Before Contracting, Do Your Research

Within the past couple months, I’ve been dealing with junior devs who have taken on side gigs and signed up for contracting gigs without really knowing what they were getting into.  As someone who owns her own LLC and can do the side gigs, I find myself explaining to them things they should have learned about before deciding to go the contractor life.  So these are some of my thoughts and experiences.

Build a Support Network

Whether you are going completely on your own or doing side gigs while working a regular job, be sure that you have someone who can mentor you and can give you advice in situations common to contracting.  Find someone who understands the business side – timekeeping, billing, contracts, business pipeline, etc. – and who can help you understand it better.  Find someone who understands how to sell yourself and make yourself stand out.  Find someone who can help figure out problems such as work/life balance.  Don’t try to go it alone without a support network.

2 Key Allies – The Accountant and The Lawyer

Unless you truly are trained in these, you need to have an accountant and a lawyer on your side.  Some may meet virtually, some in-person, and some may mix both.  Go with what you prefer.  The accountant is the one who can help you figure out things such as setting up your accounting books, making sure AR/AP is set up properly, making sure you’re taking the right taxes, offering guidance if you are charging taxes, and everything in between for basic financial transactions.  The lawyer is the one you go to with the contracts to make sure that they’re written so that the best situations for both parties are represented.  Don’t want non-competes?  Specifically worried about who owns the work at what point? There are lawyers of various types out there to help with that.  There are certain things you can and cannot say in contracts, and lawyers are great for getting that in place.  There’s more to lawyers than just a courtroom.  Also, when forming a company, you may find an accountant or a lawyer that can give you their perspective of the various types out there – a sole proprietorship versus a partnership versus an S-Corp versus other types out there.  While these professionals may be costly, at the same time, it would be more costly to be without them and mess up any of their functions.  They are well worth the investment.

Know that it can be Feast or Famine

Contracting has its ups and downs.  Sometimes, business is awesome and the pipeline is overloaded.  Sometimes, business is down and the pipeline is empty.  It’s a balancing act in finding what works for you.  Know that those extremes happen, and be prepared for what happens if the worst points come and how long you can sustain those.  Know your audience and how to market to them – that will help you in your advantage.

Benefits… or Lack Thereof

Something that some of the younger ones are surprised with is that there isn’t health insurance, life insurance, training, mentorship, or {insert some other company perk} here when you’re contracting.  While you might get a flexible schedule or a certain rate or being able to pick and choose what you work on, you have to remember that – as a contractor – you typically won’t get the benefits that your clients have.  It is up to you to provide for yourself – health insurance, life insurance, business insurance, etc.  Want to stay up on your skills or learn new things?  The cost – and not just monetarily, but time as well sometimes – of conferences or things like Pluralsight or DevIQ also need to be factored in.  When you have to cover those yourself, you need to consider the cost of those when figuring out your rates.

Doing Research

Going into contracting wasn’t something I just jumped into – though when I had quit my job to go contracting full-time originally, it may have seemed like that.  I spent a couple years observing my friends in the field.  As much as I tease him for giving that workshop everywhere, I enjoyed Michael Eaton’s “Going Independent” workshop. I talked with some of my business owner friends and mentors in the field.  And I made sure that I had all my ducks in a row before making that leap.

So if you’re going the route of contracting, be sure you do the research before getting yourself into a tough situation.

Epilogue

I was contracting from late 2011 until 2016, when I took a position full-time where I am now.  I still have some work that I do under my LLC from time to time.  Would I be a contractor again? If it was the right time and all the cards lined up, absolutely.  But for now, I’ve done my research and am full-time with a company that aligns with my own career goals and allows me to bring out many of my tricks without having the administrative duties of timekeeping and billing.  However, with my experience, I have a feeling I will be talking with more who have entered into contractor life without really realizing what they’re getting into.

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