Back to Goin’ Contractin’ (Part 1)

“I can get paid twice as much to be this unappreciated!”

But I was wrong.  Turns out I could get paid two and half times as much to be so unappreciated.  As surprises go, it was a nice one.

The annual performance meeting that had prompted my decision to go contracting was a few months behind me.  I’d been active, but things had not progressed as I had hoped they would.  I knew from talking with contractors that the key first steps were: set up a limited company (unless you want to be exploited by the umbrella companies), set up a business bank account, get an updated CV out there.

Getting the company set up was easy.  There are lots of websites offering company formations for low prices, and I used www.companyformations247.co.uk.  At the time, they did a deal where if I allowed them to refer me to Barclays as a lead for a business account, I’d get the cost of the company set up back.  So I accepted and a few weeks later I had a Barclays account ready.  I always had a CV ready, so I was ready – right?  Wrong!

As permie, I had a notice period of a month… and every agency I spoke to claimed they needed people immediately.  All the great contracts were going to a bunch of unemployed PMOs!  So, should I quit my job in the hope that a contract would be sitting there waiting for me?  Unfortunately, I didn’t have the savings set aside to make such a gamble.  Eventually I just talked to my boss who knew I was looking to move on.  I’d still been working hard despite wanting to leave, so we were on good terms and she agreed to be flexible about the notice period.  From that point, my notice period when speaking with agencies was two weeks.  But here’s the crazy thing – every single contract I’ve taken in the Banking/Finance sector requires background checks that take between 2 and 4 weeks depending on the efficiency of the HR team involved.  So I have no idea why a month notice is really so bad.

When the first contract came it was with a rival bank in an unrelated area of the business.  The opportunity sounded great – a new bank, a new area of business, and the money was about 2.5x current salary – but it was only for 5 weeks in duration with only a possibility of an extension.  I really did have to think it over.  I told the agent straight away I was interested and he arranged interviews, but the risk… 5 weeks then maybe nothing, was that too great a risk?  I talked to everyone I could think of and gauged their advice.  All the contractors said to go for it.  Most of the permies said to stay put.

I decided it was worth the risk.  If I couldn’t handle this sort of uncertainty and wasn’t confident enough in my own skills to take this chance, then I had no place in the contractor market.  So the interviews took place – so informal compared with going for a permie role.  No competency tests, psychometric tests, spelling tests, etc – just “tell me how you would do your job”.  So with an offer made and accepted, I gave my (reduced) notice at the permanent job, got my business insurances set up and started looking forward to my new opportunity.

Already in my head I was counting the money.  I wasn’t planning on doing anything extravagant but I was mentally allocating future funds to a future wedding, mortgage deposit and all sorts of other things that were out of reach with the permie salary.  It hadn’t occurred to me yet that this model of employment gave me any vulnerabilities – but I was given a loud reminder of that just two days before the contract was due to commence…

To be continued… Part 3

Written by Stuart Taylor

Born and raised in Walsall, West Midlands; currently living in Buckinghamshire; career in project management; runs a lot but isn't getting any slimmer...

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