Should I Take a Contract Job?

Dear Plume,

I was let go at the start of the Covid shutdown from a job I had for the past eight years. Although they started to recall some of their employees, I’m pretty sure I won’t be one of them.

I’ve been looking at the job boards. There are some positions that seem to be a good fit for me, but the majority of them are only for six months, and most of them are contracts.

I’ve never worked as a contractor before. Should I apply for (and take) a contract job? There’s a lot of them out there, but I feel it’s a step down from being an employee.

I can’t be unemployed much longer, but I dread the idea that I’d have to look for another job in six months. What should I do?

– Unsure

***

Dear Unsure,

I recommend contract work to anyone who has been an employee for a while. It’s a great way to level-up your career!

Downsizing, reorgs, and virtual teams result in a lot of “combined” job descriptions – meaning that the responsibilities listed in the JD were likely accomplished by two or more people. Now, they must be done by one. This is when people are likely to consider someone who could do the job, not just someone who has…

If you’ve been an individual contributor, and think it’s time for you to move into management, or perhaps you want to slide laterally into a space that has more long-term growth, a contract job is the perfect way to do it.

Contract work has a fixed duration because very often contract work is related to a one-time (CapEx) project; there’s a beginning, middle, and end. For example, you hire a carpenter to build a backyard fence. You agree upon a price and anticipated duration, and the carpenter works and bills you according to the terms of your agreement. When the fence is done, the carpenter leaves. Most people don’t need two backyard fences. If you love the fence, and think, “Hey, I need a front fence,” or a neighbor wants a fence, that’s nice. But, for the most part, after the fence is built, the job is done, and the carpenter leaves.

Knowing there is beginning-middle-end allows you to prepare. Employees often have little or no notice of when their job will end.

Depending on the nature of the work, your initial contract can turn into more work or different work (very common). In some cases, the client may wish to hire you (less common, but possible.) If you decide you want to continue working for the client (and you may not), and the client has the money to keep you (often, they do not), great! Mazeltov! If it doesn’t come to pass, no harm-no foul. You made some money, some friends, and gained some new skills.

There are some types of work that must be performed by an employee; however, contract work is NOT a “step-down” from being an employee! In many cases, contract work is more challenging and more lucrative than being an employee, And, if you sell expertise, long-term, you may prefer to work as a contractor.

The only job security is to be employable.

In my book, The Temp Job: A Survival Guide for the Contingent Worker, I stress the importance of not confusing temporary, contract work with being an employee. Although you might feel like your an employee, you are not. When you are a contractor, you don’t have a boss. You have a client, an agent, and a lot of teammates — all of whom need to be managed (by you!.)

If you have a specific expertise, and think you might want to consult, I’d recommend working a few contract gigs to see if you can handle managing a client.

Not everyone wants to work full-time for an employer. If you have a special talent, expertise or own special tools, contracting could be the best way for you to make the most money per hour. If you’re young in your career, it can also be a low-risk way to acquire big-buck skills on someone else’s dime. Contractor or employee? There is no right or wrong choice. Only you can determine what is in the best interest of you and your career.

***

My book, The Temp Job: A Survival Guide for the Contingent Worker offers straight-forward, no-nonsense advice to anyone navigating today’s contingent labor market. If you’ve never worked as a contractor or consultant, it’s essential reading.

***

Copyright 2020 Pierce/Wharton Research, LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this post shall be reproduced without permission.

You Just Lost Your Job !

So, you just lost your job (seems to be a bit of that going around). If you’re new to unemployment, being without a job is a huge disruption to a well-established routine. And, if you’ve been a bit of work-a-holic, you could easily find yourself struggling to structure your time and set goals. Here’s a few things to do:

Stop Freaking Out

So, you’ve been working at the same place for 10 years, and thought you were like “family.” You can’t believe they let you go when <your nemesis> is still there doing the same lousy work. Losing that job was like losing a piece of yourself – like a death.

Except it’s not a death, it’s a job. You’ll get another one. Enough with the drama!

Don’t wallow in self-pity about how you’ve been wronged. Don’t think the people who were not let go are somehow better than you are. If you survived previous RIFs and downturns and assumed that your survival was because you were superior to those who were let go, I can assure you that your self-assessed superiority is overrated. People are let go (or kept) for all kinds of reasons. Sadly, most have little or nothing to do with their actual skills or competence.

If you’ve been with the same company for some time (10 years or more), and thought you would NEVER lose your job, I’m talking to you: You’re waay overdue for a bit of unemployment. You’re no better, no worse than anyone else. I also want you to think about the times you may have looked down on someone who was unemployed. Set aside your mistaken and misguided notions of people’s intelligence, competency, or worthiness and practice some self-love and self-enlightenment.

It’s okay to spend time grieving, but losing a job is not a death. People get jobs and lose jobs all the time. Why you? Why NOT you? You may have thought you were better – you’re not – you’re just equal.

