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Finding contracting work

Long, unplanned gaps between your contracts is every contractor’s worst fear. Take these 10 steps to help you find the next contract and build your reputation.

1. Use your networks

Many contracts are found by word of mouth. The more you put yourself out there, the more contracting work you’ll hear about. Approach:

  • people you’ve worked with
  • friends and family
  • relevant professional associations
  • contacts on professional networking sites, eg LinkedIn.

Let people know you’re looking for work, what you’re looking for and when, and your skills.

Building your networks takes time. Check in with people regularly, not just when you’re looking for your next contract.

2. Build a good reputation

In contracting, your reputation is everything. Do a good job and your next contract will be much easier to find. If you don’t have the right skills to do a contract, be honest — no matter how much you want the work.

People often judge contractors more critically than other team members. So remember to always be professional.

3. Make time to look for your next contract

Budget and plan time to network and look for contracts. Meet people for coffees, speak to agencies and keep an eye on industry news and jobs sites.

4. Use recruitment agencies

A good recruitment agency knows when and where contracts are coming up before you will. Choose agencies that specialise in your industry. Register with a few agencies. As you go, you’ll probably favour one or two that best understand your situation and skills.

Help getting the hours and rate you’d like

Recruitment agents can help you understand the market and negotiate terms of your contract. This can be useful if you feel awkward talking about money — asking other contractors with similar skill sets what they would charge for a piece of work can be useful here too.

Recruitment agents can also tell you about things you might need, eg professional insurance.

Agencies add fees to your rate. So if you contract directly with an organisation, rather than through an agency, you may have a better chance of getting a higher rate. You can use a mixture of agencies and direct contracting — you don’t need to use one or the other.

What to watch out for in contracts

5. Keep your CV up to date

When contracting, you’ll need to be able to send out your CV at a moment’s notice. Make sure the information is current and that it can be easily tailored to suit different roles. Keep a list of skills and experience you can quickly insert, based on what the client is looking for.

Send your recruitment agents an updated copy of your CV each time you change it.

6. Search job sites

Some contracts are advertised on online jobs and tenders pages, eg the New Zealand Government Electronic Tenders Service (GETS). It’s worth keeping an eye out and signing up for emailed job alerts. 

Tips for tendering

Government tenders(external link) — GETS

7. Be flexible

The more flexible you are, the bigger the pool of contracts you can choose from. Don’t rule out working for organisations you wouldn’t consider if you were looking for permanent work.

Also be flexible about your rate — especially if you’re just starting out. Don’t undersell yourself, but be prepared to have a range.

8. Show you understand the client

People often hire contractors to fill a gap, solve a problem or tackle a job that urgently needs doing. Show clients you can quickly fit in, get the job done and have the skills to address whatever it is they need. This will help build your reputation.

9. Don't get too settled

When your contract keeps being extended, it’s easy to get complacent. Don’t. A month or so before the end of each contract, start lining up your next job.

Give yourself as many options as you can — phone your agencies, meet people for coffee and keep a close eye on the market.

Think about if you want to stay

When you’re offered a contract renewal think hard about whether you really want to stay. Uncertainty about your next contract can make it hard to walk away from a sure thing. But it may not be in your best interest professionally, or otherwise.

It’s common to have gaps between contracts. Budget for being out of work for at least two months a year and have a buffer of savings to cover unplanned gaps.

Managing your finances

Setting your hourly rate

10. Think about the time of year

If you’re deciding between two contracts, pay attention to when each one ends. For example, it can be hard to get new contracts between December and February, when organisations wind down for Christmas and summer.

If you contract to government agencies, there can be lean pickings in the run-up to an election.

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