Common contractor pitfalls & how to avoid them

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It’s no secret that contracting offers a whole lot of perks, not least the freedom and flexibility that you just won’t get in permanent employment.

However, this extra freedom can come at a price. Because you’re largely left to your own devices, you could end up falling into one or two traps along the way. While it’s wise to learn from your mistakes, it’s obviously better not to make any in the first place.

With this in mind, we’ve put together a few classic errors and explained what you should do to avoid them.

Not saving for a rainy day

Picture the scene. You check your payslip and are thrilled to discover that your skills and expertise have been rewarded with a nice wedge of cash in your bank account – more than you’d get for a permanent job anyway.

Buoyed by a rush of excitement, you decide to treat yourself to a few things you wouldn’t necessarily buy. Sounds good, but then what do you do if you find yourself ‘on the bench’ for a significant period of time?

Remember that assignments are temporary and come in all shapes and sizes, meaning big pay rates aren’t always guaranteed. It’s therefore essential to keep a little behind each week/month and create a financial safety net, or “war chest”, to keep things ticking over during the lean times.

Of course, we’re not saying you should never treat yourself – but building up a healthy war chest will allow you to fully enjoy all the benefits contracting can bring without having to worry about your finances.

Using a ‘one-size-fits-all’ CV

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It’s really tempting to send out the same CV to all potential agencies and clients, as it can save a lot of time and effort. Unfortunately, this is unlikely to get you very far and will probably see your application fall at the first hurdle.

Make sure your CV is tailored to each assignment so that you can really sell your skills and leave the client with no doubt you’re the right person for the job. Try to match your expertise with each requirement so you can stand out from the crowd.

Not casting a wide net

Contracting is a numbers game, so it’s unwise to be too picky about the roles you apply for. You’re extremely unlikely to find the perfect gig every time you’re looking for an assignment, so it’s a good idea to compromise.

Failing to cast a wide enough net is particularly risky during the lean times and could see you needlessly languishing on the bench. Instead, make sure you apply for a number of different opportunities to increase your chances of securing multiple assignments.

Don’t forget that the more offers you have in front of you, the greater chance you have of negotiating a higher rate – so it pays to play the field.

Losing touch with contacts

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While we’re not suggesting you become the ultimate social butterfly, it’s important not to let your network of contacts fall by the wayside. Keeping in touch with former clients, agencies and other contractors can certainly help when you’re looking for a new assignment.

Social media has made this even easier (and arguably more important), with LinkedIn emerging as the ideal place to build up a strong network. With a high proportion of jobs (particularly in IT) being filled before they hit the job boards, failing to keep in touch with your contacts could see you missing out on a golden opportunity.

Letting your skills go stale

The worlds of contracting and business are always changing, so it’s important that you don’t end up standing still. There’s fierce competition in some sectors, meaning you’ll need an impressive set of skills to stand out from the crowd.

It’s also a good idea to keep up to date with the latest trends in your industry and spot any niche skills that could prove useful. Keeping on top of developments in your chosen sector will allow you to stay one step ahead of the competition and ensure your services are always in demand.

There are a number of different ways to do this, from online courses to traditional training sessions and industry events. Some contractors even go overseas in search of a skills boost – and no doubt a nice holiday at the same time.

Over to you

Are you a contractor? Can you think of any other mistakes to avoid? Let us know on Twitter, or by leaving a comment below.

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