Starting your first role as an independent contractor or consultant is an exciting time but it can be a little daunting. Even if you take the first step because you have a contract ready to start, how do you ensure that there is a steady flow of work in the longer term?
The importance of keeping your pipeline full
It can be easy to focus on the job in hand when you begin contacting. You’re working for a new client and you become immersed in the project you are working on. As a contractor, part of your role as your own boss is to ensure that you have new leads to other contracts before your existing one finishes.
Planned downtime is great if that’s part of your long-term plan but if you’ve budgeted to retain a steady flow of work in your business plan you need to have a clear idea of how you are going to source your next contract.
The best ways of finding contracting jobs
If you enter contacting after a prolonged career you may have a large network of contacts to tap into. You could try to source contracts directly through your contacts but this can be limiting. Independent professionals often come across barriers to entry if the companies they are trying to target are large corporates with centralised procurement functions.
Having said that, if you have a network of smaller or owner-managed businesses you may be able to source contracts directly. The art of securing contracts this way is in the timing – you are working from a limited pool of contacts and their needs for a contractor may not coincide with when your existing contract ends. This way of securing business is time and resource heavy.
The majority of contractors find one or two agencies with which they work with regularly and build strong relationships secure upcoming roles. You outsource the task of finding contract work to the agency but you still need to ensure you nurture the relationship and steer the search to further your career. Having a good relationship with your agency is the most productive way of finding contracting work and you can read more about the benefits of using an agency here.
Finding the right sort of contract for you
Finding the right contract can be trial and error at first. Unless you’ve had quite a few roles in the past as a permanent employee, it can take time to build up a strong picture of the sort of role you your dream contract would be. Working for yourself gives you the opportunity to take contracts that are a closest match to your ideal role and where you want to take your career at that time.
Your next contract could fulfil another facet of what you want to achieve. Mapping out what you want to do over the next year and possibly five years will help you build a clear picture of what you want out of your contracts. Having a clear idea enables you to spot opportunities faster and work with your agency to find the roles that are right for you. Things to think about when mapping out what contracts are right for you can be:
- Types of project you want to work on – the day-to-day tasks, skills and knowledge you want included.
- Who you want to work with – the type of company, the teams you want to work with, the culture you want to experience.
- Where you want to be – if you are based within the client’s offices where do you want to work? This could be an opportunity to travel the world or simply commute to somewhere new.
- Where you want to go – what’s your grand plan? You might want a more equal work-life balance or to retire early or fund a bigger dream. Whatever it is, planning your contracts means you are more likely to get there.
Thinking about all these elements helps you build a picture of what the next and subsequent contracts in your career should be. Having a clear idea of what you want out of the next contract enables you to make the right decisions quickly and be more focused on getting what you need out of a role.
Contractor must haves for successfully finding contracting jobs
No matter what route you use to find your next contract, there are a couple of things you should invest in regularly:
A killer CV
A contractor’s CV needs to be so much more than a record of the roles you’ve had. It’s the main sales tool you have to secure contracts. Your CV needs to show that you deliver – clients want to know what you delivered and what difference you made to other clients or businesses you’ve worked for.
In the world of contracting results speak louder than length of service. Refresh your CV after for each contract, add the experience-related results and ensure that it is tailored to winning the next contract. Ask your agency for feedback so that you continually improve your CV and keep it fresh.
The design of your CV needs to fit the market you are targeting, clients in more traditional markets like financial services tend to prefer standard CVs, whereas more creative clients like to see a little more flair. There are plenty of designers out there that can turn portions of your CV into infographics to help your CV stand out from the crowd, but you need to ensure that your CV is seen by the client (rather than the agency) for this to be a good investment.
People buy people, you’re more than a service provider and clients like to see you are connected and active in your field of expertise. Having a solid LinkedIn profile is the first step; posting regular and pertinent updates elevates your status to the next level. Your profile needs to be results-based and give a real flavour of who you are. Think of it as your packaging – clients will look at your profile alongside other candidates and you have less than a minute to show them what you’ve got.
Your regular posts are a slow burning way of ensuring you are noticed by the right people. Regular updates that are relevant and useful to past and potential clients will ensure that you are front of mind should an opportunity arise within their organisation. Link to the right people and increase your network gradually; the power of word of mouth is a great way to supplement your active contract searches.
Networking can take many forms and as a contractor you need to ensure that you spend time nurturing relationships. This can be done through membership of associations and trade bodies through to networking and trade events. Keeping up to date with industry movements is a core task that enables you to move into new skill sets and areas to keep you fresh and a ‘go to’ contractor for the best roles. Building your network can lead to roles finding you rather than you finding contracts.
One of the best ways of increasing your exposure and networking power is to actively share knowledge. This can be through participating in discussions in online forums and events through to having your own blog or contributing articles to third party publications. All of this can sound time consuming but little and often is the key to success here.
Key points to take away to find contracting jobs
- Improve your CV. Do a little research on CVs in your field and ask for feedback on your current CV. Diarise time to update it towards the end of each contract you take on to update it and tailor it to the next contract you are applying for.
- Prep up your profile. Take a good look at your LinkedIn profile; is it what prospective clients want to see? As a contractor you have less than a minute to sell yourself – make it count.
- Practice great PR. You are your own publicist so ensure that you contribute regularly. Post updates, join debates, speak at events, share knowledge, comment on articles; the more knowledge and insight you exhibit the more credible you become. You want people to remember you for all the right reasons.
- Build strong relationships. Having a solid and mutually beneficial relationship with your agency contacts and a wider professional network will ensure that you are considered more regularly for the roles you are looking for. By building your relationship skills you become more successful in interviews and at winning work. Contractors are brought in for their particular skill set but your ability to communicate and work with others by effectively managing stakeholders is what will set you apart.
- Think big and plan. It’s easy to get caught up in jumping from one contract to the next but take time to think about what you really want and plan for it. Take time regularly to evaluate where you are and if you’re moving towards where you want to be.