Subject: freelancing
From: Buck & Tilly Buchanan <writer -at- DHC -dot- NET>
Date: Tue, 8 Apr 1997 12:36:00 -0500

Regarding the "freelancing/outsourcing" letters appearing on this

These comments were written in response for a one-sided article that
appeared in a large metropolitan newspaper.

They Call Us Job Shoppersby Buck and Tilly Buchanan

We've just finished six-month job shopping contracts with one of the
largest electronic and semiconductor manufacturers in the country, but
we didn't really work for them. There were five tech writers in my
department--all Job shoppers. The only direct employee in the department
was the manager; even the receptionist was a contract employee.
U.S. companies are electing to use more and more job shoppers instead
of direct employees. My assignment was writing curricula and courseware
for semiconductor classes that the company conducts for users of its
products. This area is very technical and requires expertise in the
electronics and computer fields, but many other job shop contracts call
for skills such as those of personnel managers, avionics technicians,
aircraft mechanics, health skills, secretarial, and others.
Tilly works on another contract for the same company, using desktop
publishing software to format the books that other writers and I
generate. But the publications department is only one of hundreds that
use job shops to provide needed help on a short-term basis (not always
short-term. I know of some shoppers who have been with the same firms
for up to four years).
Job shops are firms which supply temporary employees to companies that,
for one reason or another--generally economic-- don't want to make a
long-term commitment to an employee. Shopping, as it's called by those
of us in the game, is an ideal way for retired or semi-retired folks to
work temporarily to supplement their retirement check--or even if
they're simply bored with inactivity--but don't want to take on direct
employment with its long-term commitments.
Tilly and I have been shopping for about 15 years, in the U.S. and in a
dozen or so foreign countries, and have found many advantages for
ourselves, but there are two major disadvantages: when working on this
kind of contract we can be terminated at a moment's notice and we
receive no insurance or retirement benefits from the firm to which we
are reporting every day. Advantages, however, for the retiree and his
lifestyle are many.
Among them: Take home pay is always more than that of the direct
employee who does the same job. An example is my own case. As a shopper,
I earn about double what I would as a directly employed technical
One advantage that's important for the shopper: HE/SHE can also cancel
the contract and leave on a moment's notice, supposedly with no ill
feelings or bridges burned (best to give a week's notice, however). He
gets paid weekly and his check is ready when he wants to leave.
The primary disadvantage--no benefits from the ultimate employeR--is
often overcome by perks that the Job Shop itself provides for its
contractors. Most shops now provide free or near-free life insurance, a
low-cost group health and dental insurance plan, and paid holidays for
its shoppers.
Another important advantage for us mature people is that many
contracting companies prefer older--even retired--persons (I'm 67 and
seldom find it difficult to find a contract). Experience is the key
here, so the lifetime you spent as a wrenchbender or electron chaser has
provided you with a valuable asset--knowledge about your manual skills.
The jobs are available almost anywhere you want to spend a few months
time. We like South Texas in winter;Colorado, northern California, or
Idaho in summer. Full-time RVing makes the lifestyle possible for us.
How do you get starting shopping? Watch the help-wanted section for
ads placed by Lincoln, Yoh, Volt Technical Service, Belcan, and other
nationwide shops, but there are dozens of other smaller firms, some
probably right in your area. To determine if the advertised job is
contract or direct, simply call the advertiser on the telephone and ask,
"Direct or contract?" The answer will often be, "Contract to hire."
That means if you satisfy the company (and they satisfy you) you'll be
hired direct at the end of the contract.
Be prepared to discuss your qualifications with the headhunter who
placed the ad. The shops will ask you to send a resumé--a one-pager is
best. They will then forward it to the contracting company. If you need
help in preparing one, check the newspaper classifieds for Resumé
Preparation Services. Suitable one or two-page documents are prepared by
these specialist firms for $10-$50. But hey, you're a writer; write
your own.
After submitting the document to the job shop, expect a few weeks wait.
Your headhunter wants to put you to work as soon as possible, but many
companies give job orders to several shops in order to have a larger
selection of candidates and it may take them a while to make their
decision. Also, we've noticed that some companies start looking for
employees before they actually need them. They're just collecting
resumés for future use. Your own qualifications may be submitted by the
shop to several firms, and you will be asked to interview with each
hiring authority who is interested in your background. But once you
satisfactorily complete a contract, for whatever skill, your shop will
probably have another job waiting for you.
You've got the contract. What now, Coach? As a Shopper or Contractor
or Consultant (different terms all meaning the same to you and to the
employer), you're expected to know your job when you go to work, so
don't look for much training time. For this reason, you should answer
only those ads for skills in which you're well qualified.

One precaution that I've seen some contractors violate is: Never
discuss salaries with direct employees. This is sure to cost you the job
and possible blacklisting (yeah, I know--there's no such thing as a
blacklist). Your salary may be double that of a direct employee doing
the same job and any discussion of such inequities could cause
departmental problems.
You probably won't receive any pay raises when you're working as a
contractor, so it's best to sign short-term (three or six-month)
contracts. You can ask for and probably get more money on subsequent
assignments, even within the same company, now that they know you can
handle the job.
When your present contract is about half finished, you should start
sending out resumés to other job shops. Point out in your cover letter
that you're an experienced Shopper on whom they can depend to complete
contracts in an acceptable manner. State your expected rate in these
cover letters, always making it 10-25% more than you really think you
will receive.
Job shopping is an interesting and profitable way to work, both for
retirees or for those still in the work force. Your retirement status,
however, can make you more flexible in negotiations, both for length of
contract and for size of the paycheck. You should be careful to avoid
accepting less than other contractors receive. Undercutting their rate
can be detrimental for you and for your competitors.

Good luck on your first job-shopping assignment.
Buck Buchanan
writer -at- dhc -dot- net
FAA Airline Transport Pilot
CAA Airline Transport Pilot (Yemen Arab Republic)
FAA A&P Mechanic
CAA Radio Engineer (Ethiopia)
CAA Radio Engineer (Yemen Arab Republic)
Licensed Ship's Radio Officer (Panama)
TEA Teaching Certificate (Computer Subjects)
Ham Operator (Extra Class) AB5HY

and on... and on...
Renaissance man? Nah; just a short attention span.

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