Between contracts: surviving as a contractor


Many of us, as independent professionals, will be guilty of thinking the absolute worst when we find ourselves in a down period. What if a new contract never appears? Have I made a mistake going it alone? Will I need to start looking for permanent employment?

Chances are any time you spend ‘on the bench’ will only last a few short weeks. You’ll soon have regular work appearing and these questions will seem a distant panicked memory. Yet, finding yourself between contracts can be an intimidating experience.

The fear of being stuck between contracts can lead to many a sleepless night and potentially poor professional decisions. We take a look at five top ways to maintain your productivity (and sanity) when you find yourself between contracts.

1. Build your long-term focus

notepad, writing future goals, 5 year plan, dog
‘Keep positive’ – it’s a clichéd piece of advice, right? But, shifting your focus may bring some clarity to your situation. Focusing on your long-term goals, rather than short-term risks, could be the best thing to keep you motivated and moving forward. More likely than not you chose to become an independent professional for a reason.

Maybe it was to get away from the rat race of 9-5 or to have a successful career without the office politics. Perhaps you have a long term goal in mind? Such as, moving to the seaside or saving for an early retirement.

Your long term goals will still be there and relevant. Be sure to use them to keep focused and driven in down periods. Ensuring you keep your career goals in the front of your mind, will help you to avoid the pit trap of accepting any and every contract; no matter how ill-suited to your skills and aims.

2. Do something completely different

exercise outdoors, fishing

Sitting at your computer endlessly searching for new contract leads, sending email after email, speed-dialing your agent – it can be a soul crushing experience. Be sure to limit your time on these activities to a few hours a day. Give yourself permission to actually enjoy the rare break you’ve been given.

You can use the time to work on any personal projects you’ve been putting off. Get the chores done, visit friends and family, exercise. Most importantly get yourself out and about and refuse to let cabin fever sink in – sitting in one room day in and out is enough to kill anyone’s productivity.

Taking the time to enjoy your time off will see you being more productive in your contract hunting. It will help to revitalise you and reignite your creativity for when the next big contract comes in.

3. Stop chasing, start attracting

portrait, social networks

Contracting work is continually evolving with technology. More and more of us are working remotely in newly developed areas. Finding new clients has also changed with the times. Instead of sending endless cold emails, use some of your time to focus on attracting clients to you.

Ensuring you have a visible internet presence is a great way for you to be found by clients. Have a website and LinkedIn profile that shows you at your very best. If applicable update your portfolio and build and broadcast your side projects.

Keep yourself updated on the current trends and get involved in any ongoing communications in your field. Building your own personal brand and online presence are an investment in advertising, showcasing you and your skills to potential clients.

4. Check in with colleagues

coffee, tea, croissant, jam jar

A great way to increase your productivity is to spend time with others who work in your field. Whether your colleagues are permanent employees or fellow contractors. Spending time with your professional contacts is a great way to keep yourself up to date on any news in your field.

We all have dips in enthusiasm for our chosen work areas on occasion, especially when we find ourselves out of contract. Meeting up with other people in your field is a great way to fuel your interest and come up with creative solutions to shared problems.

Your professional contacts may well know of upcoming work suitable for you. Speaking with them, offering to help pick up any overflow or even collaborating on a project will strengthen your contacts and keep you busy. It will also allow you to see how your colleagues work and grant you access to projects you wouldn’t normally be involved with. Your contacts may well be doing something you’re not that’s keeping them in work and finding them new clients.

5. Look into side earnings

photography, dj
Look out for side earning jobs that you can pick up. These jobs can keep you ticking over while you’re between contracts and support your side projects. This doesn’t necessary mean selling your well-crafted skills to the lowest bidder. Instead, you could pick up work locally.

You could find ways to contribute your skills back to the community; by giving talks or helping small businesses. Or, you could simply find work that gets you out of the house for a few hours and making new contacts.

Have you ever thought about starting a blog, a YouTube channel or a novel? This moment of downtime could be the perfect opportunity to get started. Should your side earning relate back to your ‘day job’, all the better; this will only help to promote you to new contacts and clients.

Being your own boss can, at times, be a stressful experience – especially when you find yourself out of contract. While you need to ensure you’re running your business with a realistic view, don’t let yourself falter at the first hurdle. The life of a contractor, including it’s down periods, can be hugely rewarding.
Should you find yourself out of contract be sure to take a look at our Thriving in Brexit series for tips on creative ways to find and secure contract work.