Talent Development Centre

Category Archives: Independent Contracting

All Talent Development Centre posts for Canadian technology contractors relating to independent contracting.

3 Keys to Success in IT Consulting

Sam Rahbar By Sam Rahbar,
National Training Manager at Eagle

I have been working in the Technology/Talent space in Canada for the past 13 years. I love it! It is an ever-changing scene — new technologies pop up monthly. Many are fads and disappear, while some stay and become a trend, evolve and make their way into enterprise environments.

About a year and a half ago, I wrote about How to Stand out as an IT Consultant, which focused on the job search and included specific tips to differentiate yourself during the job search and in interviews. In this post, I want to itemize the keys to a successful career as an IT consultant.

Success has a different meaning to different people. To some, it could be growth and promotion, while to others it means hitting a specific $X Salary/Rate, working for a big name brand or opening their own start-up.

Regardless of the definition, here are my thoughts on the key elements to success in IT Consulting:

  1. Specialty/Niche:IT consulting is all about Specialties. Above and beyond the primary skills required for the job such as design/development or project management, there are other aspects to the role that you should plan, prepare and strategize for:
    • INDUSTRY (Fintec, Telco, Gaming…) Do you have any prior knowledge, experience or feelings towards an industry? Do any of their products/services feel close to home for you? Which one do you care for more than others? The closer you feel to the product and offering the least it will feel like a chore/work.
    • SIZE (Enterprise, Midsize, Start-up…) With different sizes come different cultures. Where do you see yourself fit in best? Do you care for a foosball table in the lounge? Or do you like to work in a team of 50? Some do, some don’t. Put some extra thoughts into what you target and what you can bring to any of those environments.
    • PROJECT (Development, Migration, Compliance, Operations…) This is a no brainer. Candidates who have had a project focus throughout their career are often preferred over candidates that have a bit of everything.
  2. Life time Learning:The Tech Industry evolves fast, sometimes too fast for its own good! Think about your niche. Is it going to be applicable/relevant 5 years from now? How often does it get upgraded? Are you keeping up to date? How are you setting yourself up to make sure that you are marketable if/when that tech is being phased out? And yes, there are folks out there who still work with CICS/COBOL but how many technologies are out there that last that long?! Try to name another technology you are using that’s 49 years old!
  3. Network:As a Consultant/IT Professional you need to network all the time. As you never know:
    • When your contract could abruptly end; or,
    • If you are standing in front of the next hiring manager!

As a Consultant you need to invest in your brand and network. You should aim to leave a great taste with every client you work with, as they can be your next clients’ neighbour! As well, you need to build a relationship with multiple recruiters because not all agencies/recruiters work on the same types of clients/opportunities.

Being an IT Consultant means that you are a business owner and always have an eye out in the market to see what is out there, as everything has an end date attached to it.

Hustle should never end!

 

Expenses and Tax Deductions for Canadian Businesses

April 30th is coming faster than you think so if you’re not already thinking about taxes, it’s time to start. While we always recommend working with a professional to do your books, it’s also wise to have a good understanding yourself.

Knowing which expenses you can claim and how to do it is valuable year-round, and makes tax season less stressful on you and your accountant. This video posted by Answer W Bradley (a Retirement Planner from Ottawa) provides a general list of deductible business expenses for Canadian small businesses. You can also see the complete list and explanations here.

The Best Music to Listen to While Programming

Yesterday, we shared a post about the benefits of listening to music at work, along with some etiquette tips for listening at the office. Whether or not productivity will actually improve varies from person-to-person, but one thing is for certain, music can be great in any profession, including programming. Of course, as yesterday’s article touched on, science has proven that different types of music are better for different jobs.

An article by jaxenter says that instrumental music is best for programming so you don’t get caught up singing along to your favourite Queen song. They also suggest that white noise is a good alternative when you need something in the background.  The article provides some links to ideal programming music, and so does this post by codingSupply. If you don’t feel like clicking through, then look no further than below and hit play on this video from Max Swineberg. It’s a mix with no vocals or complex beats, and has only instrumental ambient electronic music. Probably not the best tune for a wedding dance, but perfect for programming!

