As we have gone headlong into the new year, I have seen everyone around me making resolutions, committing to dry January (crazy people) and generally making plans for a better version of themselves. I actually spent most of 2018 reflecting in this way and made some major changes in my life.
One such change was the decision to leave my full time role and try the contracting world. If I was ever going to make the leap the time was now and finally I had the guts. I resigned from my job and was very fortunate to find a role immediately and have now been in the post for 6 months. As I hit the 6 month mark today – which also coincides with my first month as a Limited Company – I have taken the opportunity to reflect on working for myself and the top 10 things I have learnt.
1. Accountants are worth their weight in gold. I could certainly not do all the accounting myself, I would be sure to land myself in trouble. On the whole they seem very helpful and willing to take the time to explain it all to you, or just to do it for you if you are not particularly bothered about understanding it all.
2. Umbrella companies are a great way to test the water. They do all the complicated background stuff which lets you just get on with finding your feet and hitting the ground running. Even better if you use one that will also runs services for limited companies – they will help you with the transition if and when you make the change.
3. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Yes, you are expected to know your stuff as a contractor but despite often being referred to as the ‘expert’ (cringe!) in your specialism, you are not expected to know everything and there are many people willing to help and collaborate. I found there was such a huge amount of information to take on in a short space of time, that it helped so much to just ask people questions rather than try and work out all the complicated jargon for myself. Now I seem to have become the jargon oracle…how did that happen?
4. There is little in terms of an induction process, on-boarding or development. Don’t be afraid to just sit yourself with people and to be assertive in asking for things. Or to just tell someone your plan and go with it. I had to be quite assertive in my first few weeks, which is not easy for me. You will also need to be motivated to source and pay for your own development and courses if you wish to pursue any.
5. If you need some flexibility in your working hours this is a great way to work. I often have appointments I have to get to and contracting allows me the freedom to go to these and adapt my hours to make time up at another point in the week and to work from home where needed.
6. Autonomy – where have you been all my life? I am allowed to make decisions! Wow, what a change! I’m still getting used to this one.
7. Collaborate, collaborate, collaborate. This is more important than ever in a contracting role. Every person on our team and across the service have such a wide range of experiences and knowledge and getting their feedback is absolutely crucial to success and creates more of a sharing, community feel. Contracting can often feel very siloed in the beginning whilst you find your feet, but collaborating with others has provided the much needed communication and alternate points of view.
8. Imposter syndrome is ever present. It always is when I start a new job, but now people keep referring to me as an ‘expert’ in my field and I am responsible for my own business, the imposter monkey in me is even more alert and anxious. Many others seem to be finding this too. I still don’t think everything has sunk in fully. However, due to the feedback I have had I am doing well and need to learn to have faith in myself. Hmm. Watch this space.
9. A good agency will make you feel part of the team. I am very lucky to have stumbled into a role with a fabulous agency who, despite many of us being contractors, we really feel a part of the team and supported.
10. The variety in key previous roles has served me well for contracting. It has opened the opportunities available to me and means that I am making use of such a wide variety of transferable skills which have all finally come together to make this opportunity work really well for me and I have been able to pick up tasks outside my role and learn even more.
All of this is just the start! I have learnt so much in the last 6 months, not just about the role and working for myself, but also about myself and my priorities in life. I never thought I had the right type of job to be a contractor, or the knowledge and expertise to work for myself, always falling back on the security of full-time permanent work. But after years of never quite feeling in the right place, I think I have found it! I look forward to the next part of the journey.