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How to reduce downtime between contracts

It’s easy to see the appeal of contracting. The flexibility of jumping from project to project and business to business, the opportunity to rapidly broaden and enrich your CV – and, of course, bigger pay packets.

But it’s also not without its risks. Whereas in a permanent position, somebody else will take care of your tax, insurance and pension contributions, when it comes to contracting the onus is back on you. There’s greater pressure to hit the ground running and to be a fast learner. Above all, you need to manage the downtime between contracts.

Here are our top tips:

// Get into the habit of spending a few minutes every week keeping your portfolio, LinkedIn profile and any other online presences absolutely up-to-date. This is far less effort than finishing a contract and suddenly having to highlight that you’re now available – or spending half a day every few months explaining what your latest achievements are. Just a little effort will ensure that any recruiters or employers browsing your profiles will now exactly what you’re working on, what new skills you have developed, and when you’re next available. The holy grail, of course, is to be approached about a new contract just as you’re finishing the existing one.

// Network. Attending an industry-specific event just once or twice a month will ensure you’re continually keeping your nose in the local sector, and updating influencers as to when you’ll next be available. You’ll also gain relevant local intelligence that’s hard to source elsewhere. And don’t ignore the value of online networking, either. Social media sites including Twitter and LinkedIn are increasingly becoming hunting grounds for new contracts.

// Find a recruitment consultant who specialises in contract recruitment for your sector – and carry on working with them. Once you know each other well, such a consultant can often help you finish one contract and start another within a week. They’ll also be able to give you invaluable industry intelligence, and give you plenty of information about potential future employers before you start.

// Be flexible. Successful contracting is often about being prepared to travel and adapt more than for a permanent position.

// Ask for extensions. A hefty proportion of the contract jobs we work on end up getting extended – but you often need to ask to make it happen. Many employers will assume that if you originally agreed to a two-month period, for example, that you have another contract to go to straight away, and they’ll need to hire someone else after that. If you’re particularly enjoying, and doing well, at a particular project, ask if it can last longer! By making each contract in a year longer you will fit fewer into that year – and therefore have fewer gaps between them.

// Manage your cash flow properly. Sure, it’s common advice that you need to set aside a portion of your contracting fees for tax, insurance and holidays – but you also need to set aside some to absorb gaps between contracts, which might sometimes be longer than you expect. As a rough rule of thumb, you should try to have enough set aside to cover three months’ worth of rent or mortgage payments and other essential expenses.