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The usefulness of contracting

Published on 15th April 2019

Revising your value to the market

Selling your skills to a wider market makes you rethink what it is you can offer at a very basic level, plus what you could offer. For example, you might be a designer or writer, but have you picked up any project management skills along the way? How have you felt when you've taken a shot at different types of roles? Remember that if you're a limited company contractor, it's a good idea to train yourself to think more as a business than an individual. This mental shift is one of the biggest things to crack. We're told than no one is an island, but as a company director you are kind of an islet.

In short then, don't apply too narrow a band to what you can offer now, and what you could offer in future. Changing roles at relative pace will help you pick up skills and experience rapidly. These skills are yours to sell back to the market place. When you use a new programme, tool or application, note it down. If your role takes on a different flavour, like people or project management, think about what that means for the direction of your business.

Re-pitching your skills

Each time you apply for a new contract role something really useful happens. You find you have to articulate and re-articulate your skills and experience. Maybe the role you're looking at has subtle (or not so) differences to the one you're already in. This might sound like some people's idea of washing with a scouring pad, but for me it's an interesting challenge, and not far off what you'd have to do if you were looking to change permanent jobs. With contracting you sharpen your ability to do this.

Time management

There are different ways to contract. One of them is to set up a limited company. If you do this, then you'll get into the habit of doing admin. This usually includes:

  • documenting your expense receipts
  • emailing documents to your accountant, like invoices, mileage and bank statements
  • invoicing clients (memory permitting)
  • submitting timesheets
  • learning the ropes of running a limited company  

The instability model

I cooked this one up as an analogy to deal with the relative chaos we exist in. Randomness and chaos appear to work alongside each other fairly comfortably in the wider context of nature. Our desk-jobbing, time sensitive, calendar-managing, Americano swilling lives don't help us deal with surprises. We've trained ourselves to wear order in every different colour, that it even seems disturbing when our brains throw us the most random of thoughts. People have told me that they've had 'the most random day', as if the rest of the world isn't off the charts for lack of process and structure.

Contracting helps you deal with this. On one hand you've got to handle the shifts and surprises at work, while watching the job market in case your client pulls the plug on your gig. Ever since I started as a contractor almost 4 years ago, I've become noticeably better at dealing with surprises. The fact I'm also currently looking for a place to live with my girlfriend helps with that too. But I don't think I'd be half as malleable as I am now had I stayed in a permanent role. 


Another useful aspect of contracting is the confidence it gives you. Sometimes this can bleed over into arrogance, which manifests itself as thoughts like: 

  1. I'm so much more skilled and experienced than everyone around me.
  2. The current task I'm working on couldn't be further below me.
  3. The client hasn't listened to even 25 per cent of the advice I've offered. If they had, they'd be 10 times better off.
  4. I live to burn incompetence at the root - blah de blah

Confidence is a lot quieter and more reassured than arrogance. It's the difference between feeling comfortable or uneasy working with different people and organisations on a fairly regular basis. You might find you get this opportunity in the same organisation, but mostly, it's going to happen as you move roles.

Going permanent

Contracting experience does feed into permanent work, should you decide to take it at some point. 'Permanent' doesn't really mean what it used to, with a good many roles being pitched as fixed-term contract (FTC), or if not, only lasting for around 2 and a bit years in real terms. For example, if a contractor ends up on a job for close to 24 months, then the average permanent job cycle begins to mirror the length of a sizeable contract. The lines between both are continuing to blur.


To sum up, contracting helps kick people into action. It forces them to continuously rethink what they offer, when, and to what types of organisations. Constantly keeping an eye out for the main chance can be stressful at times, but I think it's what humans were programmed for. And it's a small price to pay in the pursuit of becoming a fine-tuned, flexible delivery machine. 

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