Put Together a List and Structure Your Time

I cannot stress the importance of keeping a routine. I recommend structuring your tasks into 1-3 hour blocks for morning, afternoon, and evening with higher-energy tasks at the beginning of the day. In this way, you make progress on a variety of things daily. For example, the AM, when it’s cool and I have more energy, I’ll focus on physical tasks (A run with the dog, yard work, home repairs). The afternoon, computer work, job search, phone calls, writing. Evening: No-brainer food prep, house cleaning, shopping.

Looking for a job is going to take time, but it’s not going to take ALL your time, and when you do return to work, you’re going to be focused on your new gig. Don’t waste this opportunity. Knocking out chores, taking on-line classes, actually getting started on that (blog, certification, novel), losing some weight, will make you feel happier, more confident, and more in control of your life.

Stop Worrying

Eckhart Tolle says that worry is “too much future, not enough now,” and I couldn’t agree more.

Knowing that you are doing everything you can (sorry, worry isn’t action), will lessen the amount of worry and increase your level of confidence. People who are resilient focus on what they can do, and they do it. They don’t worry about things they cannot control.

If you’re worried about finding a job, ask yourself if you are DOing everything you can. If you can confidently say, “Yes, I’m doing everything I can,” then stop worrying about finding a job because you will.

Too often I see people substitute worry for action. They’re worried about losing their job, but not willing to look for another one. They’re worried about their relationship, but not willing to talk about it, or leave it. They’re worried about their finances, but not willing to give up cable or swap out of their $400 a month car payment. But, they’re worried….

No one has every solved their financial problems with worry.

Life is filled with limitless possibilities. As we emerge from this Covid crisis, we see a very different world than the one we left behind. You have changed your health and spending habits. Have you change your thinking or are you confusing worry for action? Are you seeing your unemployment as the end of your career, or as an opportunity to move into something different, more meaningful, less stressful, something that allows you to be all of who you are? Work toward the reward; stop worrying about risks.

Take a Contract Gig

I don’t run into too many people these days who have NOT worked as a contractor – especially in tech or healthcare – two of this country’s major industries. Every once in a while, however, I will meet someone who has only worked as a W2 employee (or only one employer), and of course there are still those who feel that working as a contractor is “beneath” them or that contractors as “less than” employees. If I’m talking about you: Time to move your mindset into this century…

In my book, The Temp Job: A Survival Guide for the Contingent Worker, I devote a entire chapter to Misconceptions About Contract Work. One of those misconceptions is that contractors have no job security. If you’re reading this, and you’re unemployed, I think you see that no one has job security. If you have been with the same employer for a long time, you also may see that your years there aren’t particularly helpful when it comes to finding a new job. The truth is that being employ-able is much more important than being employed. It really is the only job security anyone can have.

You never know how long you’ll be employed, but you always know if you’re employ-able.

Working as a contractor is different than being an employee. You have a client, not a boss. The dynamic is different. And there is very likely a beginning-middle-end to your contract. Contract work can be much more challenging and more lucrative than being an employee, and if you’ve been looking to level up in your career, contract work is an ideal way to get the experience you need.

My book, The Temp Job: A Survival Guide for the Contingent Worker offers straight-forward, no-nonsense advice to anyone navigating today’s contingent labor market. If you’ve never worked as a contractor or consultant, it’s essential reading.

Final Thoughts

Anytime you lose your job, even if it’s a job you didn’t particularly like, it’s upsetting. You feel rejected. You miss your former colleagues. If you’ve been an employee for a long time, you’ll feel overwhelmed by just the idea of interviewing, and petrified at the thought of starting all over someplace new. All these emotions are very normal, and I can assure you that they are temporary.

You will find another job, and you will get past this, and it will happen sooner than you think, so make the most of your time now that you have some.

***

Copyright 2020 Pierce/Wharton Research, LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this post shall be reproduced without permission. 

So…You Want to Be a “Consultant”?

I’ve worked as a contractor, consultant, and direct employee. Each of these relationships is different; none of them is perfect. Are you ready to ditch your FTE and become a consultant? Here’s a few things to think about….

Can You Run a Business?

I’ve met hundreds of talented individuals who are terrible business people. Consider the great doctor who can’t manage or afford his/her private practice. The finish carpenter who can’t accurately bid out a project or generate an invoice. The full-stack software architect with no ability to write a statement of work or manage a project.

This is where I hear, “Ohh, puh-leeze, I’ll hire someone for that!” to which I respond, “Oh, puh-leeze, no one is interested in working for you!” (Small shops are not competitive employers – don’t think you can hire “some kid” to manage your website). Moreover, hiring help entails huge legal and financial responsibilities, and BTW, where are you going to come up with a weekly salary and benefits and pay taxes when you have one client and can barely support yourself?

Consider the following activities:

  • Marketing/Sales: Finding, qualifying, and pipelining new clients; promoting the business. You.
  • Legal: Licenses, in$urance, banking, taxes. You.
  • $oftware: Updates, equipment, desktop troubleshooting, web page(s), WiFi, Cloud storage. You.
  • Finance: Contracts, proposals, invoices, time cards. You.
  • Overhead: Office rent, supplies, printer cartridges, computers. You.
  • Benefits: Vacations, holidays, sick days, medical insurance, family leave. You.

And that’s before you do any real “billable” client work – which is often >40 hours per week, more if you are juggling multiple projects.

