My experience as a contractor

"What I needed was a situation where I could earn enough to cover the bills, create savings and all at a low effort whilst I put together the masterplan."

My experience as a contractor
Photo by UX Indonesia / Unsplash

I recently left my full time role as a Managing Director at a successful product design studio. I talk more about why here if you want to check that out.

My plan was to get excited about design and entrepreneurship again and re-find my creative brain to start creating a strategy to meet my goals. I was burnt out, negative and absolutely needed to get my head in the right place.

For context, right now I'm 38, with a small family and a mortgage. Taking six months off to "reset" wasn't going to work in this reality and whilst I could reduce our monthly outgoings and live off beans - I challenged myself to do better. What I needed was a situation where I could earn enough to cover the bills, create savings and all at a low effort whilst I put together the masterplan.

Benefits of contracting

I had never tried contracting before - always opting for full-time employment for the ultimate job security (perceived job security!). Contracting by definition is temporary work. You're in there to do a job and the benefit to the employer is that they're buying in skills that they don't have right now.

After a few weeks identifying the right recruiters from LinkedIn, I got in the position of taking on a contract. I took a second one on just in case the first one finished early, and you know what? It did!

The benefit of this for a Senior Product Designer is a high risk/high reward situation. You can get a Β£500 per day contract for 3 months plus contract. This played highly on my strategy (more on this later), and most are available remote.

Preparing to contract

I did very little to get prepared. I identified that my portfolio and experience matched well to eCommerce - and there's a number of eCommerce projects going on right now with the realisation in lockdown that that's the only way to buy anything! With a pdf created in Figma (free), an up to date LinkedIn profile (free), I started talking to recruiters.

Some contracts offer to deliver a computer to you, which they usually do in the name of security, but it can be handy if you're in a pinch.

What you do need, depending on the contract, is insurance and sorting out the legal side. I've had a Limited Company for a while, so blew the dust off that, got VAT registered and then worked with Ashley at WithJack to get all the insurance I needed. Ashley's really helpful and explains everything in plain language - which for me, is an absolute must!

Things to be aware of

In my very short experience, no one ever tells you, but taking on a second contract or monthly freelance retainer I'd say is essential. Even if your contract states they need 8 hours from you a day, you can still find other sources of income if you look hard enough.

The other thing I've experienced is that you need to understand what the role entails. On the face of it, one of my contracts looked pretty simple, but it actually involved a lot of pixel-pushing in Figma, and half-way through, I was thinking of ways I could outsource it!

Also, I think it's important to set boundaries and share how you best work. Being an external contractor, you don't have to follow the ingrained way of doing things and its often interesting for the team to experience something new from time to time.

What's next

Contracting is a temporary fix for me. It's allowing me to work, create savings and make space for me to explore what's REALLY next for me.

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