AXELOS ProPath, the world's most powerful project, programme and portfolio best practice certifications

Business planning for project workers

Matthew Franceschini
May 15, 2014

Nothing demonstrates commitment to a client as much as being organised and professional. As an independent professional (IPro) you are likely to find yourself juggling multiple projects and clients, all without the benefit of a manager to keep you on track. You are the boss, so timeframes, goal setting, and tools to track progress and payments are essential.

Just because someone is good at their job doesn’t necessarily mean they can make the transition to become a good IPro. There’s a huge difference in the skills, knowledge, work styles and personal attributes needed by IPros when compared to permanent members of staff.

Mastering the art of all trades

As an IPro, you work for yourself. In fact, you are the business of one and to make it a success, you’re going to need to master sales, marketing, building your reputation, learning and development, management, finance and administration, in addition to carrying out your consulting role. Unless you have a book-keeping friend, for example, it’s up to you to get your invoices out and when necessary, to chase payment.

Self-motivation is critical

If you aren’t willing to put the effort in to turn up to work, be productive, meet commitments on time or even chase work, demand for your services will soon disappear.

You’ll need to become supremely organised in planning your time, prioritising tasks, landing your projects and engaging your client—sometimes months in advance. This requires the ability to forecast, plan, schedule and estimate.

Plan for downtime

Outside of the job, be smart about protecting your income for those periods when you are in between contracts or simply enjoying the flexibility that professional contract work affords.

Furthermore, while you do not typically get paid out for annual leave or personal leave when you’re an IPro, there’s no reason why you can’t be prepared for those occasions. You just need to consider it more carefully than if it was an employer’s obligation.

A permanent employee is generally allotted eight weeks of payable leave per year comprising four weeks annual leave, two weeks personal leave and roughly two weeks in public holidays. For an IPro, a simple guideline to safeguard you during those unpaid periods is to apply the ‘rule of 20%’.

That means you should estimate that 20% of your time per year will be spent as non-working and non-paying; equating to roughly 10 weeks per year.

Then when it comes to determining your hourly or daily rate multiply that by the remaining 42 weeks billable work period and consider whether it aligns to the time you might like to take off,  as well as your industry’s down-time/quitter periods, and account for it when negotiating your rate and contract duration.

Client requirements all too frequently change so be sure to plan for unpredicted unpaid downtime, as well as sick days and well-deserved time off.

Seek the advice of a professional

If you’re struggling to be a ‘master of all trades’, sometimes it pays to seek the advice of a professional for those functions and tasks that are outside your career description.

Organisations hire you because you have the skills, knowledge and/or expertise they need for the job at hand. Getting caught up in tasks that are outside of your core job function will cut into your leisure time outside of work, and may even result in a poorly executed project which can ruin your reputation.

One of the most complex things that we find IPros grappling with is tax and income tax returns. Deductions, expense and payments differ to that of permanent employment and all of a sudden you’re responsible for dealing with something outside your realm of knowhow, which eats into time that should be spent doing your job or enjoying your life outside of work.

Instead of spending time and money performing non-core tasks, focus on what you’re good at and outsource the rest to a specialist to do what they do best so you too can focus on your core competency.

Ensuring that you plan ahead and run your life as an IPro as efficiently as possible means that you will be left with more time to do what matters to you.

In this series:

  1. Brand management for project contractors
  2. Networking and visibility techniques for project contractors
  3. Marketing and skills development for project workers
  4. Business planning for project workers
Matthew Franceschini
Matthew Franceschini is a co-founder and the CEO of Entity Solutions, a contractor management agency. He has more than 10 years’ experience working in the contract workforce management industry. He holds a Bachelor of Economics and is also the Vice President of Independent Contractors of Australia.
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