Finding yourself between contracts can be an intimidating experience. What if a new contract never appears? Have I made a mistake going it alone? Do I need to start looking for permanent work? It’s easy to think the worst when we find ourselves in a down period.
Chances are, any time you spend on the bench will only last a few short weeks. You’ll soon have regular work appearing and all those bleak questions will seem a distant panicked memory. But at the time, the fear of being stuck in a gap can lead to sleepless nights and potentially poor knee-jerk decisions.
Here’s a look at the top five ways we’ve found for maintaining your productivity (and sanity) when you find yourself between contracts.
1. Build your long-term focus
Keep positive – it’s a cliché right? But, shifting your focus can bring some clarity. Focusing on your long-term goals, rather than short-term risks, could be just the thing to keep you motivated and moving forward.
No doubt you chose to become an independent contractor for a reason. Maybe it was to get away from the 9 to 5 rat race or to have a successful career without the office politics. Perhaps you have a long term goal in mind? Are you saving for an early retirement, planning your big start-up business or just focusing on achieving a better work/life balance? What are your goals for personal and professional development in your field?
These long term objectives have never been more relevant. Be sure to use them to keep yourself focused and driven during your downtime. This will help you to avoid the trap of accepting any and every contract; no matter how ill-suited it is to your skills and aims.
2. And now for something completely different
Sitting at your computer endlessly searching for new contract leads, scrolling LinkedIn and speed-dialing your agent – it’s 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 project comes in.
3. Stop chasing, start attracting
Instead of sending endless cold emails, use some of your time to focus on attracting new clients to you.
Ensuring you have a visible internet presence is a great way of signposting yourself to clients. Update your website and LinkedIn profile, get active on Twitter or start a blog, boost your portfolio and broadcast your side projects. Always ensure you’re showcasing yourself at your very best and don’t be afraid show off your expert knowledge.
Building your personal brand and online presence is an investment in advertising, letting you promote your skills to potential clients. So be sure to keep yourself updated on the current trends and get actively involved in any discussions happening in your field.
4. Check in with colleagues
We all get dips in our enthusiasm, meeting up with old colleagues, whether they’re permanent employees or fellow contractors, is a great way to keep up with any developments in your field and can often help to refuel your interest and find creative solutions to shared problems.
Your professional contacts may well know of upcoming work suitable for you. So pick up the phone, offer to help with any overflow or even collaborate on a project – this 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.
Don’t be afraid to shout from the rooftops that you’re currently available, you may find the least likely candidates have some great contacts for you.
5. Look into side earnings
Be on the look out for any side earnings you can pick up. These jobs can keep you ticking over while you’re between contracts and support your side projects. This doesn’t necessarily 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 going. 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.