When you're independently consulting as a project manager or other type of project team resource, one of the most frightening terms is 'downtime'. Or, equally bad ... 'non-billable hours'. No one wants to hear or use those words ... least of all your wife or husband.

In this economy, both of those terms can strike fear into the most confident consultant - especially if they have a family to support. But it does happen and it necessitates the rates that consultants must charge - although this economy is changing some of those dynamics as well. There's rarely '100% utilization', right? In reality, it usually ends up being 200% or 50%. It's hard to forecast, because we're often subject to the whims - and cash flow - of our clients. If you do this for a living, you certainly know what I mean. And it's a good thing to even utilize a tool like Seavus Project Viewer to give you a constant view into your own utilization as a consultant - sort of a new twist on using the project schedule.

Given that it isn't always easy to plan out when the work will happen and when we'll be sitting on the bench with the dreaded downtime, it's best to have some plans on what we can productively do with our downtime. Over the years I've developed some thoughts and actions on the topic to help smooth out those times of lower utilization that we all experience from time to time ...

Attend a relevant industry conference

Attending a conference is a great way to network and gain new insight on a topic or technology. My focus is generally consulting on technical implementations and projects in a project management role so technology conferences are not only of great interest to me, but also relevant to what I do for a living. In recent years I've attended literally thousands of dollars worth of conferences (for free - more on that in a minute): Black Hat, Interop, Better Software Engineering, Agile Development Practices, the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), and the Global Gaming Expo (G2E) ... just to name a few.

One word of advice ... conferences aren't cheap. Many cost between $2,500 and $3,000 to attend for a full conference pass. However, by getting several expert content articles published prior to a conference, you may be able to attend a conference on a media pass. No guarantees, but it's always worth a try. Especially if the conference is nearby and your travel costs are minimal. Then it's a no-brainer. Otherwise, you can often attend just the expo portion of the conference which still allows you to network with technology companies who may turn in to clients of yours and you can check out their offers as well in order to stay more current.

Make new client contacts or re-connect with past clients

This is the obvious one, though during downtimes we can sometimes get so frustrated that we can't see the forest for the trees. Or worse, we may think that it's time to give up consulting and start sending out our resumes to every job in the vicinity that even remotely relates to our experience.

A better strategy is to seek out new clients for consulting engagements. You can do this by networking at a conference you're attending (see above), by re-connecting with clients you've been out of touch with for awhile, or even by responding to some of the more legitimate looking Craigslist ads in your area. I've actually received a surprising amount of consulting revenue through Craigslist, though I will admit that was more in the past and it's becoming increasingly harder to wade through the muck on that site to find something viable to respond to.

One additional thought on past clients ... never lose touch with them. Even when you haven't re-connected with them on any viable work in several years, remember that needs do change. And they may not be contacting you because they've forgotten about all of their options. I have had three instances in the past year where a past client has been thankful I re-connected with them and said that my timing was perfect and their needs had changed.

Write and publish expert content articles

One nice way to get your name out there to even more people and at the same time to further establish your reputation as an expert is to write expert content articles. Sometimes you can do this for pay and sometimes you might just be doing guest articles for recognition. Either way, you'll be testing your knowledge, forcing yourself to remain current, and working on your writing and presentation skills which will all only serve to help you for the next client proposal you need to put together.

Seek out sites with blogs or articles that are meaningful to you and ask if you can write content for their site. It may not bring you any additional revenue, but it will be an interesting new challenge for you and give you more content for your resume or links for your website. If you are a project manager, like me, you can include writing about how you go about managing projects and collaborating with your team. I've found that most project managers out there are looking for good sound advice on getting past project failure points.

Go ahead and take a vacation