You can’t be a contractor without a contract, but how to secure one? To have a really successful business, you’re going to need to learn some sales and marketing skills to get yourself noticed and win some contracts. It takes hard work and commitment to ensure you have minimal gaps between contracts and to ensure you get a fair pay rate.
Before you start looking for contracts, ensure you have a good, up-to-date business profile (this is a contractor’s version of an employee’s CV which should be concise and bullet-pointed with key information presented clearly on the first page) and you know your contract rate (this will be based on your industry, skills, experience and qualifications), especially your minimum rate so you know when to say no.
Most contractors will source their contracts from a recruitment agency, at least at some point in their career. With every job post however, there may be hundreds of applicants, which is why it is crucial to have a great business profile in order to stand out from the crowd.
The first step is to submit your business profile to a variety of agencies and job sites so that your information is available to any searching recruiters who might just have a matching contract available.
When applying for specific contracts, you should target your business profile and email to each contract you go for: quality over quantity maximises the chances of each application and thus your efforts. Chase up on every application by calling the agent to get yourself noticed, don’t just wait for a recruiter to call you. Make a few calls before counting your losses and moving on.
Once you’ve made it to an interview with the recruiting agent, remember to act professionally and negotiate your rate if it is not suitable to your level of skill.
All marketing starts with a plan. Writing down a detailed plan with specifics and timeframes is the best way to ensure committed and ongoing promotion of your business. Know what you are going to do, when you are going to do it and how much time you can realistically give to spend on it.
One of the differences between marketing a big company and a limited company contractor, is that, when it comes to marketing, you and your business are one and the same. Networking is a great way to speak directly with potential clients and make an impression but remember that first impressions count. Many will find this style of marketing intimidating but careful preparation is the key to survival:
Social media used to be seen as a teenage phenomenon but business influencers saw its potential as a business tool long ago. Nearly every business from hobby crafters to global conglomerates have a social media presence, because it allows direct interaction with clients on a less formal and thus less ‘aggressive’ basis. It also allows people to demonstrate their skills, knowledge and interests without forcing anyone to watch or listen. There are a number of platforms from which to launch your social media marketing with the business market dominators being Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.
Instagram can also be useful but mainly if your product is visual. Choose those which may actually be useful, i.e. if nobody in your industry really uses Facebook as a business tool, it is probably not going to warrant much, if any, of your time. Twitter and LinkedIn are often good choices for contractors, with so many possible connections via Twitter and the ability to build a professional portfolio to showcase on LinkedIn.
In order to build a successful campaign, you must first develop a plan. Know how much time you can commit to spending on social media, which sites to use and what you are going to do with them. There’s no use just setting up an account, you must be proactive:
The key to social media marketing is regular and consistent engagement combined with great content. The biggest mistake made by businesses starting a social media campaign is giving up too early, so commit to it and with time and a clever approach, it will pay off.
For many contractors, especially those working in trades such as IT, it can be nothing but beneficial to have a web presence, other than social media. You don’t have to pay thousands for a glamorous multi-page website with flashing images and videos (although if you are a web designer, you might want to consider your website as an example of your work), but can be as simple as a professional single page site with your business profile and contact details, and preferably some testimonials from previous clients. If you are not keen on a website, a blog is just as effective, but this takes a little more commitment as you will need to update it regularly with original content. Having a website has never been easier and more affordable with basic hosting packages and free website designers such as WordPress and Google’s Blogger allowing anyone to get themselves online.
Once you have landed your contract, maintain relationships with clients and retrieve testimonials for use on LinkedIn and your webpage, and don’t forget to get your contract reviewed for IR35!