So you’ve made the decision. You’ve talked it over with the people you need to talk it over with. You’re no longer new to contracting and have decided to take the leap. You’ve handed in your notice and survived your leaving party. You’ve got your new office space sorted and you know exactly which laptop you’re going to invest in once you’ve got a few invoices under your belt. The ink is still wet on your business cards and you’ve got a long list of contacts and accountants to approach now that you’re finally, whisper it, a contractor!
You made it – good for you!
Okay, pause that fantasy and rewind. There are loads of things wrong with this scene. Getting started in the world of contracting isn’t exactly rocket science, but it’s easy to prioritise the wrong things and wish that you could go back and do things slightly differently.
So let’s look at some of the dos and the don’ts of surviving your first couple of months being new to contracting.
Of course, talking your decision over with key people is important. That includes anyone it might affect – like your partner – and people you know who could have good advice, like other contractors. It’s important to mull it over privately too. You have to feel deep down that it’s the right decision. You can feel all kinds of other things – nerves, excitement, nausea – as long as you feel you’re making the right call.
But that opening scenario was back to front. If you have a long list of contacts to approach, you don’t want to wait until day one to do it. The more work you can do before the wheels are in motion the better. Obviously, you don’t want to get ahead of yourself, but hitting the ground running means being ready to work on day one, not ready to start thinking about work. If you’re serving a notice period, that’s a clear timeline to get your act together. Any promotional collateral – like business cards, or websites, LinkedIn profiles etc – should be well taken care of in this time, if possible. That includes finding an accountant and working out how you’re going to handle your finances. Basically, anything you can do in advance, do in advance.
Likewise, any new tech investments should be made in advance, if they can be. Don’t wait to buy your new laptop if you can afford it now. Start as you mean to go on – you need tools to work, and phone companies and other firms will often give you preferential rates as a business customer. (Developing a knack for haggling and feeling confident talking money will come in very handy down the line).
Anyone new to contracting is likely to be a little nervous, and you may even get a bit of imposter syndrome. But the moment you become a contractor, don’t whisper it. Shout about it! Swap coyness for confidence. It will pay you back in dividends, figuratively and literally.
You may find that it takes a while to get busy, and having a financial cushion to see you through this period will help a lot. But if you’re quiet at first, don’t sit and stare at your inbox. Hustle. Get out there. Book meetings in. Research local networking opportunities. Keep moving. Contractors are like sharks (albeit friendly and highly professional ones). Inertia is the enemy. Momentum is what keeps us alive.
And when you do get busy, don’t forget to track your labour with dates and hours and get your invoices in promptly (with all the correct details). This can be easy to forget in all the excitement of getting going as a contractor. But it’s invaluable down the line, and you want to minimise cash flow lag as best you can. If people don’t pay you on time, keep on top of it. Instead of waiting a week or two out of politeness, nudge them with an equally polite email instead. They may have forgotten to process your invoice, and that’s a better thing to find out sooner rather than later. Keeping invoices and money moving can mean the difference between a smooth start to your contracting career or a bumpy one.
This is by no means a definitive list, but it hopefully gives you a sense of how to establish a routine and anticipate problems before they happen. Even the oldest, gnarliest freelancers were new to contracting once. And we all make mistakes, especially in the early days. But if you stay determined, organised and upbeat you’ll find your feet sooner or later. By which time it will be you who’s being asked for advice by a new starter.
If you wish to further your knowledge regarding contracting and the options available to you, there are a range of free guides available here to ensure that you’re ready for your first steps as a contractor.