With the jury still out over whether the economy has turned a corner, many contractors are still finding trading conditions tough and are turning every opportunity to gain market knowledge to their advantage.
According to Minesh Gandhi, Marketing and New Media Manager at employment benefits company Tarpon, their unique contractor events programme has never been so popular, with the forthcoming July meeting already fully booked.
“There are very few opportunities for contractors to meet and network in a relaxed and informal setting,” explains Gandhi. “So through our events programme, we provide them with an opportunity to share knowledge about the market.”
Gandhi carefully monitors the questionnaires contractors complete at the end of each event to ensure that each meeting is pitched right and the content and venue are up to scratch.
“According to our latest survey from June’s event, 72% of contractors come to our events because they want to meet other contractors,” continues Gandhi, “with ‘sharing knowledge’ and ‘tax and IR35’ in second and third places.”
This evidence is echoed by veteran contractor and Tarpon client Bert Malarky, who says: “You usually only meet other contractors at work and quite often they are not doing the same work.
“Tarpon’s contractor networking events give you a chance to sit down and really chat to other contractors,” he continues. “This gives you an opportunity to find out what’s really happening in the marketplace and what the market is looking for.”
And according to Malarky, who is an analyst currently in contract with a major government department in London, what other contractors say can be very different from what agents want you to hear.
A learning experience
“Whenever we host a contractor networking event, we get contractors from different sectors, including IT, telecoms, engineering and finance,” says Gandhi. “There are also contractors at different stages of their career, including twenty-year veterans like Bert to contractors in their first month. All of these contractors have one thing in common – their huge repository of skills and experience and that makes the events really buzz.”
Tarpon's contractor networking events give you a chance to sit down and really chat to other contractors
Gandhi has started to introduce guests and speakers to the events. ContractorCalculator CEO and former IT contractor Dave Chaplin spoke at April’s event, and last month Gandhi says a hugely experienced management consultant was invited to chat informally with contractors.
“We’re keen to offer contractors something in addition to the free food and drink, and expert speakers and guests are proving popular,” he says. “It’s also an opportunity for us to get feedback from contractors about our service.”
Free networking and market research
“We don’t advertise our events and all enquiries come via word-of-mouth,” says Gandhi, who also sends out personal invitations to Tarpon’s contractors and others who might be interested in attending.
He stresses that the events are open to all: “We have limited company contractors, contractors who use other trading vehicles, including umbrella companies and agency PAYE, plus those currently between contracts. It’s a fantastic networking and market research opportunity.”
Not surprisingly, the free places at these events get filled very quickly, although Gandhi says it is always worth dropping him a line and asking for an invite in case of any last-minute cancellations.
“The London events have proved to be so popular that we are considering rolling them out nationally,” says Gandhi. “We’ll go where contractor demand takes us.”