As a contractor, it is highly likely that you will find yourself “on the bench” at some point. And it can be a tough time. Trust me, I know from my own experience. The real secret to being “on the bench”, though, is to follow some simple rules to maintain perspective and to keep making progress.
- Think long term rewards, not short term risks You became a contractor for a reason. What was that reason? Was it to earn more money? Was it to escape the shackles of being a “permie”? Was it because you wanted more freedom? It can be easy to forget why you became a contractor and being “on the bench” is a good time to remind yourself.
- Keep a diary of what you are doing each day towards getting your next contract Studies have shown time and time again that having a concrete goal and recording the steps that you take each day towards that goal tends to produce higher levels of success. It doesn’t have to be complicated, either. I have a document open on my desktop and each day I enter the date and make single line notes underneath whenever I do anything positive towards getting my next contract such as, “Spoke to Joe Bloggs at Agency Ltd and forwarded through my CV” or “Spent 30 minutes browsing job listings and submitted three applications”. The purpose of this is two-fold. Firstly, it allows you to demonstrate to yourself (and possibly to your friends and family) that you are actually doing something (even if it doesn’t feel as though you have anything to show for it) and, secondly, the next time you are “on the bench”, it will remind you what you had to do to get your last contract.
- Re-frame being “on the bench” It is easy to forget one of the fundamentals of contracting. When you are “on the bench” you are still working. Searching for a contract is a type of work. You’re effectively employing yourself to do marketing and market research for either your personal brand (if you are a sole trader) or your company (if you contract through a private limited company). And how about this for an additional shift in your perspective? You’re actually getting paid to search for your next contract. The work that you are doing now will result in your next contract which will pay for the time that you had “on the bench”. The real contract rate that you secure for your next contract is not the contract rate for the days you work for your next client. It’s the number of days that you will work for your next client divided by that number of days plus the number of days it took you to find the contract. (So remember to negotiate hard when you get to that point.)
- Do something else with your time Submitting CVs, speaking to agents, scouring job listings. It can be soul-destroying. So I have a simple rule, I avoid spending more than an hour in the morning, and an hour in the afternoon looking for contracts. I tend to schedule that time early, as well. (“Eat a live frog every morning, and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.” Mark Twain) If an agent contacts me, or if I am called for interview, great, I will spend as much time as required but apart from that I am pretty strict with my time. The beauty is that I get to spend the other 4-6 hours of the working day doing stuff that I really enjoy. If you do that, you will keep your spirits high; and by keeping your spirits high, you will approach the CV writing, speaking to agents, and scouring job listings with higher levels of enthusiasm which further improves your chances of being selected.
- Exercise (or at least get out of the house) If you are “on the bench” you will naturally be spending a lot of time at the computer. If you are a contractor, that might not be unusual but if you are used to working at client sites, you might just catch “cabin fever” spending that much time in your own study. I have a simple rule; I get out of the house for at least 1 hour a day. Typically, that means going to the gym or taking the dog for a walk but equally it could mean going shopping or taking some rubbish to the tip. It doesn’t have to be spectacularly interesting; you just have to get out of the house.
Peter Roy is a freelance project manager and personal productivity trainer.
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