WTF? 7 things you need to know about contracting

The statistics illustrating the gender gap in tech makes for grim reading: after peaking in 1991 at 36 percent, the rate of women in IT roles has been in steady decline. As of 2016, they held only 25 percent of such jobs. Against this backdrop, 41 percent of women leave tech completely and we need to find out why.

One of the possible reasons is a (possible) EU-led industry shift away from employing permanent staff to offering mainly contract positions and the fact that for many women, contracting is at odds with having a family.

But it needn’t be.

If you’ve been interested in contracting, but have only ever worked in permanent roles, it can be hard to know when and how to make the leap. As Emma Hopkinson-Spark said at our last WTF is Contracting event: you have to face the fear and do it anyway.

To give you the boost you need, we’ve rounded up WTF’s top seven tips, tricks and myth-busters to help prepare you for life as a successful freelancer:

  1. Make use of all available resources – Join groups like the Association of Independent Professionals and the Self Employed (IPSE) which provides useful resources such as pro forma contracts, guides and tools to to help you run, manage and protect your business. Also ask experienced friends for advice and get yourself a mentor or coach.
  2. Get your head around tax – It might sound painful, but it needs to be done as you need to decide early on whether you want to operate as a sole trader, limited company or under an umbrella company, as each have different tax implications. HMRC provides basic advice, however Sophie Lewis of Dolan Accountancy says it may be helpful to consult a contract accountant to advise on your most tax efficient options if you are looking to contract for three months or longer, or turn over more than £25,000 annually.
  3. Plan around it – Contracting, like many other things tends to be quieter over the summer months so organise your time and money in such a way that you’re not left smashing the piggy bank with a hammer come August. Like planting seeds in the autumn to harvest the following spring, Emma said that she made contracting work by paying herself a steady, modest wage regardless of whether she was working or not. So when she was contracting, she lived well within her means to ensure her income would cover her all year round. Using a spreadsheet to map out the best and worst case scenario can ease any financial anxiety and ensure you always have enough for the rainy days.
  4. Build a network – Not everyone is a natural people person and networking might feel daunting, but it’s essential to making contracting work. And the more you do it, the better you get because it becomes a conscious choice. Whether it’s through meetups and events, user groups or training, there are numerous ways to make rewarding and useful connections with others. New projects often come through referrals from people you’ve met at events as well as those you’ve worked with previously, so get out there and get your name known. Plus, you’ll then have a ready-made community to lean on for support, upskilling and even socialising.
  5. Job security is not the be all and end all – In the tech world, freelance contracts can last as long (if not longer) than permanent roles due to redundancy or people moving jobs. And it’s good to remember that any contract – permanent or freelance – is only ever as good as your notice period, which can always be negotiated.
  6. Learn to live with the uncertainty – As science fiction author Ursula K Le Guin once said: “The only thing that makes life possible is permanent, intolerable uncertainty.” At 101 Ways, we believe that uncertainty is not necessarily a bad thing, because with it comes opportunity and when you’re open to it, you’ll reap the rewards.
  7. You’re the one in control The reality of contracting is much less frightening than it seems. Taking on more responsibility for your career is a good thing because the benefits are numerous. Freelance rates are often higher to cover things like holiday, sick and maternity pay, and you can choose what projects you want to work on and crucially, when. So if you fancied taking the summer off to travel the world before Brexit, wave glow sticks at everything from Download to La Tomatina or scream at the TV during World Cup ‘18 until you’re hoarse, now you can.

For more information and to be the first hear about any of our future events, please feel free to get in touch with any of the Women’s Tech Focus (WTF) team: Emma Hopkinson-Spark, Ally Mitchell or Devon North.

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