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Do you need to change everything to succeed as a contractor in 2020?

How contractors can adapt to survive and even thrive in challenging times

I seem to be starting every article with some reference to COVID-19, recessions, IR35 reform, Brexit and general doom and gloom. As depressing as this is, no one can hide from the fact that the contractor market is rapidly changing and those who stand still will get left behind. Certainly, there’s no debating that those who evolve with the times have a much better chance of succeeding. He may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but Mark Zuckerberg said… 

“The biggest risk is not taking any risk” 

In my book, he’s spot on. Not that changing is a risk, but trying some new things just might reap some rewards.

But what do contractors need to change to keep off the bench? I don’t have all the answers right here, but I do intend to raise some points that are food for thought. We’ll be talking more specifically about tactics for surviving and thriving in an upcoming webinar that you can check out here.

So about that food for thought…

Winning work

Due to approaching IR35 reform, will finding work through recruitment agencies still form the bedrock of most contractors’ route to market? Or is winning work directly from clients a more viable option? Assuming the latter feels more aligned with an outside IR35 status, contractors will need to look at sourcing projects in the same way that most businesses do. Sales and marketing strategies will need to be developed, LinkedIn must become more of a sales tool (with an investment in Business Premium or Sales Navigator), and repeat business will become prized rather frowned upon.

Contractor CVs

Will a traditional job seeker style of CV be appropriate come April 2021? Maybe, but maybe not. Perhaps the CV that a contractor sends to recruiters will differ from the document that is pitched to a client directly. There’s no hiding from the fact that an average CV really doesn’t help the outside-IR35 cause, but sending a client a portfolio of client assignments just might.

There are alternatives to a traditional job seeker style CV that can be explored.

Collaboration

Affiliates, joint ventures, partnerships and referral programmes are all stalwarts of most company’s marketing strategy but often aren’t even on the radar of contractors. Will this change, given the state of the market? Without doubt, IR35 draws reference to being able to ‘substitute’, so there’s one tick in the box for collaboration. But will we see contractors form mini professional services outfits that can take on broader assignments that require different skills sets? It seems an obvious way forward to me, but I haven’t seen much evidence of this happening just yet. 

Securing work through word of mouth and networking is unequivocally a great tactic. Granted, it takes time to develop relationships, but building a network of people who can feed you opportunities is a great strategy and means you won’t over-rely on recruiters. Formalising a systematic network building, lead nurturing and thought leadership strategy will most definitely pay dividends if you know how to do this effectively. 

Obviously, all these things are great in theory, but as Bananarama famously sang: It ain’t what you do it’s the way that you do it.” And in my opinion, learning how to do these things might just be the difference between failure and success as a contractor in these challenging times.

To delve into the finer points of contractor CVs, IR35, LinkedIn, winning direct work and more, why not join our free 3-hour contractor winning-work workshop on the morning of Friday 27th November or a lite version on the evening of November 19th During this session, we will show you how to do many of the things mentioned in this article. We are billing this as ‘The Most Comprehensive Contractor ‘Winning-Work’ Workshop Ever’, which you can learn more about by clicking here.

Matt Craven is founder of The CV & Interview Advisors, experts in personal branding and winning-work in the contract market.

By Matt Craven, The CV & Interview Advisors

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