Diary of a first-time IT contractor – Lessons learnt
One week down
So, I'm one week into my first contract and thankfully I still think that it was the right decision. Travelling over the past week I've tried various trains both into and out of London, as a result I've also been trying the different tube lines at different times; while I appreciate that all this sounds a little fastidious, it's been worth it to minimise the amount of time I'm away from home.
Still no access
As yet, I still don't have access to the client's network; I've been using my own equipment and their policy quite rightly dictates that I can't attach my laptop to their network. I'm reliably informed that I have got a user ID for their network and email systems, and that my laptop is on order. With any luck it will arrive before the contract ends!
In the past few days the work has started to come through which is good. I'm working with the technical lead (a contractor) and a third-party supplier to establish the scope of the project.
Some differences I've noticed between being a perm and a contractor, at least for this client:
•Aside from a quick "everything okay?" from the PM, nobody is particularly interested in how things are going in a pastoral sense. Personally, I prefer this. I don't like to have my hand held or feel supervised, I like to get on with things
•When you say you can do something, people take your word for it. There doesn't seem to be any of the second guessing and double checking
•You make it in, regardless of how unwell you feel!
Timesheets and invoicing
Talking to colleagues and friends, timesheets, invoices and payment are different from agent to agent and client to client. I've just completed my first week's timesheet by sending it in electronic form to the PM so she can email back to say she approves it. I then send the printed out timesheet with a print out of the approval email and an invoice to the accounts department of my agent for weekly payment.
Rupert, my friend who's contracting at the petrochemical company fills out his timesheets and has his PM sign it. James, who contracts at the F1 Company I was at before contracting fills in a web application on his agency's website and the development manager logs in to approve it. I don't suppose it really matters how your agency and client choose to do it, as long as you know the process.
I've had conflicting advice from two contractor friends on the subject of invoicing. One suggests for my own filing convenience I should create an invoice number based on an identifier for the client and a unique sequential number. The other firmly disagreed and tells me he just increments the number of each invoice regardless of who it was for.
I've spoken to my accountant who says it didn't matter how I choose to raise the invoice, as long as my preferred solution permits me to keep accurate, easily manageable paperwork. Since I have two clients currently and I want to run a tight ship from the outset, I'm going to use client specific numbers.
I posted the invoice, timesheet and approval email on Friday, it's now Monday so for my own reassurance I've decided to contact the agency's accounts department to ensure that it has arrived okay and is completed correctly.
Luckily, it turns out this was a wise decision. When I was initially submitting all of my paperwork to the agent, I was still waiting for my VAT registration number; I had logged in my head that I needed to send it as soon as I got it. I didn't.
Two lessons learnt on this one for me; don't log things in my head and hope to remember them, (particularly where money is concerned) and I should have contacted the 'contractor care team' at my agency to establish if everything was in place for successful payment before submitting my first invoice.
Admittedly, not all agencies will have a dedicated team, but I'm sure there will be someone to check with and I will be checking at the start of each new contract from now on.
For this contract my agency pays my company a week in arrears. I'm reliably informed that this isn't the case across the board as some pay monthly and others say they need to have had successful payment from their client before they pay you (hopefully not many adopt this practice).
As I understand it, if my contract comes up for renewal in May when the current assignment expires, the client isn't against allowing more flexibility when working from home. This would be great for me. Most managers I have worked for have always disliked home working; they don't have the same sense of visibility on what you're up to. For me it's always seemed a good option. I'm significantly more productive and generally they got a longer day out of me when they did let it happen.
For me contracting appears to be the correct decision. In the days and weeks leading up to my last day in my perm job and the first of my contract I experienced serious nerves and anxieties about whether I was doing the right thing.
My young family and stay-at-home wife depend on me to bring in the money and this is huge pressure. At the same time as wanting to provide for them, I also want to see them. I suspected that this would be the unfortunate trade off but it turns out it isn't. Admittedly, my day starts a lot earlier than I would like, but I get home at almost the same time as I used to. I feel strangely reenergised by the train journey home.
I started my first entry saying ultimately only the individual knew if it was the right decision, and I stand by that. All I can say to anyone who reads my diary is that once you've made that leap, you've done the really hard bit.
Editors note: For more information on becoming a contractor please see our First Timers Guides.