Most new contractors cite lining contracts up and keeping a steady flow of opportunities for the future as the most challenging part of taking the first steps into contracting. The role of agencies is often critical to your success as a contractor as the majority of large companies use agencies to find contractors.
Why contractors use agencies
Almost every contractor uses one or often multiple agencies to secure work as the agencies hold the majority of the contracts. Large organisations have preferred supplier lists (PSLs) and will not entertain direct approaches from contractors regarding vacancies; it’s simply not efficient for them to do so: agencies cut down the pool of candidates for them to a shortlist.
Agencies have immense resources and almost limitless contacts to secure roles as it’s what they specialise in, but it is worth remembering that an agency works for the client and not for you as a contractor.
Finding work via agencies
Before taking the leap from permanent employment to contracting it is best to discuss your options with a few agencies that are specialists in your field of expertise. That way you can get a picture of the demand for your skills as well as begin to build a relationship with the agency. The agency is the gatekeeper to you getting your first and subsequent contracts so treat them as your most valuable client. Your job is to make it as easy as possible for them to place you. A great candidate who works with the agency to find, win and fulfil contracts is seen as a great asset; you make them more commission. So what does as good candidate look like?
- have a great CV;
- are available and approachable;
- know what they want from a role;
- perform well in interviews;
- start and complete contracts;
- don’t terminate contracts early;
- keep in regular contact and show interest in the agency; and
- are proactive in finding opportunities with the agency.
Having agencies lined up is a great way to ensure you secure a contract before you leave your permanent role, but often clients need you to start sooner than your notice period allows. Some may be flexible, but there may be a need for you to pre-emptively hand your notice in before securing a role.
Timing your move
The safest option for you as a contractor is to set up your limited company and your first contract while still employed in your permanent role, but this is not always possible if you have a particularly long notice period. Be upfront with your agency about the lead time you need and they will be able to tell you the likelihood of clients waiting for you to start; that way you can make a decision about when you hand your notice in.
You can also plan for a delayed start by building a cash cushion – saving several months’ funds in the event of a gap in earning – before handing your notice in. Retaining this cash cushion throughout your career is prudent and having a cushion before you move to contracting gives you much-needed security.
When securing contracts, remain focused on what is important to you and how it fits in with the bigger picture. In our final article in this series we look at how to fulfil your life ambitions while earning a living.