Firstly, full disclosure, I have been a permanent employee for 14 years before transitioning to a IT consultant and contractor for the last 7 years. This article provides my personal views on being a contractor/consultant with aim of giving you insight to help inform your own assessment on whether becoming a contractor/consultant is the right thing for you to do.
For the purposes of simplicity, I will refer to both contracting and consultancy as consulting. I will produce a separate article on the difference between the two in due course.
Start with Why
Start with Why you are doing this. Is it for the money? The work/life balance? The change in lifestyle? The network of clients that want what you have got? Perceived necessity? Why do you want to become a consultant?
It is ok for your thought to immediately gravitate to any of these answers, or any that I haven’t mentioned, just as long as you own and accept your own reason why. This is you we are talking about here, you are carving out something that means something to you, not anybody else. If you have been working for someone else for long periods of time, it can be easy to forget what this means. If you want to create a company that has multiple consultants, great, but we are talking about you here, first and foremost.
By accepting why, you want to become a consultant, the process of creating what you offer and to who you want to offer the proposition to far easier to develop.
For those familiar with Simon Sinek, Simon became very successful with his book “Start with Why” and the TEDx talks to promote his work. If you have not heard of Simon Sinek, take some time about to watch his work, motivate yourself to become the leader you want to be – you will be leading yourself through this.
Why did I turn to consulting? Control. I wanted more control over my own future. I did not want my future dictated to me. I wanted to spend more time with my family when I wanted to. I wanted to control the learning experiences I acquired over time and not have work dictated to me. I wanted to traverse multiple sectors to understand how companies, cultures and systems worked. I wanted to know that my education stood for something and that it worked. I wanted to prove to myself I could succeed. In return, I got far more.
What are you offering me?
Before consulting, my skillsets were technical, specifically, IT development and Project Management. Anything to do with building software, SaaS or managing the end to end production of SaaS products were my skillsets. I wanted to leverage these skills to get more experience from a broader range of companies to boost my understanding, capabilities and ultimately career progression.
Product or Service?
Being a consultant, you are offering a service, typically your knowledge and experience. This can be enough if you have a large enough network of contacts that already know your capabilities and are willing to consume them. However, if you do not then consider packaging up your knowledge as a product. Articulating the services as if they are a product makes it clearer to you exactly what it is you are offering and by doing so, makes it clearer to your prospects exactly what it is they are likely to get from engaging with you. An extra benefit of this will create the confidence you need to articulate yourself in interviews as you are clear about what value you can offer.
How will you do this?
My CV became one of the most valuable assets I owned. Evidence of my experience to prospects was vital in convincing recruiters and HR staff within companies that I had the skills needed to offer value to solve their problem. I am not a copywriter though, so I invested in CV writing companies to get the wording right, to understand the mindset of a recruiter – what they look for the types of roles I wanted to target.
My interviewee skills became a vital asset. As a permanent employee, you may not have been part of many interviews. They can be daunting. I invested in understanding what it is the interviewer is looking for – tested myself with friends, role-played, even worked with people I knew who worked in HR to get some answers. Why? All to give me confidence that when I do get that interview, I know what I am offering and how to get that message across.
LinkedIn became my shop window, a permanent shop window for my CV and a source of growing connections with the recruitment world so that they could know who I am and what I do.
Recruiters become your professional colleagues. I got to know a lot of recruiters and made a point to meet as many as I could in person. This is not about wasting your time with coffee in fancy cafes – this about meeting people in person where there is a vested interest for both you and the recruiter to find the right role – a win-win scenario. They are you marketers – they find you the leads, you close them. Get to know who they are, what sectors or skillsets they specialise in and make note of those that resonate most with where you think you will get most traction.
For me, doing this was a continual process, even whilst I was on a consulting engagement. Consider it continuous improvement. You will see over time those recruiters will change sectors, skillset focus or change career path entirely. You may find the services you offer will change over time also, so adapt accordingly and accept that. The more connections you make, the easier finding that next client engagement can be, so be prepared to spend time building the network to begin with.
You got skills
You are becoming a consultant – whether self-employed, LTD, LLP or Umbrella – you are becoming an enterprise where you determine how large that enterprise will be. You will need to learn new skills to enable your enterprise to be as successful as you want it to be:
- Legal: create terms with legal firms that can help you (think IR35 and contracts of engagement). Are you keeping data on Clients? Then register with ICO and make sure your data ownership/processing practices are correct. GDPR, ensure you are compliant.
- Insurance: Public Liability, Professional indemnity and even Life insurance. Learn what is right for you and create a small plan/strategy for tailoring your insurance to adapt to your needs.
- Accounting: manage cash flow and tax, as well as utilising an accounting firm to complete annual accounts and/or tax returns.
- Marketing: how will you market your offering to your customers? How will you track prospects to customers and communicate with them on an ongoing basis?
- Organisation: how organised are you really? How will you organise yourself to make time to learn these new skills and deliver success for your clients?
- Discipline: there is no one to blame but yourself if you promised yourself to do something and you did not do it. So, stop any blame mindset because you are just hurting yourself. Accept you did not meet your own targets, understand why you did not, learn from it, pat yourself on the back for learning from it and move on. Do not dwell but do pause to understand and learn – and then move on.
This all might seem a lot. It is but I did not learn it all straight away. For me, the key learning is I went with what I knew or understood at the time from what I learnt. This learning matured over time and I added to my skills as I went along. You cannot know everything straight away and no-one expects you to do so – keep that in mind. I will be creating articles that investigate each of this over time, so follow/subscribe to keep up to date when they are published.
Is it worth it?
In short, yes, absolutely and in ways I never planned for – and that is one of the main beauties of it. Consulting has led me to travel far more than I ever anticipated because I did not let geographical boundaries be a limitation. I have travelled to India, Sweden, Gibraltar, Toronto, New York and engaged with Clients all over the UK delivering the services I offer.
I quickly become silver/gold/platinum status with various travel and accommodation firms because of the frequency of travelling or accommodation as part of my engagements. This becomes an art form and whilst this is a benefit, it was in no way a focus, it was a means to an end.
Most of all, I gained the control I needed over why I wanted to engage with a company, what I delivered value on and when I did it. This meant I could spend more time with my young family. And this was not doing fewer hours each day, it meant I was able to take months off at a time to spend with my family. It meant I could save for things; it meant my family was able to travel more and we were able to afford the lifestyle we planned for.
I have engaged with many more companies in the 6 years consulting than I have in the 14 years as a permanent employee. The varying roles I played within each firm I engaged with provided insight in how each company works, their culture, the systems they use and how successful they were with it. Learning from each of these engagements only serves to add more value to the next one and it is a continuously enriching and self-motivating cycle.
Is it easy? No. Is it rewarding, Yes. Is it worth it – absolutely.
Would I consider going back to permanent? Yes. I do see this as Consulting vs Permanent – Consulting is a means to an end to serve and fulfil my needs. If a role comes along that requires me to be permanent, the role will fulfil my needs and I can offer the value they are looking for, then yes, absolutely. The meaning of permanent has evolved, it is no longer ‘a job for life’ but a commitment to a cause – however long that cause will take to complete.
Would you like to know more?
If you found this article useful, do let me know, it will encourage me to do more. If you want me to write about anything specific about contracting, get in touch. I plan to release more under the title “Contractor Life” so follow/subscribe to be notified for the next one.
The Contractor Life series, and this article in the series is also published through Medium. Read Here..