How to land, quit, or extend a freelance IT contract

For all the complexity of the IT contractor jobs market, the ambitions, objectives or just plain wants of freelance techies can often be broken down into three simple categories, writes Matt Collingwood, managing director of IT recruitment agency VIQU.

And it’s this. Technology professionals who work on a contract basis often want to land a new contract, extend their existing contract, or quit their current one – but want to know the best way to go about it. There’s reams already written about this trio, but here -- exclusively for ContractorUK, I’ll provide some often overlooked tips and less obvious strategies to try.

How to land a freelance IT contract

  • Keep in touch without being annoying

We’ve seen findings showing a massive 96% of contractors said they WOULD return to a former client if invited. But not even 10% of those contractors said they were keeping in touch with these clients on a regular basis!

Assuming you’ve delivered what was required (and not left under a cloud), why would you not want to return? You know the client, you’ll be able to hit the ground running and probably command a higher rate for this.

So how do you engineer this situation? I would suggest diarising a keep in touch email/ LinkedIn message or even a call with these past clients you’d happily go back to. It doesn’t have to be weekly. Every few months will keep you in their minds.

It pains me a little to say the following, but this approach can remove the need for a recruitment agency! That potentially means an even higher rate for you, the now direct-to-client contractor.

But a little word of warning. Although the keep-in-touch email is a great (and overlooked) way to land a new contract, it’s important to stress the fact that most agency contracts will have a clause stipulating that you cannot return to their client within 6 to 12 months. You must double-check your legal obligations if you return within this period.

You might think ‘no one will know’ or ‘why would that recruitment agency care.’ But I know this isn’t the case – agencies do care and they might pursue you for it.

In fact, one of the UK’s largest Plc recruitment companies has a department called ‘Enforcers.’ This is as scary as it sounds. Their role is to look on job boards and LinkedIn profiles to see if their former contractors have gone back to their clients – they’ll even go as far as to call the clients anonymously and ask to speak with the contractor on the off chance they work there!

Don’t become their victim. Although the recruitment agency can choose to pursue the client, they will normally go after the contractor. A one-man band is more vulnerable, plus they want to retain their client relationship. I recall one instance where a contractor was pursued for £32,000. Don’t make the same, potentially very costly mistake!

  •   Stay social

LinkedIn has come a long way in the last years. My number one piece of advice to many newcomers to contracting and veterans alike is to ensure they connect with as many old colleagues, former associates or contractors, and past line-managers as possible. Having ‘influencers’ on your network doesn’t hurt either!

Anyway, when you’re ready to find a new contract, turning on your ‘Open to Work’ marker on LinkedIn will automatically notify all of your old work contacts that you are available. This simple approach is sometimes all it takes to remind a client about you and your past great work.

I would highly recommend posting updates on your profile wherever possible. Although updates on what you’re working on would certainly be interesting content, you can share other pieces of content – news pieces, developments in your industry and the like, which you think your connections will find of interest. The closer the connection of the content to you, the better!

  • Stay searchable

When on LinkedIn, remember to make your profile ‘searchable.’ By this, I mean you need to identify the keywords that recruiters might search to find people with your skillset and ensure they’re included multiple times in your profile.

How to quit a freelance IT contract

  • Treat all the fish in the sea like they’re your one and only

It takes many good deeds to build a good reputation, and only one bad one to lose it.

Too often I have seen contractors’ heads turned by a better contract, and that’s understandable, but please always quit in a professional way.

That means offering the minimum contractual notice; providing a thorough handover, even being available for client questions post-contract.

Sadly, I’ve sent many contractors to assignments over the years and the client has had a subtle word with me to say, “I’ve checked out this contractor, and he/she let me down.”

Contractors might think ‘there are plenty more fish in the sea.’ But it’s amazing how many times I’ve seen that it’s the one fish which you leave unloved – when you quit under a cloud – that comes back to nip you.

My advice? Just do the decent thing and quit professionally to ensure you risk no negative impact on your future endeavours.

  • Future-proof, and expect the micro-scope

But what else should you do when winding up an assignment? In short, future-proof!

Be aware, we’re finding that companies are doing far more ‘due diligence’ than they used to – whether that’s requiring a certain clearance level, or requesting multiple reference checks.

We recently had an extreme example, where a client of ours did a background check and discovered that a two-year assignment on the contractor’s CV was actually a lie. The truth was that the contractor had fled the UK after being charged with GBH and then had a 2-year prison sentence on his return!

  • Obtain a written reference

My recommendation is to ask for a written reference on headed company paper in the weeks before you leave a contract. It should contain a start and end date, in addition to project details and the scope of work. Having this ‘brag book’ of references might impress interviewers potentially, but most importantly, it’s back up of your working history when inevitably your old client representative retires, or becomes no longer contactable.

How to extend a freelance IT contract

  • Prep your ‘weekly wins’ email and try other non-head-down techniques

My top tip at renewal stage is, ‘Fly your flag.’

You’ve been on site doing a great job for the last six months, but who really knows the impact your skills have had towards the success of the project you’re on?

Too often, contractors are ‘heads down’ and delivering an agreed scope of work. And too seldom, a weekly update of ‘what’ and ‘how’ they have delivered is provided by the contractor.

Some of the most successful contractors I know, send a weekly ‘overview’ to the client. Listing their ‘wins’ and demonstrating why they are worth every pound. This gives clients peace of mind, and further and most importantly for us agencies, it gives gold dust at extension time, making us – on behalf of the contractor -- perfectly positioned to secure the desired rate increase.

  • Prioritise clarity when pushing for rate increases at contract renewal

I’ve said this many times before but it bears repeating due to its extreme importance. When entering into a rate extension, be clear on the increase you want – and clear on why this is appropriate.

Consider things like your increased knowledge of the client’s environment, the fact that you’re a known commodity, other opportunities you now have, and market conditions.

But please don’t demand these ‘rate-rise factors’ or the rate rise itself from your recruitment agent or the recruitment agency’s margin! Instead, aim to work alongside the agency and approach the client together.

Thursday 25th Aug 2022
Profile picture for user Matt Collingwood

Written by Matt Collingwood

Matt Collingwood is the Managing Director of VIQU Ltd. an IT recruitment and project-based consultancy company with offices in Birmingham and Southampton. Matt is also the co-founder of the Recruitment Canaries, a network of West Midlands based recruitment agencies who encourage collaboration, best practice and upholding the standards and ethics of the recruitment industry.

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