Contracting can be a bit tricky. You need to keep your current client happy, be on the lookout for your next engagement, while at the same time making sure you attain or maintain a skill set and knowledge base that will continually keep you marketable.
I have been talking with many consultants who work for consulting firms that are thinking about becoming a contractor. It's natural for people who are considering this change to have some apprehension. Because of this I wanted to take a minute to highlight the 3 common characteristics I see in successful contractors.
The three characteristics are:
- Keep your commitment to your current client but know when to move on.
- Understand that the more of a niche you fulfill the better, but know when to diversify your skills.
- Establish partners so your next engagement is not difficult to find.
Keeping Your Commitment To A Current Client
Whenever you start a new project there will be an end date established. You should never start a new project unless you have the full intention of staying until the project end date you have agreed to. This date is important because it dictates when you will begin to look for your next engagement.
There may be some variance depending on the time or year, but on average a contractor should begin to look for their next engagement 6 - 8 weeks before their contract end date.
If a client needs to change the end date of a project, they should give you sufficient notice so that you do not begin to spend time looking for something new, or worse commit to another client project and then be asked to stay with the current project a while longer. Obviously, this would not look good to the potential client that is expecting you to join.
Some clients will understand and respect the fact that you will be looking for a new engagement at the end of their project and will give you reasonable notice so you can plan your next engagement. Others however, may tell you that they need you after the initial end date, but lack the planning to execute these new contract documents in a timely manner, thus leaving you in an undesirable situation. Now it is perfectly reasonable for a project to go longer due to delaying a go live date. And you should have the flexibility to know that the client may need you beyond what they originally expected. What is not reasonable is to expect a contractor to turn down other projects when a commitment for extension has not been made by the client once you get within 30 days of the contract end date. This will leave you in a highly risky position of not having a job.
Contractors who make it for the long run do not have a problem asking a client for an agreement and professionally setting a date that, if a contract has not come through, they will begin to look at new assignments and at that point will take their best option.
Understand That The More Of A Niche You Fulfill The Better
When clients are hiring someone to come in to their organization to work on a specific project, they would ideally like someone who has experience doing the specific work that is needed.
Let’s say a Cerner client is looking to install Bedside Bar Code Administration. Ideally they would like to bring in someone who has installed Bedside Bar Code Administration for other Cerner clients multiple times and has done the installs recently.
A client may settle for someone who has done it only once but recently. Or, the same client they may even settle for someone who has done it multiple times even though the last time was over year ago. But make no mistake; the person who has done this type of work for multiple clients over a few year period of time and has done it recently is always going to be the client’s first choice.
Many contractors feel that the key to consistent work is to have broad experience that will allow them to be considered for multiple projects any time they are looking. It may be true that if you have a broad background you will can be presented to a wide array of projects but being multiple clients’ second choice isn’t going to do you any good. The key to stability in contracting is to develop a track record in a niche area where you will have a high likelihood of consistently being a new client’s first choice.
Establish Partners So Your Next Engagement Is Not Difficult To Find
I see so many contractors wait until they are 30 days from the end of their contract before they start to scramble to find the next project. Many times, as I mentioned above, this is due to their current client not being clear as to whether or not they will be extended on their current engagement.
Often times, once a contractor realizes they are going to need a new project, they are not able to leverage relationships. This is because they have not taken the time to develop any. Their basic plan is to look at the job board for contracts that they think they are qualified for and then apply to as many as they can. Many times they will be applying for contracts through firms they have never worked with or worse, no relationship with. Now there is nothing wrong with reaching out to make new contacts, but if you are relying mainly on people you have no relationship with for you next engagement, you are not setting yourself up to be successful. Plus, this can be a very stressful way to go from contract to contract.
The contractors that make it for the long haul take the time to develop relationships with a few firms that they have a good rapport with and respect for. By working with a few people with open communication, these contractors are able to have contracts ready to go at a time when there are available.
Keeping these suggestions in mind can help make the transition from project to project as seamless as possible.
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