How to Get Into Contracting
Updated: Jan 2
When I was a permanent employee, I was envious of contractors. They seemed to have more autonomy and independence than I did.
They didn’t need to ask someone for permission to take time off. They didn’t have to do appraisals. And they were getting paid a lot more than me.
I knew I wanted to get into contracting, but I didn't know where to start. Most of all, I didn't 'feel ready’.
Nowadays, I receive a lot of messages from people asking for tips on how to get into contracting. So I've put together the advice I wish someone had told me before I made the jump.
1. Start planning your exit
Write a PLAN. Start your plan with the end-goal (securing your first contract) and then work backwards. Write down the steps you need to take using the points in this article to help you.
Make sure you write it down. People that write down their goals are more likely to achieve them. The same applies to those that write down their plan.
2. Change your mindset
This is important. Act as if you’re already a contractor. You need to lose the employee mindset. Employees have limited leverage. Instead, their bosses have all the power.
Contractors are their own boss. They have a business mindset. They’re rewarded for taking calculated risks. They invest in and promote themselves.
There are techniques you can use to change your mindset but the best one is to 'fake it until you make it'.
3. Stay out of office politics
Focus on your plan, not office politics. Invest your time into developing new skills. Watch a training video instead of getting involved in the office gossip.
Start promoting your skills (i.e. your services) through blogging, open source contributions, social media posts, podcasts, or YouTube videos.
If you have the time, start a side project and actually build something. This will grow your product development skills as well as your technical skills.
You don't need to be a coder to do this. There are now plenty of no-code platforms where you can build sophisticated websites and even apps without writing a single line of code. I recommend Wix but there are many others.
Learn how to market your product. If you can combine technical skills with sales skills, you’ll rarely be out of work.
4. Start saving a pot of money
I don't know your personal circumstances. But as a rough estimate you need around 2-3 months of living expenses saved in the bank. This will mitigate the risk associated with not having a permanent job.
Once you are contracting, continue to put aside money to cover the dry periods. You need to get used to not having a permanent 'job'. There will be times when you're not actively working for a client. But you'll still be employed. It's just that your employer will be you.
The time between contracts is the time to take a break but also the time to learn and practice new skills. It's the time to work on your business not in your business. The goal is to increase your market value.
5. Assess the demand for your skills
There needs to be a customer for your services. Use job listing websites to assess the demand for your skills in your area.
Every business needs to do market research and know their customer base. Write down a list of companies in your area that need your skills. These are your prospects.
6. Brush up on industry in-demand skills
Your skills are the product you’re selling. Don’t try to sell a product no one wants. In-demand skills will change overtime, so you’ll need to constantly learn and reinvent yourself to stay current.
If you don’t, you’ll quickly become irrelevant. If you can spot a niche that has a skills shortage (and interests you), go all in and become an expert in that area.
7. Make continuous learning your new obsession
If you work in tech, you're in a strong position. There aren’t many industries with a pace of change faster than tech. As a business, you need to constantly innovate and this means keeping up-to-date with new technologies.
Soft skills are incredibly valuable. Start taking courses in public speaking, negotiation, marketing, finance. The list of valuable skills you can learn is endless.
Use online training sites like Udemy, Udacity, LinkedIn Learning, PluralSight and Skillshare.
8. Network with recruiters
99% of your contracts will come through them (at least at first). If you haven't already, join LinkedIn. It's great for networking.
Use LinkedIn to find recruiters in your industry and drop them a personalised connection request.
9. Tailor your resume / cv to your chosen contract market
Your resume / cv should be specialised, targeted and skills-focussed. Highlight the skills that you're most experienced in and want to work with.
Include a summary of the business problems you solved in each role you’ve had. Use figures where you can to demonstrate your impact.
Upload your CV to a few online job sites. Yes, you’ll get calls from recruiters. But that’s what you want!
10. Quit your job
Most contracts will want you to start immediately or within a week or so. Unless you can negotiate down your notice period, you’re probably going to have to hand in your notice before you secure your first contract.
Some people never have to make this choice because it's made for them. Being laid off is frightening but it's also a huge opportunity.
If you’re not comfortable with being 'out of work', then contracting probably isn’t for you. If your skills truly are in demand you can always find another permanent job.
Ultimately, it’s about assessing the market demand for your skills, the current economic (and political) climate and taking a calculated risk.