If you read that list and thought, “Ugh!” stay an employee.

Can You Run a Project?

Do you track your time? Do you track your money? Are you disciplined and organized in your personal life? Can you put together a schedule? Can you write a contract? What about a statement of work? Can you track, measure, and demonstrate progress? Can you make a deadline? Can you manage change and say no to difficult people?

When I meet with clients who are dealing with failed projects, high turn-over, and assorted other maladies, my first question is this: How does the team track their time? (They don’t.) Do YOU track your time? (Answer: I’m an “executive.”) Then, I get a big lecture about how hard everyone works, and they don’t have time to track their time.

Here’s my point:

I wasn’t questioning their work ethic, I was questioning their activities.

The inability to assess the value of activities as it relates to time expended is why people fail at consulting – and fail at a whole bunch of other stuff as well.

When you’re a consultant – time is EVERYTHING. Billable time, bizdev time, vacation time, career development time, commute time. And, there’s other things that take your time: Laundry. Food prep. Cleaning. Video Games. Your relationship(s). Did I mention the kids? You’ll need to manage ALL your time like the precious, finite, resource it is. That means you need to say, “I’m sorry, but that’s not a good use of my time,” even to your spouse.

Are You a Push-Over?

If you suffer from people pleasing, or have a hard time saying no, I beg you: For the sake of your personal health, personal finances, and happiness do NOT become a consultant!

Consulting is not all Power Point presentations and conference rooms with killer views. Consultants are small business owners, project managers, and buzz-kill realists. To be one requires a certain amount of cold, capitalist, callousness. How will you handle scope creep? Can you give bad news? Can you graciously deal with getting fired? (coz you will be). What about your ethics? Can you graciously dump a client (coz you’ll need to).

You want to run with the big dogs? You’re going to get pissed on. Consultants don’t have a boss, or HR, or a union, or labor laws – you have client and a contract. What are you going to do if they don’t honor it?

Are You Just Assuming You’ll Get Paid?

Very early on in my career, I worked for a couple of unscrupulous salesmen who refused to reimburse me for almost $2K in travel expenses I had foolishly put on my personal American Express card. This was back in the ’90’s, so that was a LOT of money then, and even more for an irresponsible 20-something who didn’t even have a savings account.

Although I eventually got my money, this whole thing was a huge financial fiasco, and it took me a l-o-n-g time to recover from it. These guys had let me go on Christmas Eve (for real), no severance, no final paycheck. I had to borrow money from family to pay AmEx and rent and bills. I had to go to court to get commissions, expenses, and back wages due me; and I had to freeze their bank account to collect. All of this taught me very important lesson:

No one is more unpleasant than someone who owes you money.

When you are a consultant, you’re a vendor. You don’t have the same legal protections that you would as a W2 employee. Consider the Crystal Geyser guy. If the customer decides to go with Sparkletts, Crystal Geyser doesn’t file for unemployment. If the delivery truck gets stolen, Crystal Geyser still has to service their accounts. They don’t call and ask their customers to buy them a new truck and front them for water.

An employee must be paid no less than twice a month. But you’re not an employee, so your clients will want you to bill every 30 days, and then pay you in 30 days – just like they do all their other vendors. But, what if they don’t pay you? What if they’re late? What if they disagree with the invoice? How long are you prepared to work without being paid? A week? Two weeks? A month? Three months? What if they claim your work is defective and refuse to pay? What about travel? Are you putting that on your personal credit card? What if they don’t reimburse you or take months to do so? What are you going to do about it?

I’ve worked for big, corporations my entire life.

You’d be amazed how many rich companies don’t pay their bills on time.

When you truly work for yourself, you can’t put up with excuses. Other people’s bills, emergencies, sick kids, corporate “process” and vacation time is NOT your problem. If you can’t write clear acceptance criteria for your work, can’t say no, or could never see yourself suing someone, don’t waste time trying to be consultant. I’ve listened to lots of people (mostly women, I’m sorry to say), who thought they could handle this kind of relationship, and ended up being taken advantage of by someone who was really, really, going to pay them when <crisis> passed.

When you consult, you need to track your time and tasks, keep copies of all your work, be prepared to withhold work until you’re paid for it, be prepared to walk out if you’re not paid, and be prepared to sue.

If you have a tough time sticking up for yourself, can’t handle people’s anger, or just can’t be “mean,” being a consultant is absolutely NOT for you!

Final Thoughts

Do you want to consult, or do you want more control over your scope and the direction of your career? Do you want to consult, or do you want more free time?

If you’re a full-time employee, and if you’re wondering if consulting could be for you, I strongly encourage you take a few contract, “temp” jobs. This will give you a feeling for what it’s like to have a client instead of a boss, and also give you some practice at managing the scope of your work and duration of your project.

My book, The Temp Job: A Survival Guide for the Contingent Worker offers straight-forward, no-nonsense advice to anyone navigating today’s contingent labor market. If you’ve never worked as a contractor or consultant, it’s essential reading.

***

Copyright 2019 Pierce/Wharton Research, LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this post shall be reproduced without permission.

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