What you should do between contracts

4 minute read (962 words)

Strange times with Covid-19

I can’t post this without mentioning the context I’m writing in of the coronavirus pandemic lock-down.

I consider myself extremely lucky to be in the line of work I am that allows me the flexibility to continue working remotely whilst still protecting myself and those around me by avoiding contact.

What I normally do

In calmer times I’d have taken the opportunity to spend at least a couple of weeks with family (have small people and time with them is preciously fleeting). Then get my life in order, then go hell for leather getting into the next thing I can help build.

Some of my fellow contractors like to make sure they have the next contract lined up ready for the finish date of their current contract. While this is optimal for revenue I don’t do this because:

  • I find it is a full time job generating, tracking and dealing with contracting leads
  • I wouldn’t want to be distracted from the current client’s work to the next thing
  • I wouldn’t want to half-arse the contract hunt and not get the optimal contract for myself and the next client.
  • There is a tendency for last-minute contract extensions to appear which would mean letting down one or other client.

So after a contract is completely finished, and some time with family, only then do I take the contract hunt seriously.

What I’m doing this time

Given the uncertainty caused by COVID-19 + IR35 (by the way COVID is short for Corona Virus Disease) and the fact I just moved house (i.e. less cash reserves than usual) I can’t take it too easy this time. Even though the IR35 changes have been delayed a year a lot of the damage has been done so the contractor market is challenging at the moment.

I finished my contract with DfE on a Tuesday, allowed myself till the following Monday for uninterrupted family time. (Okay almost uninterrupted, I can’t really put technology down for that long and I also have my charitable work for DogLost that takes up some time.)

Now that is over, I’m doing roughly 9am-1pm on the business related tasks suggested below.

What should you do to make the most of finishing a contract?

Step 1. Take a break

Contracting is in my experience much more intense than permanent employment. This is in fact how I like it. But in order to be able to give your all to the next contract I think it is important to give yourself the space to recharge.

When in a contract it’s easy to end up with tunnel vision, especially for one as long as my last one (2 years!), where all you can think about is how it was done there and how you reacted to the influences around you during that time. One of the strengths you can bring to a contract as a contractor is the broader perspective from seeing many organisations, approaches, technologies and people. It requires a bit of down-time for your latest experience to sink in once you are out of the hustle and bustle of delivery, and for it to be merged into your bank of knowledge.

What better way to end a contract than with good chunk of time with family and friends while your subconsious churns through and processes everything that’s happened over the last contract.

I believe if you dive headlong into the next thing with nothing more than a normal weekend off then your brain will not have the opportunity to properly process what you’ve learnt before being overwhelmed with an influx of new information from a new client.

Step 2. Update your online presence and CV

You’ve probably learned a lot and changed a bit since you started the last contract.

Review and update all your profiles:

  • LinkedIn
  • Twitter (make a new pinned tweet!)
  • GitHub
  • StackOverflow
  • etc.

Think about what your next client will be interested in and what they want help with and make sure your profiles provide evidence that you have done similar things before and can get results.

Step 3. Do some writing

The best way to shape your thoughts on the whole thing is to put them into writing. So spend some time blogging like I’m doing now, and make sure to cross-post your articles to the places where your customers will see them. You should own your own content, keep it on your own domain on your own blog where no platform can take away your audience, then cross-post to places like dev.to, LinkedIn and Medium (if that’s your thing) with links back to your own domain. Better still on your posts ask people to sign up to your mailing list and email them when you post new articles etc.

Step 4. Catch up with old acquaintances

It’s hard when you’re flat out with life and contracts to keep in touch with everyone. Reach out to old business and personal friends. You never know it might kick off your next opportunity, or help you learn something about yourself that’s useful.

Step 5. Go all guns blazing on getting the next piece of work

“You will get all you want in life if you help enough other people get what they want,” ~ Zig Ziglar

Figure out who’d value your skills most even in these difficult times and have at it.

You might find my previous article “How to find contract developer jobs” useful at this point.

Personally I’m looking to also increase the value I provide beyond implementation work. This might take the form of team lead roles, or some digital transformation consultancy.

~ End ~

What do you do between contracts or how do you avoid having gaps? Are you between contracts now thanks to IR35?

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