Is there a downside to project contracting?
Permanent employees sometimes look with envy at the freedom of project contractors or independent professionals (IPros). From the outside it looks like a case of all care and no responsibility with IPros being remunerated for every hour they work unlike their permanent employee peers. To others, the life of an IPro is one of absence: an absence of job security; no regular income; a lack of workmates and little to no influence. So where does the truth lie?
Today I would like to challenge some preconceived notions about the life of an IPro and offer some insight into how, for the right person, the downsides may actually be hidden upsides.
The biggest criticism of contracting is that the lack of formal structure and management lead to demotivation, disengagement and, ultimately, poor performance. Depending on your personality and point of view, it can take a little time to adjust to the IPro life. Self-employment requires the ability to self-start. It also requires confidence; self-reliance and a belief in your own abilities.
Time and task management
IPros must have strong time management skills and a willingness to see commitments through to the end. Work can be demanding, frequently involving long hours and tight deadlines. The novice IPro needs to be extra diligent to ensure that they don’t overcommit, waste time or miss deadlines.
However, once an IPro has a few successful projects under his or her belt, confidence grows and practices such as time management and record keeping become second nature. Any concern about the lack of job security also tends to dissipate.
Managing your affairs
IPros need administrative skills to deal with their own business paperwork such as invoices and expenses. They also require having the right structure to operate as an IPro. They will need to have the right insurance, such as professional indemnity insurance and public liability insurance.
Fortunately for those who don’t have the time or desire to manage all this, there is help out there. In Australia, there are a number of contractor management services companies, also known as professional engagement services companies, which provide a corporate engagement structure through which IPros can engage within a risk free, efficient and compliant relationship with no administrative burden. This provides flexibility and control for both the IPros and the companies which engage them on a fixed term, project based relationship, leaving all parties to focus on what they do best.
Adapting to change
The life of an IPro is one of constant upheaval. A willingness to adapt to change is essential, because after all, moving from contract to contract, client to client, is all about change. IPros may work closely with a group of permanent employees for months but they may not truly be accepted as part of the team. This is where IPros must learn to look on the bright side. Distance becomes a sign of freedom, freedom from office politics and from the more mundane aspects of everyday employment.
In many respects, although an IPro’s work and reputation may be based on specialist knowledge, they have to become all-rounders in order to competently manage their own business. All of these things can be learned through practice and experience, but it can take time and commitment to master them completely.
The upshot is that there are good and bad aspects to any job. Being an IPro is no different. If you want to be an IPro, drive, pragmatism and adaptability are essential. A participant of the IPro Index, an annual survey conducted by Entity Solutions and Monash University, said: “You have to accept the things you cannot change, change the things you cannot accept and know the difference.” If your knowledge and skills are in demand, and if your personality and work style are suited to contracting, being an IPro can be a rewarding and enjoyable career.