How to Advance Your Career as a Contractor

Covid-19, IR35 and Brexit have combined to present ever-growing challenges to self-employed people in the UK. Although a candidate-short market and skills shortages – particularly those in the tech, healthcare and social care sectors – are dominating employment in 2022, the next year ahead will present further obstacles for contractors looking to advance their careers. Freelancers, interim managers and sole traders must balance increasingly demanding assignments and economic pressure with widening end client requirements for skills and experience in niche areas.

Generate’s contractor management specialists reveal three ways self-employed individuals can become happier, more productive and more successful at work and in their personal lives.

3 Things That Will Improve Your Contracting Career Success

1. Make a Career Plan

The career path of the self-employed is not necessarily linear and straight forward, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be effectively planned as much that of a permanent employee. Dedicate some time to thinking about your career and asking yourself questions such as:

  • What do I really want, not only from every job, but from my career as a whole and from my personal life?
  • What are the current obstacles in the way of achieving what I want, and how can these be addressed?
  • What three things would I change about my professional life right now?
  • What does my ideal future look like in three, five and 10 years?
  • What do I need to change, do and achieve to reach my ideal future?

Collate these answers into a plan of what you need to do on a weekly, monthly and annual basis to get closer to your goals. Ensure that your focus is on the medium- and long-term as well as on your short-term client projects, by blocking out time to do one thing every day that adds to your career development, and your plan will soon become a reality.

2. Find Creative Ways of Networking

As contractors are often intensely focused and short of time when on assignment, networking isn’t high on the list of day-to-day priorities and instead is usually consigned to the gaps between projects. Covid-19 has interrupted the usual steady stream of in-person seminars, industry body member group meetings and large-scale trade shows that previously presented free and varied networking opportunities. However, building networks as a self-employed individual can be just as effective as the communities enjoyed by permanent employees. Expand your connections with the following methods:

  • Build Your Personal Brand – What makes you excellent in your role? Which particular technical abilities, demonstrable knowledge, project success stories and soft skills make you who you are and deliver value for your end clients? Cultivate your own personal brand by focusing on your USPs and ensure these run throughout everything you do, from your CV or professional portfolio to any blog or opinion pieces you write and any events or workshops you attend.Promote your brand positively by following topics and individuals in your specialism: respond to their posts and content such as reports, share your own thoughts as an expert in the field, and engage in conversations to build a positive association of yourself in the minds of industry experts and influencers that you admire.
  • Explore Online – Social media channels like LinkedIn are obvious choices for participating in discussions and finding your contemporaries. Message boards dedicated to your sector or specialism are also vital free digital connection tools. Non-professional websites dedicated to hobbies, parenting or social causes often have sub-sections for smaller numbers of experts to connect professionally with others in their industry.
  • Volunteer – The best way to promote your knowledge to others – and find others who can add to it – is to prove your expertise through participating in industry events. Enquire about becoming a speaker on a panel event or joining in a roundtable in your particular niche. These events provide unparalleled platforms to both connect with and immediately establish yourself as a thought leader to thousands of potential colleagues and employers.

3. Constantly Challenge Yourself

The often quoted ‘If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got’ is the mantra of success for the self-employed. It can be tempting to relax after a couple of particularly testing assignments, however every new job – and many elements of your personal life – presents unique opportunities to advance your career. Without linear career plans, company-provided mentors and subsidised training programmes, contractors must invest more effort into their own development than permanent peers by constantly pursuing challenges. Investigate the following:

  • Professional Courses – Whether it’s learning a new programming language or brushing up on project management skills, a phenomenal amount of quality courses are waiting to be taken advantage of. From network infrastructure, consumer neurology and materials science to modern languages, First Aid and nutrition, many providers such as Coursera, Skillshare, LinkedIn and the Open University offer free and highly affordable courses. Additional knowledge and certification can add the finishing touches to your market worth if related to your career, although any additional development is incredibly useful for the soft skills, critical thinking and problem-solving abilities that will underpin success in any role.
  • Take a New Approach to Work – Think back over your projects and the opportunities you came across in the past few years. Which did you accept or actively pursue, and which did you say no to? What did you learn about your abilities, and which projects did you regret or value for which reasons? You’ll likely find patterns in your working styles, skill development and success: some of which is serving you well, and some of which you may have neglected out of dislike, uncertainty or lack of confidence. When looking for a new role, try to break old habits and prioritise learning something new or stretching your boundaries over playing it safe.

The Right Payroll & Compliance Partner

The right umbrella or contractor management provider can act as a vital career partner for self-employed specialists. Removing admin burdens and tax worries leaves you free to balance your day job with your professional goals without additional concerns. Find out how Generate’s payroll and contracting experts could help you.

Looking for a new challenge in 2022? Read our Guide to Contracting in France.


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