Thoughts on Contracting
11 February 2015
It’s been a month since I made the move from a full-time agency job into the world of contracting. For the sake of posterity and in the spirit of paying-it-forward, if you’re thinking about making the move yourself, here are some thoughts based on my limited experience so far.
You’ll be working with a new team of people. Take the time to get to know who’s who and where you fit in.
There’ll be new structures, hierarchies and lines of reporting. You’ll need to understand where you fit into all that.
There’ll also be new — and different — personalities you’ll need to gel with. Take the time to figure out who’s who, where you fit into the overall structure and how you’ll handle the different personalities.
Try not to think short-term (e.g. “I’m only here for a few weeks, I don’t need to worry about getting on with that person/fully understanding that process”).
Your contract may only be for a matter of weeks or months but if your mindset is short-term, you’ll subconsciously avoid doing all the things listed in my first point. Additionally, you’ll inevitably do a sub-standard job if you don’t fully appreciate what you’re being asked to do.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions.
There’ll be all sorts of unique-to-your-client things that you won’t understand: acronyms, other projects, people, terminology, documentation, processes — you’ll need to figure out what you need to know and ask the right questions to get the information you need to do your job.
“I’m a contractor. I don’t have to care as much”. Yes, you do. You really do.
You have to care about the work you’re doing. You have to be an active member of the team(s) you’re doing it with. You have to be sensitive to the inevitable politics that’ll derail you in some way.
If you’re a good visual designer, it’s not enough to simply be a good visual designer. You have to be good at being part of a team, part of a process and part of the solution.
Once you’ve secured a contract, forget about what you’re being paid.
There’s no doubt you can earn more as a contractor than as a permanent member of staff and, whilst looking for work, it’s “all about the day rate” but once you’ve signed that contract, it should all be about the work. If you’re distracted by what you’re being paid, you’re focusing on the wrong thing. You’re being paid to do a job. Do it to the best of your ability.
Recognition won’t always come your way.
You won’t always be slapped on the back for a great idea or a job well done. As a contractor, you’re expected to do a job to a certain standard. Strive for above-and-beyond that, but don’t be disheartened if it’s not always recognised. Don’t work weekends just to be seen to be working weekends.
Everything you do — good or bad — reflects on you.
Make sure people remember you for the right reasons. Have your own standards, make them high and be the person you’d want to work with.
Making the move into the world of contracting is a big decision. Although it’s only been a month, I’ve no regrets about making the move. I’m really enjoying working within a new team and within an incredibly complex set of new constraints. The work is challenging, the problems are complex — but the payoff is that the satisfaction is incredible when you get it right.