Having a hard time finding permanent work? Economic conditions have forced companies to take on a new trend in hiring contract employees. In fact, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, about a quarter of all jobs added in 2010 by private sector employers were temporary positions.
While temporary workers are in better shape than the unemployed, independent contractors may miss the perks of their permanent counterparts such as job security, health benefits, paid time-off and career development.
There are, however, many upsides to an independent contract position such as the opportunity to rub-elbows with individuals in your industry, a flexible schedule and the chance that your work will become long-term if your manager sees that the position needs to be filled permanently.
It can be a smart career move, but don’t get caught without these seven contractor survival tips:
- Separate work and playIf you are an independent contractor who telecommutes from home, make sure that you create an “office space” for yourself. Unfortunately, propping yourself up in bed with a pillow doesn’t count. Instead, set up a professional workspace to make yourself feel like you are in a real office. It will motivate you to concentrate, work more efficiently and avoid interruptions like the sudden urge to do the laundry.
- Set an alarm clock…walking distance from your bedOne of the main struggles for freelancers is not having a set routine. Without a boss eyeing the clock to make sure you arrive on time, it’s easy to fall into a pattern of lazy mornings. Set a specific start and end time to your day and stick to it. When your shift is over, turn off your computer and head “home.” Consistency is key to overcoming the temptations of sleeping in, daytime TV and mindlessly surfing the web.
- Mark your calendarDepending on the amount you earn as a independent contractor, you will generally need to pay either annual or quarterly taxes. If you fall into the latter category, you will learn to despise January 15th, April 15th, June 15th and September 15th. If you aren’t familiar with tax protocol, look into hiring a personal accountant or ask a relative in the industry for support. For contractors, tax day is always just around the corner.
- Better safe than sorryOne downfall in contract work is that self-employed workers do not get healthcare insurance coverage through their employers. Don’t risk getting hit with a five-figure hospital bill just because you did not plan ahead. Check out Freelancers Union to see if your state has applicable coverage. If not, many industry associations offer health coverage too. If you are a student, look into your University’s healthcare options.
- Focus on the benefitsIf money is your motivator, contracting may work in your favor. According to the Wall Street Journal, independent contractors are often paid between 20-40% more than permanent employees. If the employer’s pockets aren’t deep, try to focus on the benefits that they can offer. With today’s rising gas prices, dry-cleaning bills and daycare costs, the ability to set your own schedule and telecommute can make a bigger impact on your wallet than you think.
- Negotiate the contractWhen working as an independent contractor, you need to make sure that your clients can afford you, but most importantly, that you are getting paid adequately for your time and services. When hammering out the initial contract, make sure that your needs are considered. However, it’s a two-way street, so also keep the employer’s needs in mind. Freelancers are used to signing contracts, but many are afraid to negotiate an upgrade even after they have been at the same company for a while. Remember that nothing is set in stone and in this turbulent economy, your needs—and the employer’s capabilities—can fluctuate as well.
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