Variety is the spice of life, making contracting the perfect way to never grow tired of your work. Every week could see you interacting with new people or tackling a different task with your unique brand of solutions, making every day unpredictable, exciting and interesting, but this level of freedom also carries risks, such as how you keep the flow of work constant.
If you are continuously undertaking small or short assignments, at what point do you start looking for your next contract? Do you do it while you are still on commission with a client, or do you wait until the job has definitely come to a close? This is a conundrum that all contractors face, so we have come up with the key factors that you need to take into consideration.
1. Have you got enough in the coffers to not work for a few days?
Contractors that have been working for themselves for a number of financial years will usually have a good reserve of ‘rainy day’ income, meaning that they can afford to take a small hiatus between contracts, but for newer set ups, this is unlikely to be the case. With that in mind, lining up back to back contracts becomes increasingly important.
It’s not as simple as just sourcing your next client, as you will have to undergo interviews, agree a price, have a contract drawn up and all of this takes time, so be aware of the sourcing process while you are bringing a job to a close and make allowances for an hour out here and there.
When looking for your next contract, it can be useful to register with a number of recruitment agencies, as they are often able to line you up with new work at short notice, or at the very least, keep you on their files and get in touch when something suitable does crop up. Preparation and planning really are key here!
2. Could you benefit from a break?
New contractors often run the risk of burning themselves out quickly, as they take on any and all work that comes their way, leaving them exhausted and in dire need of a holiday, which they think they can’t afford to take in their first year or two of operation. Try not to fall into this trap, as part of your reason for going self-employed was more than likely so you could maintain a far better home/work life balance!
If you are charging a good rate for your time, you should be able to factor in a few days off after each contract, to recuperate and rest and you should also be able to factor in at least one proper holiday a year!
3. Remember how you sourced permanent work!
It might seem like a whole lifetime ago that you were last in permanent work, but don’t forget how you used to have to line up new employment! Standard practices mean that any employee leaving a full-time position would be expected to give a minimum of four weeks notice, which gives plenty of scope for tying up loose ends in the current position, while sourcing the next. This could be a great pattern to follow in your contracting life too.
Let’s say you have found a six-week contract that will definitely not overrun. You have negotiated a good rate, enjoy a good relationship with your client and can’t foresee any issues arising. With this in mind, you might want to start hunting for your next client around two weeks in, just so that you leave yourself a full month to complete any admin or interviews. In the best-case scenario, you will finish your current contract on a Friday, enjoy a weekend off and start with your new client on the following Monday.
Remember that if it’s possible for permanent workers to get the timing right, it should be even easier for you, as you have more flexibility!
4. Don’t keep looking if you don’t need to!
This might sound a little ungrateful on the face of it, but if you are fortunate enough to have a fantastic reputation and are regularly updating your availability on your social media channels and networking profiles, you might find that you don’t need to chase new opportunities as they simply come to you. If that is the case, don’t fall into the trap of wondering if the grass is greener elsewhere, as you may lose valuable contacts and sever financially lucrative ties.
Always be proactive in your search for work, but when it comes directly to you, grab it with both hands!
5. March to the beat of your own drum!
You will no doubt have friends and peers that are also self-employed, but try not to pay too much attention when they tell you about their ‘busy schedule’, as they are in exactly the same situation as you. By all means, listen to their timescales for searching for new clients, but try not to worry if it is drastically different to your approach, as you have to do what works best for you. Your client bases will be very different, as will the service your provide be, so try to focus on identifying the highs and lows of your industry and scheduling your down time to match, that way you will never panic about a lull.
Naturally, the longer you have been contracting, the more you will get a feel for your industry, the type of clients you attract and how you like to work, so your contract timing will organically develop alongside your preferred working style. This is one of the reasons you went self-employed to begin with, so don’t forget to enjoy the flexibility and adaptability that being your own boss offers. Also, don’t panic and stop believing in yourself just because you have a quiet week or two! All industries have saturation points and less busy periods and as you become more acquainted with them, you will start to organise your time around them.