Contracting: is it right for you?
To many people, contracting sounds like the land of milk and honey. All that money! So much freedom, and all the most interesting projects – or so it seems from the outside. And whilst yes, making the move into contracting can prove quite a lucrative one, there is certainly far more to it than raking in cash. With that being said, before making the jump there are a few questions you really need to ask yourself to see if this is the right move for you. Is contracting something that you will truly benefit from? Or is it just a case of believing the grass is greener, only to find yourself on the wrong side of the fence once you have jumped?
I think one of the key things that people fail to consider when it comes to contracting is their money personality. Are you a saver, someone who has money stacked away for a rainy day? Can you handle uncertainty around your income? Working as a contractor means you can expect ups and downs in your income stream. You may have periods where you do really well; you secure yourself a juicy role, on a big programme of work and make hay while the sun shines. Then you complete your project, your income abruptly stops, and you may not have anything else lined up for the next month or so. Can your finances handle this sort of shift? What are your current financial commitments? Are they flexible; will your savings cover these? Also, and potentially more to the point, as you get paid lump sums without any tax being deducted, are you disciplined enough to put enough money aside to ensure you can pay the tax man at the end of the financial year?
Money aside, there are other factors at play in the world of contracting that people often don’t consider upfront, but really should. These include your approach to working hours. Are you the sort of person who prefers to clock out, and be out the door at 5.01pm every day without fail? Or do you stick around and keep at it till the job is done? Many think being paid by the hour (or per day, as some contracts go) encourages you to work harder than you otherwise would. And whilst this is true for some, it certainly isn’t a blanket rule. Furthermore, if you are the sort of person who enjoys a good long chat by the water cooler, catching up with your workmates every day, you might want to think again about contracting. Contracting more so than permanent work, is an employment type where you are expected to provide value for almost every minute you are onsite (designated breaks aside). Someone is paying a premium for you to be there, and you better believe that if you are not showing yourself to be providing value for that money, you may find yourself tossed out, often with little notice.
Also consider the business reasons for requiring a contractor. It may be because of a vast amount of new work coming through, or because of an urgent need for a specialist skill-set. This means you may find yourself thrown into demanding situations. For example, sometimes there is little background information provided at on-boarding stage, or you might be given an interesting but extremely difficult challenge to try and navigate through, or asked to complete an Everest-sized mountain of work. All of which require mental fortitude and resilience. If you aren’t the sort of person who naturally thrives on a big challenge, or you are someone who prefers a bit of hand-holding to get up to speed, jumping into a contract might not be the best thing you’ve ever done for your mental wellbeing.
Another factor to consider is that contract engagements often finish as soon as you have delivered a piece of work. Sometimes you may stick around for a week or two post-delivery to ensure nothing caves in on itself. Unfortunately, contractors don’t generally get the opportunity to hang around and see the true impact of completed work on an organisation and its people. It can sound a little like a thankless task, it’s not – it’s a lifestyle and workstyle that works unbelievably well for a lot of people. However contracting is certainly is not a one-size-fits-all scenario. I really encourage you to think about more than just the dollars before deciding to make that jump. Is contracting really the right fit for you?