owner or leader, there will always be periods of uncertainty, successes and failures. While the goal is to see more success than failure, the sooner you understand that this all comes with the territory, the easier it is to manage.

In my current role as CEO, we’ve got our entire organization on board with getting more comfortable with failure. We created a chat channel dedicated to sharing lessons learned from work that didn’t go according to plan. Shifting my mindset to see challenges as opportunities for growth has helped me a ton in times of hardship. Don’t overlook the victories either–no matter how big or small. Wins help boost morale and fuel motivation.

Related: 10 Strategies for Achieving Work-Life Balance

6. Cultivate a support network

Leading a company can feel isolating at times. Those I’ve seen thrive lean into the right supports and surround themselves with a network of mentors, peers and friends who understand their unique challenges. It’s best to get guidance and perspective based on what you do. Even if it’s just one person, create a recurring check-in meeting with them and stick to it. Opening up about your struggles is a strength as a leader that fosters connection and growth.

Consultancy owners and leaders often ride a seemingly endless roller coaster of many ups and downs. One minute, you’re celebrating a big pitch win; the next, you’re having stressful conversations about budgets and deliverables with clients.

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