Your first steps as a contractor (Part One)

14th September 2016

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If all of this sounds like you and you’re ready to leave your full-time job for the world of contracting, make sure you take a moment to prepare for your big move. You’ll need to make sure you’re in the best possible position to find, accept and carry out the work. 

The iContract team believes you need to have the following sorted before you leave the comfort of your full-time gig. 

Establish your area of expertise 

Businesses can only justify the cost of supplementing their resources by hiring a contractor if they can prove that their full-time staff members were unable to do what is required to the same standard. This might be because their own staff are too busy with their day-to-day work to take on an additional project, or it could be that their own staff simply don’t have the expertise. 

Whilst you might think a broad set of skills will make you more employable, a contractor who carves out a niche as a specialist in one area that is useful to businesses will often be able to charge a higher rate, as a pure result of supply and demand. This is definitely true in IT. A business is going to be much more satisfied with a specialist contractor who can come in and fix a problem right away, than someone with general IT solutions skills who may take longer to identify and solve the issue. 

Once you’ve determined your niche area of specialisation, you’ll need to make sure you are the best you possibly can be in this field. Take courses or attend seminars to refine your skills, and follow the latest industry developments by keeping up to date with news and social media. 

You want to be the contractor that your clients recommend to both their professional contacts and friends and family. “Oh you’ve got that going on? You need to get John on the case! He’s the best in the business. I can’t recommend him highly enough.” 

You want the John they are talking about to be you. 

Know what you’re worth 

You know what you were earning on a full-time salary, but do you know what your services are worth as an hourly rate? 

Before you do anything, you need to do your research. It’s also worth contacting a few umbrella companies who represent contractors in your field to find out how much it would be reasonable to charge for your own services. Remember that you will have to pay a fee if you want to belong to an umbrella organisation, and will have to factor that in to your overheads. 

You can also chat to other contractors both online and face-to-face to find out the current market rate for those operating on their own. This can be a valuable exercise as you can also glean insight to any trends related to contracting in the sector that it would be useful to know before you head out on your own. You may also make a friend who you can meet up with for Friday night drinks when other nine-to-five workers meet up with their colleagues. 

Location, location, location 

Before you book that six-month holiday to the Bahamas, you’ll need to set yourself up somewhere that will help you win the contracts that will help pay for your lifestyle. 

Depending on your area of expertise, it’s likely you’ll be needed on site. In other words, it’s likely you will be in an organisation’s office for some or all of the contract. At the very least it’s likely you’ll be required to show your face at a few meetings. For this reason, it’s best to base yourself somewhere that is easily accessible to a metropolis and near the businesses that will hire you. This will also help you with your networking, ensuring you are regularly crossing paths with the people who might hire your services. 

For many corporations, one of the disadvantages of hiring a contractor is that they aren’t able to walk across the building and have a discussion in the lunchroom at a moment’s notice, but if you base yourself centrally, you can easily overcome this barrier. 

So, while you might have envisioned contracting being your ticket to your cottage by the seaside, you may need some time to build up your profile before this will be feasible.  

Most employers prefer to have their contractors in the office so they can easily jump into meetings and can stay abreast of any changes as they happen, as opposed to holding inefficient conversations over instant messaging and email. Some contracts do not require you to be in office, however, so you can carry out the work from the comfort of your home. But before you decide to work remotely, assess whether you have the self-motivation to sit down and ignore the distractions of a home office, or whether you thrive off a more vibrant office environment, where you can bounce ideas around with colleagues. 

If you are planning on working remotely, but think you will go stir crazy at home, it could be worth looking into co-working spaces, where you can rent a desk and feed off the energy of a bunch of other people who are also working for themselves.

Stay tuned to the blog for Part Two next week when we cover business travel, tools, accountancy and more. 

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