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Contractor life: finding job security in a flexible sector

As we move out of the global financial crisis and the job market continues to get healthier and more active, increasing numbers of people are using this as an opportunity to consider their options with regard to employment. One of the most fundamental decisions anyone in such a situation needs to make is whether to seek employment as a contractor or in a more permanent sense.

On the one hand, permanent employment has a certain security about it. Another big positive is that an employing organization will usually take care of a fairly large range of onerous, complex and time-consuming administrative responsibilities.

On the other hand, working in a freelance capacity provides a flexibility and freedom that permanent employee status simply cannot match. Contractors have far greater scope and capacity to vary what they do and keep their working lives interesting. The downside of course is that this freedom may come with a certain innate sense of insecurity, as a freelancer cannot always be sure when their next job will come in.

Here are a few steps to take to help get over this sense of insecurity and really make the most of a flexible working life:

Know your product or service. The first step is to be absolutely clear with yourself what it is you are offering. This will allow you to stay true to your ambitions while articulating your offer to others in the most compelling way. Be specific as well, and focus on what is unique about your offer. All markets are by their very nature competitive, so it is important you do everything you can to stand out. Work out what it is that will set you apart, and make this a key feature.

Get organized. It is not enough to only provide a strong product or service. You also need to get into the mindset of working for yourself and operating as a business. This can be a full time occupation in itself, so consider enlisting the support of an umbrella company, which can take care of a lot of the complicated and time-consuming activities that an employing organization would typically look after, such as PAYE and tax issues.

Market yourself. Finally, get used to selling yourself at every opportunity. Make it part of your daily routine to keep in touch with clients and other contacts. Build and maintain a strong network of fellow professionals and previous employers who can recommend you to others and notify you when they come across job opportunities that may be of interest. Remember that while the job market is competitive, it can also be collaborative.

The benefits of operating as a contractor are clear but before taking the step to become one, it is important to be honest with yourself about the potential pitfalls and risks. The good news is that, as with most risks, they can all be properly managed with some careful preparation and by enlisting the right sort of support, allowing you to get on and do what you do best.