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Life as an IT contractor

Ann Bednarz | Oct. 17, 2014
Independence, job variability, earning potential, skills development. But is it worth it?

"The hardest part about being a contractor is finding work. When you work for yourself, you must fill the roles of executive, business administration, AR/AP, sales, engineering, delivery, and probably a few others," says Mike Drabicky, who has worked as a consultant for 15 of the last 20 years. "I like doing the work. All the rest of that stuff is overhead that, while necessary, doesn't produce anything useful."

Marketing can be a challenge. "As with most technical folks, it doesn't come naturally," says Rubin of High Road Data. "I am a member of [business networking group] BNI and make extra effort every week to get together with other business owners and professionals to meet and learn how we can help refer each other. Since I'm not trained in marketing, I find this an invaluable tool to get myself out there and make sure I'm constantly marketing."

Getting paid is another potential hurdle. "If you're not working with a company that farms you out and does the billing and collections for you, then you have to do this yourself," Rubin says. "You need to manage a positive relationship with your clients and at the same time make sure they pay on time, every time."

Jodie Bass finds much of his work through the OnForce freelance platform. OnForce work orders are backed by reserved funds, so payment is transferred directly to the contractor once work is completed. For Bass, the elimination of invoicing and payment collection is a huge draw.

"I hate talking about money," says Bass, who's based in the Portland, Ore., area. "I'm not a salesman. I can get people excited about technology. I can teach them how to use it and support it later. But when it comes time for me to say, ok, write me a check,' I'm terrible about it." OnForce takes a percentage of the job funds as payment, but that's ok with Bass. "I look at it this way: I don't pay for advertising, I don't pay for collections. Both of those are covered. The fee is worth it."

Loss of job security is a lingering concern

Minshall misses the benefits that full-time employees enjoy, such as sick time, holiday pay, training and retirement benefits. But the biggest loss is job security.

"The hardest part is not having the security of a real two-way bond with your employer/customer," Minshall says. "As a contractor you can be replaced at the drop of a hat with no explanation or recourse. Here today and gone tomorrow' has a whole new meaning for a contractor."

Sometimes, that insecurity can be viewed as an advantage: "It keeps me honest as an employee," says Nancy Silverthorn, an IT contractor based in Charlotte, N.C. "You stay at the top of your game knowing that at any time they could sever that connection. It's a lot easier to sever a contract connection" than a full-time connection.


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