Tips and Tricks for Becoming a Contractor – Part 1

“Hi” to all you developer’s out there that are thinking of shedding the chains of a W2 and forging your own path to fame and fortune!

I’d like to help, well, at least with shedding the W2! You’ll have to find your own path to fame and fortune.

I am writing this article to help developer’s, or possibly anyone looking to become a contractor. With some of the steps, business and personal, necessary to transition. I certainly don’t have all the answers but I have learned a few things in the years I’ve been a contractor.

Finding Work

The first thing you have to do is figure out how you are going to get work. Find your own contracts? Get contracts from a contracting hub? Know a friend that can hook you up? All viable choices.

There are many companies that offer full time contracting positions, and typically these offer more stability but without the chance for “the big pay off”.

The alternative is temporary contracting gigs. The hard part about these is finding them. These tend to offer higher pay rates for expertise in a specific domain. You can find these types of jobs on job boards sometimes, but for the biggest pay offs you typically need to know someone that can set you up with a client. Best people to know for these kinds of connections are development managers and Architects within larger organizations.

My personal recommendation on this one is to find stable long term contracting work first in order to grow your connections, but don’t stay put, move from contract to contract as you find them to have maximum exposure. For the long term contracting work, you’ll likely want to stay for at least a year, just like with W2 employees, organizations hiring for long term contractors don’t like to have high turn over rates. Eventually you’ll start seeing better opportunities through your network.

Keeping the Work

As a contractor you have to realize something, you are your own sales and engineering teams. You have to have a “customer first” attitude. I have seen many developers become contractors and not have the appropriate attitude for it.

The Basement Dweller

If you are the kind of developer that wants to sit in the back corner working odd hours, not talking to anyone, and hissing at the light when someone opens the window, well then you are going to have a problem.

Contracting is more about working with people than it is writing code. You have to be present when the customer needs you, you have to have a cheery demeanor when you are speaking with your customers, and most importunately you have to show interest and enthusiasm for your(their) work.

The Critic

I can’t remember how many times I have been on a project and seen other contractors with the same organization whining and complaining about how terrible the customer’s code base was, and how terrible of a process they had, and how annoying it all was. They tend to last between one and four weeks before their contracts are terminated, depending on how nice the customer is.

By the same token, if you are missing every other meeting, and delivering code late (or not at all), you will have your contract terminated.

It amazes me how many developers think that contracting is a free pass to have all the worst habits that any developer can have, and feel that the customer should still be groveling at their feet.

Customer First

The customer is #1! You have to make them feel warm and fuzzy any time they see your face. That’s not to say you can’t point out where things are going wrong, you absolutely should, but you have to have tact while doing so. They don’t just want to hear what’s broken, they also want to hear how it can be fixed, and how things are going to be peaches and rainbows in the end.

Most importantly, you have to be able to give the customer the information that they need, and then let them decide what to do with it. Don’t keep pointing out their flaws to them over and over, they got it, they don’t need their faces rubbed in it.

Your Personal Life will Change

In Part 2 we will discuss some of the changes you can expect in your personal life, and some strategies for dealing with those changes.