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How to decide if IT contracting is the life for you

October 11, 2011

Before you take the plunge into the IT contracting world, you should consider carefully what you new life will involve and if your personality is suited to life as an IT contractor.

To succeed as a contractor, you will need to be a self-starter, highly technically skilled, and able to deal with risk and change on a reasonably regular basis.

Contractors typically work on projects for 6 or 12 month periods. Often these initial contract terms are extended, and sometimes you may work for just a few months at a time.

Once you join a new project team, you will need to find your feet quickly, get on with your new team mates, and get on with the job you were hired to do – as efficiently as possible. There is quite a dramatic change between your former role as a ‘permie’, and your new role as hired specialist ‘help’. On the majority of projects (particularly larger ones), you are unlikely to be the only contractor on the team, and you will often find that other contractors are pleased to help you settle in.

Upsides and Downsides

There are two great benefits associated with the contracting life – the change to earn significantly more money than you would in a ‘permanent role’, and the change to have more of a say in what you do, and when you do it. The freedom contracting provides is often cited as the greatest single benefit of being an IT contractor.

On the downside, you will be completely responsible for finding contracting work, for renewals, and running a small business. Although you will typically find help from an accountant, financial adviser, and fellow contractors, you are ultimately responsible for the success of you contracting career.

It is also in your interests to keep on the right side of the notorious IR35 tax legislation, and some effort on your part to seek professional advice to ensure your work is compliant with IR35.

Long-term contractors will often not consider the ‘risks’ involved with contracting as negatives – and often thrive in an industry where you have control over what you do, and to an extent – how much money you can potentially make.

At the time of writing, the contracting market has certainly seen better days although the overall demand for contractors has increased steadily since the start of 2010. This may not be the ideal time to be taking the jump, but if you have the determination required, and in-demand skills, you may wonder in a few years why you didn’t take the plunge earlier.