There is a long history in Australia of the IT workforce having a high proportion of contractors, more so than most industries. This is because IT projects come and go, and employers ramp their workforce up and down to suit. Moreover, skill requirements change rapidly, and sometimes it’s more convenient to hire someone in than to train a permanent staff member.
- Those who would prefer to have a permanent position, but are forced by market conditions to be contractors.
- Those who like the contracting lifestyle, and use their skills and wits to make it enjoyable and profitable.
There are plenty who started in the first group, but later became part of the second.
If you are considering IT contracting, or are already doing it, I hope to help you by describing how the most successful members of the second group go about it.
- Consider yourself as a one-person business
Contracting is not just about your particular IT skill. You need business skills such as marketing, finance and resource planning. That may seem daunting, but it needn’t be. Read on!
- Choose your assignments wisely
Consider not just the daily or hourly rate, but how the assignment will add to your value as a contractor, how it will allow you to enhance your skills, how it will look on your CV. Does the company have a good reputation, especially in the IT area?
What is the duration of the contract? If it is a three month contract, is this because the work is expected to take only three months, or is it because this company has a policy of always making initial contracts three months while they find out how good the contractor is? Do your research, ask around. Perhaps there are at least 2 years of work and if you are good at what you do, you are very likely to be extended.
- Always over deliver
If you can establish a reputation for being in the top 10% of contractors with your specialist skill, you will be in demand. People will call you, you will never be short of an assignment, you will command a high rate, and you won’t need to spend time on marketing and promotion. You do this by exceeding your customers’ expectations.
- Be up to date with your knowledge and skills
IT contractors command healthy premiums over people in permanent positions doing similar work. One reason is that contractors are assumed to be technically current, and customers don’t expect to spend training budget on them. Having said that, it’s not unknown for contractors to be sent on courses at the customer’s expense, and even to charge their time for being on the course. If you can achieve that, it’s a sign you have really paid attention to point 3!
- Know who can help you, and be easy to deal with
Find out who the IT recruiters are who specialise in your technical area, and make them your friends. Make sure your CV is up to date, and take their advice on how to organise it for maximum impact. If you expect to be looking for an assignment soon, give them as much advance warning as you can.
Contractor management companies can also be useful. They are used by employers, recruiters and contractors to manage payroll, insurance and other areas related to contract employment. They have specialist expertise on how contractors can optimise their business structure and tax obligations. They often use the term “contingent workforce” when referring to contractors.
If you pay attention to all these points, you can have the best of both worlds – the flexibility, continual challenge and premium rate of a contractor, but the job security of a permanent position!