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February 11, 2015

Thoughts On Contracting

Filed under: Working — admin @ 8:52 pm

It’s been a month since I made the move from a full-time agency job into the world of contracting. For the sake of posterity and in the spirit of paying-it-forward, if you’re thinking about making the move yourself, here are some thoughts based on my limited experience so far.

You’ll be working with a new team of people. Take the time to get to know who’s who and where you fit in.

There’ll be new structures, hierarchies and lines of reporting. You’ll need to understand where you fit into all that.

There’ll also be new — and different — personalities you’ll need to gel with. Take the time to figure out who’s who, where you fit into the overall structure and how you’ll handle the different personalities.

Try not to think short-term (e.g. “I’m only here for a few weeks, I don’t need to worry about getting on with that person/fully understanding that process”).

Your contract may only be for a matter of weeks or months but if your mindset is short-term, you’ll subconsciously avoid doing all the things listed in my first point. Additionally, you’ll inevitably do a sub-standard job if you don’t fully appreciate what you’re being asked to do.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions.

There’ll be all sorts of unique-to-your-client things that you won’t understand: acronyms, other projects, people, terminology, documentation, processes — you’ll need to figure out what you need to know and ask the right questions to get the information you need to do your job.

“I’m a contractor. I don’t have to care as much”. Yes, you do. You really do.

You have to care about the work you’re doing. You have to be an active member of the team(s) you’re doing it with. You have to be sensitive to the inevitable politics that’ll derail you in some way.

If you’re a good visual designer, it’s not enough to simply be a good visual designer. You have to be good at being part of a team, part of a process and part of the solution.

Once you’ve secured a contract, forget about what you’re being paid.

There’s no doubt you can earn more as a contractor than as a permanent member of staff and, whilst looking for work, it’s “all about the day rate” but once you’ve signed that contract, it should all be about the work. If you’re distracted by what you’re being paid, you’re focusing on the wrong thing. You’re being paid to do a job. Do it to the best of your ability.

Recognition won’t always come your way.

You won’t always be slapped on the back for a great idea or a job well done. As a contractor, you’re expected to do a job to a certain standard. Strive for above-and-beyond that, but don’t be disheartened if it’s not always recognised. Don’t work weekends just to be seen to be working weekends.

Everything you do — good or bad — reflects on you.

Make sure people remember you for the right reasons. Have your own standards, make them high and be the person you’d want to work with.

Making the move into the world of contracting is a big decision. Although it’s only been a month, I’ve no regrets about making the move. I’m really enjoying working within a new team and within an incredibly complex set of new constraints. The work is challenging, the problems are complex — but the payoff is that the satisfaction is incredible when you get it right.

January 2, 2015

New Horizons

Filed under: For Posterity,Working — admin @ 7:56 pm

2015 promises to be a year of change for me, professionally speaking. In December, I left my role as Design Director at HeathWallace after more than 9 enjoyable years.

It was a very hard decision to make; to leave a company you’ve poured tens of thousands of hours into (not all during ‘work hours’), a company who you’ve helped grow, clients you’ve helped make happy, colleagues who’ve become firm friends. But, after all those years, I felt I needed a new challenge: new ways of working; new teams; new problems to solve in new verticals. Our industry moves at such a pace, I worried that I was becoming stagnant.

I started asking myself some difficult questions. If I stayed, where would I be in 12 months time? What experiences would I have had? Was I happy? Through months of cognitive chewing, I came to the sad conclusion that I needed to move on.

The world of contracting was appealing: short term blasts of exposure to new work, teams, methods, challenges. The flexibility to choose the kind of work I might like to do. The ego massage that when you do a good job, it reflects well on you personally.

And yet, at the same time it was terrifying. As a father of two young children and the sole breadwinner of the house, I would be taking a massive risk. Contract roles do not come along until a matter of weeks before they start. My notice period was three months; I probably wouldn’t be able to find a role until 2-3 weeks before I left. So if I left, I wouldn’t know where I would end up for months. As someone who’s meticulous about finances and planning, this was incredibly difficult to accept.

Questions gnawed at me. Am I good enough? Can I survive in the far-more-cut-throat world of contracting? How will it feel to be treated as a commodity, rather than an embedded employee? What if the work dries up?

Ultimately, I’ve decided that the risks are worth the potential enrichment this experience offers. And no, I don’t mean fiscal enrichment!

I’m lucky. I’ve got the support of my beautiful wife and that of our families. I know that they believe in me and want to see me professionally happy and fulfilled. We’ve been open about the risks and what it would mean; ultimately it’s a decision I could only have taken with their full support.

So here we are. For the first time in my entire career, I’m doing my own thing. Whether it works out or not is completely down to me. And that’s massively sobering.

I’ll try and document my experiences as I go — I certainly found solace across the Internet when I was pondering change. I feel it only right that I should try and pay some of it back.

So 2015: what you got?

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