As an experienced consultant leading the technical team here at Futureheads, I have been recruiting specifically within the development space for a number of years and cover both the freelance and permanent markets. I spend a lot of time talking to candidates who want to know if they are ready to move into the contract space, and what they can expect if they do. So, I thought I would write a piece to share my insights and hopefully allow readers to make the right decision for themselves.

The software development market

The marketplace continues to grow and does not seem to be showing any signs of slowing down. With new start-ups popping up everywhere, large digital transformations occurring at some of the biggest organisations around and with more businesses enhancing their online presence, the demand for skilled developers has never been greater.

In such a buoyant market, many organisations struggle to find the quality they need in the people they hire. From experience, for a lot of these organisations, there’s a preference to have a permanent fixture within their team, who has a vested interest in the company and its goals.

However, we’re seeing more and more companies look to contractors to help them deliver and to provide additional expertise and experience, especially on complex transformation and build projects. Being a part of this as a contractor can open up a whole new world of experiences, and enable you to cater to a variety of business needs. It can also give you exposure to different teams and technologies.

The risks and the rewards of contracting

Contracting can offer you a lot of benefits:

  • Variety – the chance to work in diverse teams, projects and environments is a big draw.
  • Flexibility – as a contractor you have the luxury of working set periods of time without the worry of using up all your holiday allowance to take a break!
  • Avoid Politics – not being a direct employee of the business, you are able to distance yourself from any controversies and stay focused purely on your project at hand.
  • Financial Remuneration – being a contractor means you are paid a premium for the unique services that you can provide, so if you are able to stay in work you can earn a greater financial reward.

I am sure you are reading this and thinking that this contract business sounds great, let me get my notice handed in tomorrow. However, with anything that seems too good to be true, there are risks:

  • Competition – In reality there are usually a fair few people vying for the same position and the margins can be extremely tight. Being out of work as a contractor is costly, so finding a way to stand out is key.
  • Career Development – Within contracting, it is very much limited to increasing your pay packet as a sign of growth as opposed to enhancing your influence.
  • Technical Advancement – Being a contractor means your new boss is highly unlikely to invest in upskilling, so you are left to your own devices to continue developing your skills.
  • Disposable – Your quality of work as a contractor is a strong determinant of the term you serve with any client. If this quality is not apparent or perceived highly enough, you can find yourself looking for a new role pretty swiftly.

These are the most common pros and cons of being a contractor that I think anyone considering making the move should evaluate. However, above anything else, I’d always advise that you take some time to think about any impact on your reputation. 

As a freelancer, you are an expiring asset to any business so it is important that you are held in high regard to ensure you are not spending too much time out of action. Good contractors are continually able to keep themselves in employment and guarantee their services are in demand from both old clients as well as new. Companies will on occasion even push back projects to wait for someone they have worked with before, showing just how important a preceding reputation can be.

Your Career as a Contractor

With this in mind, the advice I routinely give to newcomers is to build your career as a freelancer, much like you would in a permanent capacity and not find yourself out of your depth.

That does not mean you need to take something that is a walk in the park and that will bore you to death after three days. Find a role which is within your comfort zone and build from there.

As a contractor, you are paid a premium for the unique services you can provide

As a contractor, you are primarily brought in for your specialist knowledge. With that knowledge, there is naturally a higher price tag and often an increased weight of expectation on delivery. So, above all, it’s important you have the skills to handle this. Usually, we’d advise that someone should consider contracting after a minimum of three years or so of relevant commercial experience – perhaps a little less if you have specific experience working with a niche type of technology that is in high demand.

Now that is not to say you couldn’t go contracting early on in your career and be a success, but from experience, those that make leap too early often end up in an uphill battle where the risks certainly outweigh the rewards.

If you have any additional comments, or would like to chat about making the move to (or from) the contracting world, feel free to email me at rohan@wearefutureheads.co.uk or follow @FutureheadsJobs for our latest tech roles – we’ve got plenty of both contract and perm!

P.S. If you’re an avid reader of our blog, you might have a touch of deja vu. That’s because this blog was actually first published in 2015, and after looking over some of our older content, we realised the advice in here was still really relevant. So we decided to freshen it up, and give it another airing in the hope it will be helpful to anyone considering moving into contracting.

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