The great thing about contracting is that life, in theory at least, becomes a lot more free and easy. You travel light, live by your wits, eschew the baggage of a full-time job. But there are some crucial things you need in your back pack before you go yodelling off down the road like the Happy Wanderer.
I’m not talking about metaphors here (bucket-loads of enthusiasm, a healthy pinch of resilience etc etc). Nor am I going to try and list things you already know you need (like a great accountant) or that I couldn’t possibly know you need (like specific technology).
This is essentially a basic toolkit for flying solo. The seven things that you may not have thought about, or may be wondering if you need to bother with.
1. A Shop Window
In my experience, some kind of visible ‘shop window’ is a highly necessary asset as a contractor, in order to prove that you exist for one thing. Exactly how you make yourself and your services visible depends on how you roll. Maybe you’re a snazzy business card type person, delivered at the point of handshake. Or perhaps a website portfolio is more your style – like me.
The barest of bare minimums is a LinkedIn profile, but this could be enough. Indefinitely. As long as your specialism and name are visible, your credibility is verifiable and your contact details can be easily found. The good thing about your shop window is that you can craft it well in advance of quitting your job, to help you hit the ground running.
2. A smartphone (with a case)
Tech is very subjective and while I would highly recommend investing in a laptop, they aren’t mandatory. A computer is, but I’m assuming that’s as obvious as food and oxygen.
A smartphone is absolutely essential though. Availability is mandatory, and being able to respond to calls, texts and emails promptly is critical. Not only that, you may find a client wants to Skype you. Or Viber you. Or WhatsApp you. Being able to grab the latest apps quickly can be a godsend.
Working in the creative industries means you can probably guess which brand I sport, but this is again very personal and there’s increasingly excellent and diverse kit out there.
Your phone doesn’t need to be high tech, but it needs to work. Being difficult to reach becomes very off-putting to clients very quickly. So keep it safe in a cover, keep it charged and keep it up to date enough to avoid glitches and embarrassment.
3. A Back-up Plan
No I don’t mean an alternative career path. I mean data back up.
Whether you have a state-of-the-art laptop or a creaky old jalopy PC, you never know when your kit will go kaput. So make sure you have effective back-up systems in place for your work, finances and general day to day data. A cloud storage account with auto updates is ideal, a robust hard drive like a Lacie alongside that is even better.
Don’t leave yourself open to disaster. Get it sorted on day one.
4. A Contacts Book
The days of the trusty rolodex brimming with scribbled contacts is gone, but the role of the contact book lives on. Behind every successful contractor is a carefully cultivated list of industry folk who they depend on, and who depend on them. It is very much who you know, not what you know, and if you don’t know anyone yet then get a ‘book’ and start filling it.
It doesn’t matter if you do it in your email software, phone, spreadsheet or write them on your office wall. Just keep their details handy and stay in touch. Strong network = strong livelihood.
5. An Appropriate Wardrobe
Top tip: if you want to be invited into someone else’s office, and welcomed back in the future, don’t dress like you’re one your way to the allotment. That doesn’t mean you need a three piece suit and alligator skin loafers – no one pushes the envelope of office ‘casual’ further than me – but projecting an air of office-specific professionalism is part of the gig. If your wardrobe is in need of a refresh, get refreshing it.
6. A Nice Notepad and a pen that works
One of the things that has caught me out more than once, is sitting down with a client for a meeting and realising that I have nothing to make notes on. It’s a bad look, one that’s exacerbated by dependence on a laptop (and the fact I’m so often given a printed brief to scribble on). A nice moleskin notepad and a pen with ink in it (yes, I’ve made that mistake too) in your trusty satchel will make sure you are ready when that day eventually arrives. Which it will.
You don’t have to have a car, but you do have to have reach. You need to know where work is and be able to get there.
Some contractors get where they need to be by car. Others do it by bike or bus or train. Those who don’t want to leave the house at all invest in superfast broadband to make sure they can zip around the world at a moment’s notice.
However, you get to those who pay you, you need to be prompt and reliable. So get your transport strategy sorted, and get out there.