Working Through the Contract Extension Process

Morley Surcon By Morley Surcon,
Vice-President Strategic Accounts & Client Solutions, Western Canada at Eagle

Your contract term is coming to an end, but there’s still work left to be done… or maybe there’s another project for which you’d be a strong fit… or, perhaps, the company at which you are working is cash strapped and may not be in a position to consider an extension to your contract. All these scenarios and others may be playing out for you. There are so many possible outcomes, not to mention all of the “opportunities” at other companies that begin to pop up.

What’s a contractor to do?

As an independent incorporated contractor, you are running a business. You want to do what’s best for your business, so your options must be considered based on a number of different (and sometimes competing) aspects – financial concerns, your company’s image, branding, reputation, and the interest of staff members (you). Also, you must balance all this with what’s in the best interest of your business partners and clients. After all, repeat business relies on leaving your customers satisfied. A bad reputation will propagate as people familiar with a tough situation move between companies.

Tricky scenarios pop up frequently around extension time. The following are some ideas that may make the road less bumpy:

  • Communication and transparency are key. Be open, honest and professional when speaking with your onsite supervisor and your agency partner (if there is one involved). Share your hopes, fears and interests clearly and try to remove the emotion that you might be feeling to get the best results/response. (To help with the emotion part, see the point below) Also, it is important to let all sides know if you are applying to new roles and, if it is really what you want, communicate your sincere interest in staying/receiving an extension. Everyone involved wants to avoid a situation where an extension is offered and refused due to a surprise job offer from elsewhere.
  • Start communicating early. For longer term contracts, begin a conversation with your recruiter and supervisor as much as 6, or even up to 8, weeks in advance of your contract ending. Challenges are much easier to manage if all parties have time to properly manage. If it is clear that there will be no extension, your recruiter might even be able to find you your next role and help to manage the transition from the current one.
  • If you have competing offers, my advice is to give priority to the project or client on which you are currently working. All things being considered, they are likely counting on you to see things through to the end. No amount of “knowledge transfer” will make up for losing a key member of their team. Leaving to take another role elsewhere risks your reputation and that can have long term impact to future job prospects.
  • If there will be an extension and there is a legitimate case for a rate increase, I highly recommend that you speak first with your Recruiter. There are several reasons for this. First, the Recruiter may know of opportunities or challenges concerning rate increases of which you aren’t aware. Second, companies often have a formalized process for rate increase requests and expect them to be followed. Again, your recruiter will know how to do this. Third, your recruiter will be able to help you build your case. They know what arguments might carry more weight with the customer. And, fourth, your Recruiter can have an unemotional and very candid business conversation with the customer avoiding any hurt feelings that might negatively impact your ability to work with the client going forward.
  • Be flexible. As described earlier, a business decision will have competing issues to consider. There may need to be give and take required to get the best overall result.
  • Whichever decision you make, be sure to manage your relationships with professionalism and tact; and give your best effort to mitigate any negative repercussions as much as possible. It will be noted by those observing such things and will help keep your reputation whole.

Whatever decision you make, be sure to manage your relationships with professionalism and tact; and give your best effort to mitigate any negative repercussions as much as possible.  It will be noted by those observing such things and will help keep your reputation whole.  And, remember the importance of having a positive reference on your most recent contract – the saying in the industry goes: “You are only as good as your last project reference.”  This is a good statement to keep in mind as you are exiting a project.

Quick Poll Results: Is Onboarding Easy for IT Contractors?

As an independent contractor, you experience more “first days” in your career than a typical permanent employee. That means, you’ve probably seen the best of onboarding and the worst of it. Some IT contractors arrive at a new client site to see all paper work finalized, workstation set-up and a complete plan prepared allowing you to get started right away. And other times… not so much.

Given the onboarding process can be an indication of how your new project will play out, it’s in everybody’s best interest to get it right. Although a large chunk of this is beyond your staffing agency’s control, we’re always eager to make it run as smoothly as possible.

In last month’s contractor quick poll, we asked you how smoothly the onboarding process generally is based on your experiences. We had a good number of responses which in turn, provides great input for our industry and our clients. Only about a third of respondents said that their onboarding is almost always smooth.

 

Quick Poll Results - How Smooth is the Onboarding Process?

