Finding work as an IT contractor

After working for years as a project manager in an IT department for a small company, I decided I was fed up being tied to my desk all day everyday with only the photocopier as company. Although my hours were 9 till 5, I very often ended up working longer than that and I hadn’t seen a pay rise in quite some time. I had become jaded and wanted bit more of a challenge, so after a bit of soul searching, I decided to hand in my notice and go it alone as an IT contractor. This was quite a scary move for me not having ever gone out in the world alone, but I knew that I had to give it a go and see how I got on. Plus, what was the worst that could happen? I decided to go for it and if all else fails I would simply look for another full time job!

I quickly realised that working as a contractor was very different to being on the payroll of a company. If you are a PAYE employee, you get paid no matter what, but as a contractor, a quiet month means less money in the bank. Also as a contractor the onus is on us to sort out all our own invoicing and tax.

But I felt the advantages of contracting were well worth the risk of taking on a bit of extra paperwork, and now – a few years on – I’ve got regular contracts (which help keep the mortgage afloat), I’m able to demand competitive rates (much more than what I was on when I was a permie) and bar the occasional 20 minutes of paperwork I need to do, I’m able to pick and choose when and how often (or little) I work. I love being able to control my own hours and take on the jobs that interest me. Also, if you are good, there is good money to be made!

Finding work I knew was going to be the interesting part. Luckily, I already knew, from having been in the IT industry for some time that most companies prefer to use recruiters to employ their contractors, so I drew up a list of agencies and contacted them. I wanted a credible and reputable agency, which specialised in IT and had a wide range of clients. The main agency I started working with were very approachable, friendly and specialised in contract assignments, which was exactly what I was looking for.

A friend of mine also suggested that a good way to check out recruiters is to see if they belong to a trade organisation such as APSCo. There are companies out there that are a bit dodgy and I’ve heard some utter horror stories about contractors bidding for work that doesn’t actually exist or had rates changing at the very last minute, so make sure you are with a decent company that aren’t going to mess you about. As my good old Nan would always say, “if a job is worth doing, it’s worth doing well”, which is why I wanted to make sure I was working with the right recruitment agency for me.

I took the time to go in and have a face-to-face chat with my recruitment consultant, so I could discuss my skills in greater depth and explain exactly what I was looking for. I also figured that starting off with a great working relationship would mean the recruiter is more likely to work that extra bit harder on my behalf if I show them how professional and serious I am. I am glad I invested the time, as since then I’ve had my recruiter Bill on the case when my contracts due to run out or any queries I had about a contract extension was dealt with by him. He was able to filter out any jobs that he knew I wouldn’t be interested in or would be unable to fulfil, which saved me a lot of time returning phone calls for jobs that would later turn out to be of no interest to me.

In the early days I thought my extensive list of contacts would be enough as a contractor. But you quickly forget once you start a contract, how little time you have to focus on the next one, however, I also knew that it was important not to solely rely on the recruitment agencies to find me work, which is why I made sure I kept on top of my own personal contacts. In the beginning I made a few phone calls and sent some emails telling old contacts that I had set up by myself and was raring to go. I always made sure I emphasised how reliable I was, that my rates were reasonable and attached a copy of my CV. Even now, when I have some down time, I fire off a few emails, just to remind former clients that I am still alive and kicking and available should anything come up.

I also made sure that my LinkedIn page was up-to-date, as clients or recruiters might choose to look me up before offering me work. I started my own Twitter account too, tweeting the odd fact or news story about the IT world, as I felt this would show future clients that I am current and understand the world of social media. Social media is a great tool and if used correctly is a great way to promote yourself – but having said all that, I have had very few leads from my LinkedIn account (if any!) and have found my recruiter Bill much more helpful when it comes to securing work.

Working as a contractor has been massively beneficial to me as I’ve managed to secure some great contracts, utilising skills I hadn’t used in years. I have spent quite a bit of time building up relationships with companies and if I do have a few quiet days I tend to call them to touch base. I have started to build up a name for myself, and the work has become quite steady. I have also found it helpful identifying potential business on client’s sites, as any new problem could be more work for me. I make sure that I alert the relevant people about the problem I have discovered and make a few suggestions about how I feel I can alleviate the issue. This very often leads to a new contract.

I realised that the key to becoming a successful IT contractor is to be as flexible as possible, being able to work from different sites and adapting to all sorts of different working conditions. It is amazing how different each office can be from the politics to the tools they use. I tend to keep my head down and get on with the job, making sure I have identified where the coffee machine is first! You need to be reliable too; no one is going to employ a contractor who is constantly pushing back and delaying that client’s deadline. Don’t be afraid to sell yourself – no-one is going to promote you but you. If you think about it, employing a contractor is far more cost effective for them, as they don’t have to pay tax, sick pay, annual leave and once the contract has been fulfilled they are under no obligation to rehire you. So it is a handy agreement for all involved.

I have always been quite an outgoing person and find it fairly easy making new friends. This has become a real bonus in my line of work, as I have discovered no one is going to volunteer information to you, unless you ask. A lot of people assume you already know where the toilets are so doing be afraid to ask these types of questions.

Keeping your contact details up-to-date is essential too. I made the fatal mistake of taking on a new mobile phone contract, with a new number. Although I sent my new number out to my contacts book, I had forgotten to change it on my CV and a potential client had struggled to get hold of me because of this error. Fortunately, I got in touch during a follow-up call and went on to secure some more business, also learning a valuable lesson in the process.

Above all, I have found that a good reputation and professional approach works wonders in this industry. Word of mouth has been my main source of generating business. I have worked hard to create a decent rapport with all my clients, which in turn has paid off tremendously as I have had many contracts extended. Working for several different companies has also helped me to adapt quickly to new systems and I am continually learning, which is only helping me produce a far more rounded and professional service… also bulking out my CV, so it’s a win win!

We hope you enjoyed this article.

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