99% of us start in the same place, after leaving education we apply for jobs and go on the payroll. We work hard, we get promoted, we earn more money, we have monthly performance reviews, we stay in the same company as long as we can (but not too long) and try to build up an impressive CV / resume.
For most that’s enough although I remember very early in my career (when I was in my very early 20’s) seeing consultants coming into the office and I did wonder how they were able to make the leap, what set them apart from myself and how did it all come together for them.
Now nearly 20 years later I am a contractor / consultant and wouldn’t change it for the world! There’s a nice sense of freedom working for yourself and managing your own business. Also there’s a freedom knowing I’m not chasing promotions nor do I have monthly performance reviews!
Here I will talk about my experience although I’d love to hear about yours in the comments section!
Why do people become contractors (or consultants if you prefer)?
Well for a number of reasons although my story is one of broken promises… (okay well that sounds a bit dramatic…)
I was working in a temporary role for around three years developing Qlik Dashboards following the crash of 2007/8 when I was made redundant. It was a stressful time being a temporary worker with a new house and a young family although permanent jobs were scarce.
During this time I was often called by recruiters offering contract roles for 3 months, 6 months, etc. I turned them all down. From my point of view that felt like jumping out of a frying pan and into a fire… leaving one short term post for another.
Finally I secured a permanent role (sigh of relief!) as a contractor (ironically). One year later I was back on the job market again, (promises were made – lets leave it at that).
During this final year I was still receiving many calls from recruiters about contracting roles. I even started to notice their surprise when I was turning them down. They really couldn’t understand why I was wanting to play it safe with permanent roles.
Oddly in my previous temporary role I’d been extended several times over three years. The role previous to that (a permanent role) ended in redundancy just short of two years. Now this most recent permanent role ended after 12 months.
I had an epiphany, maybe permanent roles weren’t as permanent as the name suggested and the temporary roles not only lasted a longer but were also plentiful…..
It’s not a big leap of faith at that point to reconsider my options…
Setting up a company
It’s surprisingly easy and I think a lot better than using an umbrella company.
For a fee of around £15 online you can set up a Ltd company in the UK.
From there you can set up VAT and a bank account, you also want to consider business insurance (often this is a customer requirement).
I’d advise you get an accountant working for you as soon as possible. They can ensure everything is set up correctly for you.
Getting a role as a contractor is no different from any other role you’ve applied for in the past. Its actually easier in many ways, often you don’t have a face to face interview and you’re not expected to complete long application forms instead an up to date CV is all you need.
Work finds you. I often say my job hunting consists of answering the phone!
That said you’re up against people who should be at the top of their game so you have to be too. Ensure the roles you go for is leading you in the right direction. Take on additional responsibility and don’t shy away from large contracts.
For example in my experience:
- I’ve set up QlikView and Qlik Sense from nothing or as you’d say a “Green Field environment”
- I’ve created load scrips that handle millions of rows of data which take only 60 seconds to fully process every 15 mins
- I’ve trained and mentored both new developers and end users
- I’ve shaped organisations BI strategies
- I’ve implemented data governance procedures for large organisations
I think that’s pretty impressive and that’s what interviewers will be trying to find out. Can you manage the full spectrum of work or is you only experience pulling a small set of data onto an desktop version of Qlik?
I personally think its helpful to demonstrate how you go above and beyond. so for me its:
- This blog
- Presenting talks at Qlik events
- The work I do with the QlikDevGroup
Remember that you’re selling yourself so you need to give yourself points to sell. So think about that when you’re taking on new roles, will they help you add more breadth and depth to your CV and interview answers in the future? More interview hints and tips can be found on this post
Don’t forget you can’t list things you haven’t done. You’ll soon be found out just like this sheep dog with no previous experience did:
You’re a contractor – so check the contract
Its vital that your contract supports the work that you do and the expectations that are made of you. There is a tax consideration in the uk called IR35 which effects contractors. You need to ensure you’re paying the correct tax on a contract by contract basis. Your accountant will be able to advise you.
Working out of your comfort zone
Being a contractor often means you are regularly starting new roles. That means you’re meeting new people, working with new systems, data sources, etc. Its not for the faint hearted although I love the positives which are all the new things you can learn and the great people you can meet along the way.
Often as a contractor you are on your own. When you’ve worked somewhere a long time you naturally build up a support network within the office. You have to learn how to quickly form work relationships and also create your own method of organising yourself so as not to get bogged down too quickly (it can be a whirl wind!)
You can’t hang around. You’re quickly going to be expected to start delivering so ensure you’re listening and taking notes. Use your time effectively and keep your client fully updated (they shouldn’t have to come to you for progress reports!).
Work is very different though. As a contractor you’re not interested in office politics. You do however have to be conscious of other peoples feelings. This is because your work maybe putting them (or at least they think) out of a job either by automating what they’re doing or because they wanted to do the work themselves. I tend to take a humble approach especially in the early days until a get a sense of the place.
One tip is in London saying you’re a contractor or consultant doesn’t phase many permanent members of staff. However once you’re north of Watford Gap I tend to tell people I’m a “Temp” rather than a contractor its a culture thing (and being from Sheffield I’m allowed to say that) ……
Managing the admin
You have to continue the work out of normal working hours for your own tasks. Your accounts are typically the main thing. Raising invoices, recording expenses etc. Its worth noting here I don’t think you need any special software other than excel….. Well that would have been the case but from 2019 -04 you do if you’re submitting VAT yourself (Ask you accountant, that’s what you pay them for)
There’s a small band of Qlik contractors in the UK at the moment and I’m lucky to have met quite a few of them. Not only in the office but also at various events and I keep in touch with them online also.
Networking is a great way to share ideas, to get help and also to find work.
It works both ways though, you have to make the effort to keep in touch and go to these events in the first place. I also have found many people new roles that I’ve worked with in the past and the past three roles I’ve had have all come through recommendations!
A good place to start is the QlikDevGroup. Even if you’re not close by to one make the effort to travel there and when you’re there speak to people (remember to take business cards!)
Here I’ve given advice about being a one man band type of contractor. Something I do have experience in.
The next step for a contractor is making the leap to have additional people working for them and build that structure up into fully fledged consultancy suppling licenses and services to a portfolio of clients.
Its something I’ve been considering and perhaps I may try to achieve in the future although I’m in no immediate rush.
I hope you’ve found this helpful. I’d be interested to hear how you got into contracting in the comments or if you’ve got any further advice for people that I haven’t mentioned here.