Remain competitive in the downturn

Britain will be more severely affected by the global downturn because of its dependence on the City of London, the chancellor, Alistair Darling, warned recently.

So it seems contractors face a tough couple of years of increased competition, falling rates and scaled down IT spend.

Given the gloomy vista, contractors will have to up their game if they wish to win new contracts or simply keep their current positions.

"Over the coming months most enterprises will be looking to reduce costs, maintain market confidence and protect revenue streams. Consultants will need to focus on meeting these needs," says Paul Williams, chair of the ISACA (Information Systems Audit and Control Association) Strategic Advisory Group.

Williams advises contractors to "justify their fees through direct revenue enhancement or cost impact."

But since it is often difficult for bean-counters to see the direct value a contractor offers, you must "show" that you enhance the clients project, says veteran IT architect Ben Straw.

"You always have to do the job, but be seen doing it," he explains.

Straw has put himself on key training courses and offers some free consulting to possible customers. He says the job market is often like impressing a date, "My advice: sharpen your image, get out there and meet people. And keep your options open; you don't want to seem too needy."

There are other ways of improving your work. Jacob Gube at offers ten tips for speeding up web development including the use of frameworks, integrated development tools, libraries and internet downloads.

"Cutting down development time isn't about creating a sub-par product, it's about finding ways to speed up your current workflow and making sure that you are efficient as possible when it comes to repetitive tasks," Gube told CUK.

He writes, "If you find yourself doing the same thing over and over again, chances are you should rethink your code's structure. Consider learning about common design patterns that help you create methods, functions, and objects that are flexible and reusable."

Jeff Brooks, chair of REC (the recruitment and employment confederation), IT & comms sector group, is at pains to stress the basic contractor skills needed for competing in a tough market: CV and flexibility.

"In previous recessions it has taken a long time for contractors to wake up to the fact that they are going to have to be much more flexible: Flexible on rate, flexible on geography, flexible about where they are prepared to work."

He warns that contractors must exit the comfort zone. "They have had contracts that have gone on for several years or they are able to get the next contract easily, their rates have gone up they've been able to work close to home; all of these are off the table now. They've got to realise they are running a small business and they have to go where the work is."

For contract business analyst Doug Twistner, intelligence is key when it comes to keeping a hard won position. "Have a quiet word to your boss, is the company short of cash or is there a general policy of removing hired staff? If they are short of cash then try a compromise, either work part time or cut your rate," he says.

We have all wondered why "Mr Nice But Dippy" is kept on, says Twistner. "It's simply because he's cheaper. Unfortunately managers are better with money than they are with people, so make their accounting choices easier by cutting your rate to match."

As a final, and curious observation, Twistner says going on holiday can improve your the prospects of keeping a job, especially where contract end dates are synchronised across a department. "If you can arrange to have the time-off added to the back end of your contract, this will extend your time on site. You may be able to hang on while other contractors are let go. Hopefully they will realise they still need some skills before your contract ends."

William Knight

Thursday 20th Jan 2011
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