When you start contracting, you take charge of your own career and with that comes increased responsibility. This reality, for many contractors and consultants, can pose the question of whether going it alone is worth it.
Ask any successful consultant or contractor if taking the leap was worth it; the resounding reply is yes. Easy to say if you’ve successfully made the transition, but when you evaluate what you can gain when you start contracting or consulting against a new permanent role, the results often speak for themselves.
Is becoming a contractor worth it?
Before evaluating the opportunities of becoming a contractor against permanent roles it’s important to point out that the choice to work for yourself is no riskier than moving to a new job – if you decide contracting isn’t for you then, as with any career choice, you can find another role and move on. Becoming a contractor doesn’t mean you can’t go back to working for someone else, but it usually leads to not wanting to go back to working for someone else.
When looking to make the move from a permanent role to setting up on your own and starting contracting, a lot of the key reasons to move jobs still apply, but as you are your own boss, your chances of making your own dream job can far outweigh finding your dream job.
1. Contractor vs permie role specifics
Life as a contractor offers one huge advantage over a permanent role – variety. As a contractor, you can actively choose contracts that offer the tasks and challenges you want without the office politics or time-filling tasks that often come with a permanent role. As a contractor you are contracted to deliver; you are contracted for your services and skills rather than having a contract that ties you to prescribed hours that are then filled with core responsibilities and tasks.
You have the flexibility and opportunity to move around as much as you want by going for the contracts that offer the most interesting opportunities, short or long term, extended or not – you choose the right contracts at the time within your career to gain more experience or skills, or to try something new, or to take a breather by enjoying the comfort of the familiar. Whatever it is that makes you happy to get out of bed in the morning and get to work is available in the form of the contract you choose to go for.
2. Contractor vs permie package
The financial opportunities for the savvy contractor are almost limitless. With contractor roles typically offering 50-150% more in terms of equivalent base salary, contracting can be very lucrative. Contracts offer this because as a contractor you swap greater financial recompense for the package and perks that permanent employees enjoy. It’s up to you to make provision for downtime between contracts, holidays, sickness, private healthcare and insurance.
This greater financial freedom allows you to determine what’s important to you; you can work all the hours you can now to retire early, or fund a bigger planned lifestyle change or you can choose the perks that are important to you and fund them yourself. Either way, you can have the lifestyle and financial security tailored to your needs. With some prudent planning, you can ensure your financial security and fund everything that’s important to you.
3. Contractor vs permie location
There are permanent roles that offer the opportunity to see the world, but what if you want to pick and choose where you work at your own pace? Providing you do your homework and keep your transferable skills up to date, life as a contractor or consultant can offer you the ultimate level of freedom through choosing contracts based on location, or utilising the fact that a lot of consulting work can be offered remotely so you can work anywhere in the world where you have a phone and internet access.
Being a contractor gives you the opportunity to be as nomadic or as settled in one location as you like, with fewer ties and little or no notice periods to worry about. At the end of the contract it’s your decision whether to move on or take advantage of any extensions offered. James moved when the time was right for him.
“My first contract was only supposed to be for three months but I stayed for almost four years. Towards the end of the final extension, I felt I needed a change. When I decided I wanted to live somewhere completely different, I just let the company know and when the contract period ended I’d lined up a new contract where I really wanted to be.”
4. Contractor vs permie working time
The other benefit of being a contractor is that you can plan your contracts around the best time of year to visit a specific place; whether you’re avoiding the rainy season somewhere exotic, or maximising your chance to see the northern lights, you can structure your contracts around time off. Career breaks are often viewed with suspicion between permanent roles, but contractors are only judged on their ability to deliver and their reliability; gaps in a contractor CV are the norm.
It’s not just about scheduling breaks: many contractors and consultants achieve a better work-life balance because the nature of contracts is to deliver specifics rather than be tied to 9-5.30 office hours. Javier works long hours in London during the first part of the week so he can take long weekends to return to his home city of Barcelona.
“I work hard to ensure I deliver on the project. It does mean I work long hours on some days but then I’m free for longer at the weekends.”
5. Contractor vs permie office culture
As a contractor or consultant one of the biggest changes to your working lifestyle is the cultural change you’ll experience. Gone are the days of getting involved in office politics and spending time on team bonding exercises. As a contractor you are brought in to deliver specifics; it’s an important distinction between you and your permanent counterparts on the project.
Your role now is to come in, work hard on the contracted tasks, and that’s it. No clock watching or sitting in meetings that don’t contribute to the goals you’re tasked with. The cultural shift from employee to contracted supplier is one of the biggest challenges for a new contractor, but it is essential if you are to be a successful contractor. It is ultimately rewarding as you become more productive and have fewer emotional drains on your energy at work.
Is contracting worth it for you?
The lifestyle of a contractor is more fulfilling, more flexible and with the right drive and focus can be as stable and secure as any permanent role. If you enjoy making your own decisions on where, when and how you work, then contracting can be a rewarding career change, one few turn back from. There are a few perceived barriers that can delay you from taking the first steps, which we discuss in the next article in this series. As with any career change, it can be daunting, but often the barriers we believe are there are simply elements that need more clarity or action.
Some of our most successful clients share the immense positives that hopping off the employee track can bring. So, what’s the big pull towards working for yourself?