Working as a contractor can mean flexibility and the ability to work on a diverse range of projects — but it can also mean uncertain job prospects and dodgy bosses. Some simple strategies can ensure your life as a contractor goes more smoothly.
Contractor picture from Shutterstock
These ideas are adapted from the annual IPro Index 2013 research into independent contractor trends conducted by Monash University sponsored by contractor management firm Entity Solutions. IT contractors are one of the four main groups highlighted in the study (the other areas were mining and engineering, banking and finance and project management).
The study has been conducted since 2009, and one notable trend across that period has been that contentment levels for independent contractors remain high. The survey covered 379 independent professionals.
IT and telecommunications contractors interviewed for the study seemed particularly content. They expressed the greatest sense of freedom, the highest level of job satisfaction and the highest levels of work engagement.
A key element in achieving that is forward planning, Entity Solutions CEO Matthew Franceschini said. A well-organised contractor plans work in blocks, organises sensible breaks in between, and doesn't wait for one contract to finish before beginning the process of seeking out the next role.
While contracting or freelancing is often perceived as a default option after someone loses a full-time job, that rarely results in a successful long-term contracting career. 60 per cent of the contractors surveyed said that losing a job played "no role" in their decision to work independently.
Employers are also increasingly paying less attention to the distinction. "What we've seen is a shift towards the innovative organisations realising that it's about finding the talent," Franceschini said. "The engagement model is largely irrelevant."
It's also important to recognise that senior contracting roles won't involve simply showing up and working through a specified project — there will be a high level of interaction and planning. The study found that 63 per cent of independent professionals have a key role in shaping outcomes and goals for projects they are involved in.
The city you work in as a contractor can make a big difference to how much you get paid, though the role you perform is also an important factor. While living expenses also vary dramatically, working in a different city is one of the potential benefits of a more flexible role.
Arguably the fiddliest aspect of working as a contractor is organising your finances, especially if you want to bundle additional options such as a car. In that area, using a separate management company makes a lot more sense than trying to handle it all yourself, especially given how frequently tax regulations change.
Contracting isn't necessarily for life. Franceschini noted the most common reason Entity Solutions clients left the organisation was either that they found an appealing permanent role or decided to move overseas.