Benefits of IT contracting Part 3: A contractor's view

Retain enthusiasm through variety

The end of a contract is not just an excuse to run away from the permie-contractor battle you've managed to embroil yourself in – if you've been so unfortunate and ill-advised. Like Spring after a long Winter, changing a role is time to refresh, renew and grow green shoots. Whatever your skill set, a new position will undoubtedly challenge in fresh ways, blow the dust from neglected corners of your brain and enliven dodgy patches of the CV.

This periodic renewal is a great drug and will maintain your enthusiasm. Forming new relationships, finding your way around a computer system, discovering techniques and strategies you had never considered before, all keep your brain active and your attention engaged. Without doubt it is one of the greatest benefits of a freelance life.

Change contracts like changing socks

David Foot is a contractor specialising in developing data warehousing and BI solutions using SAS. He went into contracting with a specific goal of shorter contracts to gather experience, as he explains.

"I decided at the outset that I would only stay at one client for six months, even if offered an extension. That way I got a very wide spectrum of experience, both in industry sectors, but also office culture. I have just broken this rule for the first time and accepted an extension that will be me through until the end of the year with my current client. Again, this was my choice."

Foot is not unusual in his "variety" strategy for a happier more fulfilling career. Not only does it offer fabulous exposure to new companies, technology and methods, he says it helps keep his nose out of permie-politics and his brain focussed on the job in hand.

"It's great going into the office without really caring about how the restructure will affect me, what effect the share price will have on my share options, what the latest MD message is or what is available in the staff canteen," he says.

New contracts are not scary

Nonetheless, when first considering contracting the prospect of looking for a new position every few months can seem daunting. It's a fear that keeps many in their comfortable permanent roles and away from the exciting change.

But the fear is largely unfounded. Even though there are hundreds of thousands of companies using contractors and freelance IT staff, you will find the shop-floor differences in working practices, culture and technical procedures more than surmountable in a short period of time.

In my 15 years of IT contracting with only a few months out of work, and despite being nervous at the beginning of some new contracts, I can say whole heartedly there is nothing to be worried about. Even when it seemed I had been appointed by mistake due to a fabulous interview performance, within a few weeks I was performing as expected and providing the client with the results they were paying for. As long as you are conscientious and prepared to work hard, be confident you will be able to do the work.

Enjoy toe-curling flexibility

Linked to the variety argument is the concept of flexibility. Many permanent employees see flexibility as something they are supposed to display to clients (or customers) because it's written on the company's mission statement. But flexibility is supposed to work both for the company and for the employee. Suppose you want an extra long holiday this year, or to work ten hours a day for four days and then take a long weekend. These options are much easier to grasp if you are a freelancer because the client is mostly concerned with delivery.

As long as you hit your targets and do your job, there is no reason you cannot ask for greater flexibility, and there is no reason flexibility cannot be written into your contracts.

The law helps with flexibility

In fact, such have been the legal changes to the contracting way of life in recent years, it is even more in your interests to ask for and expect flexibility. The less you look like a permanent employee – keep a different working week, take long weekends and control your own hours of work, for example – then the less likely it is you will be covered by the intermediaries legislation of IR35, and the more profit you can make from your choice to be a contractor.

It's simply more fun

Groups of contractors working on projects display a great camaraderie – sometimes an embattled professionalism and often long-lived friendships. Contractors bring life to depressed departments and inject vigour to otherwise flagging teams. In larger companies, long held traditions like a cream cake-run, or Friday drinks are quite often continued and supported by contractors, and the inclusion of freelancers in a project team shakes up relationships and relieves sticky situations.

William Knight

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