It’s interesting, even to myself, how contracting has changed my perceptions of labor over the last few years.
When I started contracting, I didn’t act any differently from the employee I was used to being the prior years of my career. I generally came in the same hours, spoke to the same people, attended the same meetings, and did similar tasks. However, there was a seed in the back of my mind that I was now working for myself and the company was a customer. A crucial difference, now being able to say “Why would I go to the company party? I don’t work here.” It’s like when you meet your boss for the first time in the interview, and he’s just a normal guy like any other. Eventually that feeling turns to “my boss” but if you’re a contractor it’s “my customer” and he’s still just a normal guy.
It’s become a strange concept to me that a company can control your comings and going. I know it happens because I see it happen to others, and I remember it happening to me when I was an employee. I used to have boring days where I would sit there and watch the clock until I could go home. That thought now evokes images of outrage, and slavery. How can someone else tell you, a human being, where you can and can’t go, or when you can do it? I used to complain that I’d have to sit there if I had nothing to do. Now, it’s my own time. Once my customer is happy with my progress, I go do something else. Sometimes work for another customer. Sometimes I keep working for them, but at my own office.
There is no longer a line between work and home. My job for the client is to ensure they are happy with the services I provide so they continue to be a customer. I don’t complain about working nights or weekends if I need to, because all the time is my own to begin with. Time is not relevant, only the assigned work is.
Similarly, there’s no issue of doing the minimum work to get by, because I’m not working for someone else directly. I’m providing a customer with a service, and of course when running my own company I will do the best job possible.
I could never go back to being an employee. The feeling of freedom working for yourself is like the feeling of being alive.
Here’s some random tips to help out other contractors or potential contractors.
1. The employer will act outraged, shocked, and/or feign ignorance of the various costs and taxes when they hear your price. But it’s just a negotiating tactic to pay you less. Knowing the facts, showing you know them, and not backing down directly equates to more money
2. Not all employers understand the laws or differences between contractors and employees. When I first started contracting I thought of the differences in terms of the law, but now I just think of the differences in what I am willing to work for a customer.
For example, if the company insists that you be there certain hours although you have nothing to do that day, you can say “My monthly fee is for roughly a month of tasks. While I don’t charge less for months where I have less to do, neither do I charge more when I have more to do. I’m happy to stay, but I’ll be billing hourly and this will cost you more in the long run, especially during crunch time.”
3. If helps if you make so much money or are in so much demand that you don’t need a particular customer or job, and are therefore able to drive harder bargains and set your own terms. Having your own business makes much more money than being an employee, and after a few years you tend to reach this point.
4. Flying around the country invokes a very real time and cost to you, that is hidden to the customer. A two hour flight takes three or four hours each way when you count check-in and the drive to the airport. At the end of the day you’re probably not going to be doing much other than watching TV in a hotel. And you get nothing for the unpleasantness of sitting in an airplane.
Jobs where I didn’t charge for this time made me unhappy in retrospect, four days of effort for two days of pay. However, jobs where I did charge (a discounted rate) for this time made the customer unhappy, especially as I didn’t charge for that time previously. I can see their viewpoint – you are charging more than they make themselves just to sit on a plane and do nothing useful for them. The approach I’ve taken now is to just bill more for short-term contracts. Although, even at the rates I charge ($125 an hour) it still isn’t worth my time or effort financially. I think of it as a necessary support effort I provide for licensing fees I’ve already made, rather than a source of income.