Contracting Pros and Cons 2

Marketing, Networking, Getting Known

Pros

  • You really do get involved in networking…not just with other writers, but with database developers, financial analysts, contract writers, Web developers, etc. Exchange business cards and keep in touch. You may get calls because someone recommended you. As soon as you think you are about to be looking for a new assignment, e-mail your friends and the calls will start coming in.
  • Recommend others and they’ll recommend you.
  • You’ll make new contacts, which is a huge help if you find yourself out of work at some point.
  • Contracting requires the ability to handle yourself independently, and also to market yourself. This includes not only the activities, but also the tone of interaction with prospects and clients. If you can do this, you’re in good shape. Of course, your work must be good. It does take an assertive, confident approach, but most can acquire that. The monetary safety net takes the fear out of your voice.

Cons

  • Unless you’re well connected, you need to network and market yourself.
  • You usually don’t have your own office – it’s not unusual to find yourself seated in a conference room with several other contractors, which can be distracting/tiring. OTOH, it’s great for networking!
  • Define the geographical boundaries of where you’ll work, particularly if you need to occasionally work on-site. If you do work outside your region, and have to fly somewhere in order to work on-site, carefully evaluate your rates, and clearly outline policies regarding travel and payment for travel.

Other Comments

  • If the intent is being self-employed, then other people should have already heard of you when you finally strike out on your own. Most companies want to go with “known quantities.” If you don’t have word-of-mouth advertising working for you as a freelance contractor, you’re not working. Perhaps start by working for [industry] job shops and consulting agencies before striking out on your own. Remember, these types of firms are the “known quantities” that many companies turn to first when they need off-the-shelf technical help, be it a seasoned tech writer or a hotshot [industry specialist] – or both. The marketing effort alone that it takes to stay in touch with the street is exhausting. More than a few people aren’t up to meeting that kind of challenge or enduring that kind of stress.
  • By developing a good track record, both as an employee and as a contractor, you can build up a table of verifiable references that your potential customers can call. Once you’ve got enough of the “so-and-so is a real whiz on datasheets” kind of talk working for you, you’ll have an easier time of it when it comes to finding work as an independent contractor - but you do have to produce big time and on time every time.
  • Make sure you have a support group of 3 or 4 other writers. All have their strengths, and you can rely on the others to make up for your shortcomings. You can fill in for the others when needed, share work, and support each other. This is great for networking. This is especially true when a scratch team of contractors – not unlike teammates in a pickup game of basketball – can make things happen and get the job done.

Finding Work, Using Agencies or Brokers

Pros

  • It takes practice to know when to start looking for another project (before a current one ends) so that having enough work does not become an issue. If you know when the contract is going to be ending you can have a head start on finding your next one.
  • In the end, employment comes down to this: You were looking for work when you were hired on, which means you’ll be looking for work again when you leave. So when do you leave? That’s up to you just as much as it’s up to your employer. Just do your job, collect your fees, build your portfolio, and move on.
  • Some list themselves with 2-3 agencies and never worry about the next assignment. Others are listed with only one. Some signed on with everyone when they first started. Gradually, they’ve built their own client base. In the meantime, the agencies did the marketing for them.

Cons

  • If you work as a W-2 employee through a consulting firm, they take a hefty cut of the bill rate, but they insulate you from getting stiffed (i.e., even if the client doesn’t pay them, you still get paid).
  • Some people are unnerved by the possibility that they may not have work next week, next month, next year. If you can’t psychologically handle this kind of uncertainty, or if your budget can’t handle this kind of uncertainty, reconsider your plans, find a regular part-time job that will give you a steady paycheck every week, or be really diligent about networking.
  • Others worry that if they turn down a job, that person may not call them the next time.