10 Tips on How To Thrive as an Independent Contractor

If you have given up traditional employment roles for a life as an independent contractor you are not alone.  One of the current global work trends is that more people are choosing the flexibility and autonomy of contracting, rather than the security of formal employment.

So how many of you have made the switch?

  • Microsoft has as many contractors as regular employees, and since 2003 the use of contractors has doubled in the US.
  • 20% of the workforce across 29 countries is self-employed and working as contractors.  50% of employees WISH they were contractors.

These numbers are sure to grow, and if you are already an independent contractor you may be part of a worldwide change in how work is performed.  So, how do you excel in your contractor role to make sure that you make a steady living?

Whether you are new to contracting or have years of experience, there are 10 things you can concentrate on to ensure your long run success.

1.    Choosing Your Specialization and Building a Niche

Know what makes your mix of talents special, and then create your own niche.

It is tempting when you are new contractor to think: “I will do anything that pays…” but that is a mistake if you want to be seen as a specialist in a field.  Being a generalist, or ‘jack of all trades’ only results in low pay and the need to constantly search for new work across a wide range of job offerings.

Instead, assess your talents for areas of specialization and then focus on building a niche that is unique and makes you stand out of the crowd.  Remember, your niche may not be like anyone’s, and that is a plus when you are competing for a new client’s project.

2.    Updating Skills, Qualifications and Certifications

Look for new skills or short certification courses that will show you are on the cutting edge.

It is a great idea to always be acquiring new skills or certifications in your area of specialty.  This may be as simple as mastering Excel or becoming a certified remote software technician.  The idea is to find skills that build on your special niche.

When you do, be sure to share those on any social media sites, online job search platforms and of course, your resume.  Don’t keep your expanding expertise a secret – share it so you can attract new clients and higher rates of pay.

3.    Building Your Business

You are the business, and so extend yourself into new markets.

The key point here is to see yourself as the business, and always look for ways to expand your reach.  The reality of contracting is that you can never stop building your business, but that is exciting and full of potential.

4.    Build A Community Around Your Brand

Don’t be an island – build bridges to others who can help you build your brand.

One of the advantages of contracting is that you can communicate and collaborate with other contractors in your field.  Usually, successful freelancers are willing to share their insights since they have plenty of work and are not worried about competition.

Use job networking sites, LinkedIn, Facebook and message boards to connect with talented contractors and develop rapport.  If they need help with their overflow, they may just contact you if you are clear about your brand and skills.

5.    Balancing Personal and Financial Goals

All work and no play… can actually mean a less productive contractor.

The toughest part of being a contractor is knowing when to put work aside, and make time for your personal life.  The anxiety of making enough money and keeping clients happy can actually reduce your productivity and ‘burn out’ is a real possibility.

Yes, you have to have financial goals to meet budget items, taxes and savings, but don’t forget that a few hours of relaxation can bring you heightened focus and energy.  Even if you love your work, don’t forget that you are human.

6.    How to Use Down Time to Your Advantage

Use down time to ramp up your organizational and marketing efforts.

If you have a week or two with few work projects, use that time to market your skills, contact former clients, post on social media and look for new networking opportunities.  You can also take of care of items like preparing tax documents and filing forms that can be easily forgotten or put off when you are busy.

That way when the work starts to come in, you are ready.

7.    Plan Ahead for Uncertainty

Contractor revenue has peaks and valleys, so get used to the ride.

If you are used to having a steady employee paycheck, get ready for the ups and downs of being self-employed.  You may have times where work is not coming in as expected, so you need to plan financially to be able to meet your expenses.

One good strategy is to have at least one month’s expenses always in the bank, which will give you time to find additional work or new clients.

8.    Create Opportunities Where You See Them

Your business is only as limited as your imagination

Contracting does not follow standard business models when it comes to finding new opportunities.  It is more a blend of constant attention to developments in your field, socializing and networking and creative thinking about what else you can offer.

The best part is if you find an opportunity outside your skill set, you can hire a contractor to do it! (See Tip #4)

9.    Online Marketing and Self-Promotion

Don’t be shy too splash yourself online to get attention – everyone is doing it.

When you work as a contractor, your social and business life may revolve around the internet, and so that should be where you are marketing and promoting.  It is cost-effective, fast and flexible and really beats traditional marketing approaches for the solo worker with limited time.

Many of your clients may never meet you in person, so you can loosen up your marketing approach and attract clientele that like your creative energy.

10. Learn Effective Communication Skills

Emoticons are not just for Facebook…

Because the primary forum for IT contractors, consultants and other professionals is the internet, it is essential to learn the communication skills that work without face time.  You can easily present an image that is too stiff or inaccessible by not responding to messages quickly or using curt replies.  That stuff was fine for inter-office emails, but now you may be communicating across continents and should be aware of the pitfalls.

Also be prepared for phone and video interviews which are becoming the norm in the contractor arena, so you might want to turn on your cam and practice smiling a few times a day.

Following these ten tips will keep your contractor business rolling and growing, and you will wonder why you ever had a 9 to 5 job.