Contractors need to develop a contracting mindset that is distinct from that of a permanent employee to be successful.
That’s what financial business analyst and limited company contractor Eleanor Miller of Parallelogram Ltd believes, and this approach has led to her winning a succession of contracts since she took the leap into contracting in 2010.
Eleanor explains: “Contracting is a mindset and it is not just another way to securing a succession of permanent jobs. Either you have a contracting mindset or a permie mindset. I was never happy as a permanent employee but it took redundancy to show me that there is an alternative.
“As a result of this mindset, I now realise that I would rather have change and new experiences over stability and reliability. But I work alongside many employees who prefer the long term nature and security of a permanent role. So, there is a place for each approach.”
Never content as a permanent employee
Eleanor worked for the same employer for 12 years, with roles changes during her early career, interspersed with periods of maternity leave. Looking back, Eleanor now realises that it was her ‘hard wired’ contracting mindset that meant she was never truly happy.
Contracting is a mindset and it is not just another way to securing a succession of permanent jobs
“When I think back about the job I had, I actually spent a considerable time in each role and was never truly content. I decided that I was a projects person, and I had wanted to move into contracting for some time, but it wasn’t until I was made redundant in June 2010 that I was at the stage of my career when I had that choice. Get another job and continue being unhappy, or find a contract.”
Eleanor warns that employees on long notice period can find it difficult to move directly into contracting because of the short-term nature of demand in the sector. Redundancy can provide the financial cushion to allow first time contractors to find their first contract. “As soon as I was immediately available after redundancy, I went looking,” she adds.
Contractor mindset v permie mindset
Eleanor had been employed as a business analyst in the insurance industry and the first contract that she found and won successfully via the job board JobServe was with Lloyds Banking Group in South Wales. This highlighted one of the first mindset differences: flexibility.
“I was living in Kent at the time and commuting into London, but my first contract was 300 miles away from home,” continues Eleanor. “As the primary earner in the house, I needed to go where the work was, so being flexible is an essential contracting feature. Since then I have also had contracts in Edinburgh, Bristol, Gloucester and London.”
Eleanor notes that flexibility extends beyond location: “You have to be able to hit the ground running again and again. Within a very short time, you need to adapt to the clients way of working, jargon and team dynamics. If you can’t, then contracting is not for you.”
Overcoming everyday contracting challenges
So far, Eleanor’s challenges have been what she labels as ‘standard project challenges’. She explains: “A major project is created and then its changes in scope and you have to adapt. Sometimes, it gets cancelled and you just have to roll with it. There are always tricky stakeholders in any project, and you simply have to manage them too.”
IR35 is always an issue but so far it has never been a problem: “I get every contract reviewed by experts and amended if necessary. I also have comprehensive investigation insurance. I’m always aware of IR35, but managing it has never been what I would call a challenge. At least so far!”
Staying in work by focusing on specific markets and recruiters
Having spent only ten weeks out of work right at the start of her contracting career, Eleanor is clearly getting something right in her approach to finding new work.
This stems from a combination of factors that include the specialist nature of what she does – a business analyst focusing on change project roles - and by carefully selecting the contracts she goes for.
“All of my work has been with the Lloyds Banking Group, but the organisation is so large that each contract is with a new part of the business on a new project, so is technically a new client. What really works in my favour is that the hiring managers see that I have an existing track record with Lloyds.
“They like that and also have the comfort of being able to call and speak to the often very distant colleague in another part of the business to get a reference.”
Eleanor concludes: “I would recommend contracting as a lifestyle for anyone, but only if they have a contractor mindset.”