RE: Getting Started as an Independent Contractor

Subject: RE: Getting Started as an Independent Contractor
From: Ed Gregory <edgregory -at- comcast -dot- net>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Fri, 29 Mar 2002 07:42:57 -0600

Necessity is the mother of, well, many things.

I started as an independent contractor after I got laid off as an employee
and found the market for good full-time jobs sparse. I stayed busy in
professional circles, let my friends and colleagues know that I was
available, and started getting calls from companies that weren't ready to
rebuild staffing yet but needed experienced professional that could come in
and "hit the ground running."

>From my own experience and talking with both employers and other contractors
in my neck of the woods, I would suggest that the requirements for being a
successful and well-paid independent contractor include:

- Your local market has a need for independent contractors. Large employers
with nice short-term opportunities often want someone else, an agency, to
take all the legal responsibilities. (Where I live, the scene is dominated
by a few agencies and most of the contract work is subcontracting via an
agency that keeps a big chunk of the cash that the employer is will to

- You have to have the ability to manage your finances well enough so that
you can survive occasional periods of under-employment and slow cash flow.
(How frequent they are and how long they last depend on your skills, your
reputation, your market, and the economy. It can be a crap shoot. But then,
those same caveats apply to full-time employment.)

- When you are "on the bench," you have to work constantly to keep your
skills honed and current. That means spending money, thousands of dollars,
to own and use the software that full-time employees get for free on their
company-provided computers.

- You must have or gain skills in the areas where employers have need. Being
an expert with Framemaker (which I am not) wouldn't help you much in a
market that is not, for whatever reasons, really big on Framemaker. No
amount of technical skill in just that one tool wouldn't do much to keep you
employed. Being able to consult with a client on communication needs,
however, is a universal skill.

- You have to stay active in your professional and business communitites in
order to maintain those all-important networking contacts that will help
keep you employed. Go to meetings, to lunch, to seminars.

- If you believe in the difference between "Type A personalities" and "Type
B personalities", you have to be at least a B+. Many technical communicators
are not outgoing, energetic, enthusiastic, etc., and it takes some of that
to adapt and become quickly effective is constantly changing work
environments. If you are shy, or depend on an employer or team leader to
tell you what needs to be done, you are less likely to be a sought-after
independent consultant.

All of that said, there are some employers who are willing to hire
independent contractors in "temp-to-hire" situations where the job hasn't
become official, but is expected to soon. In order to meet deadlines and
build staff, they hire contractors and sometimes those contractors become
permanent employees. In those cases, they usually aren't looking for as much
in terms of experience and skills in the contractor's existing portfolio.
The employer has time to learn what the employee can do and how quickly the
person can be expected to gain the additional skills necessary to be a
strong contributing member to a long-term team.

-Ed Gregory

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Re: Getting Started as an Independent Contractor: From: Bruce Byfield

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