An IT Contractor’s Field Guide to the Most Frustrating Clients

We all love clients. They give us interesting work, innovate to move technology and services forward, and, of course, pay us. But let’s be honest, some clients are easier than others, especially as an IT contractor.

One of our favourite videos uses humour and exaggeration to highlight annoying clients and the struggles subject matter experts sometimes go through while working on a project. This infographic from Ciplex does an equally good job of picking out the quirks of 15 different types of clients. As a bonus, they also give some advice for navigating your way around them and best serving them.

An IT Contractor's Field Guide to the Most Frustrating Clients

Discussing Your Rate with Colleagues is Rarely Ever a Good Idea

Cameron McCallum By Cameron McCallum,
Regional Vice President at Eagle

Money never made a man happy yet, nor will it. The more a man has, the more he wants. Instead of filling a vacuum, it makes one. –Benjamin Franklin

I can’t count the number of times throughout my career that I have been approached by a contractor asking for an immediate increase to their hourly rate mid-contract. And when asked what has changed, the reason was not that the role had morphed into a more senior position with added responsibilities. Instead, it turned out that the contractor had discussed rates with a colleague and found out that there was discrepancy in rates and they were not earning as much as the individual sitting next to them on the project. While it is tempting to be a party to these conversations, in fact they can have serious negative consequences. Ask yourself the following questions next time you run into this scenario:

  1. Do you really have the complete story? There are so many variables that determine a contract rate and there is no way that you will likely ever have the complete story. Contract rates are based on project budgets and there can be ranges between rates for the same position. A hire early on in the process might have had access to a bigger pot but if you are hired last, there may have been less money left. Perhaps the person you are comparing yourself to had a history with the client and they were willing to pay more to get them. I’ve also seen a client hire a number of “senior” resources at a higher rate and then determine that they need to add someone but change the category to “intermediate” with lower rates. And are you completely certain that your colleague is telling you the truth. Some people feel very uncomfortable having this conversation and they may feel inclined to embellish the truth. The point is, we often end up making assumptions without having the full story.
  2. Didn’t you sign a contract? A contract is a contract and when you sign a legal document agreeing to the terms and conditions that exist within that contract, the expectation is that you will. Make sure you do the heavy lifting up front. Just as any business owner/operator should do, ask questions so that you understand completely and have considered everything about the role you are potentially signing up for, not just the qualifications needed, the end client or the duration and rate. You are running a business and ultimately are responsible for the decisions you make to accept or decline an opportunity. Can you imagine the contractor who has agreed to renovate your kitchen coming to you in the middle of the renovation demanding more money because they’ve heard that a fellow contractor got more money for doing a kitchen down the block. They wouldn’t and for good reason!
  3. Are you thinking long term? Trying to renegotiate your contract in the middle demonstrates short term thinking and rarely turns out positive. You risk destroying relationships and burning bridges, something I have witnessed countless times. Instead, before you act on your assumptions, go back to the reasons you accepted the contract in the first place — the technology, the location, the duration, whatever it was that made it attractive. Think about the valuable relationships you’ve forged with your Recruiter, the client and your colleagues on the project. Then think about what delivering a successful outcome will mean when you are pursuing your next project. The more you build your reputation as a professional and the more you are associated with positive project outcomes, the easier it is to negotiate higher rates for future contracts.

I believe that if you want to make more money, the trick is to be patient, think like an entrepreneur, be professional and good things will happen. So next time, instead of getting caught up in the moment and feeling like someone has taken advantage of you, don’t lose track of the end goal.

The Secrets to Building a Successful IT Contracting Business

The Secret to Building a Successful IT Contracting BusinessIT Contractors have a cyclical challenge of finding new gigs and competing to win business. While the tasks never get easier, they can certainly seem simpler when you have the routine down to an art. When you already know what to do, where to go, and how to separate yourself from the others, it allows you to get faster wins, better serve your clients and, ultimately, charge higher rates!

To start, you need to know where to find IT contract opportunities. Indeed, your favourite recruiters and go-to job boards are sure to have some for you, but there are often additional gigs out there waiting to be found, you’re just not hearing about them. Simple Programmer published an article a few months back explaining how you can find freelance jobs that are not advertised by including these four simple concepts:

  • Talk to People: Hang out with the kind of people you want to work with at meetups, industry events, conferences, etc. Look for people in a similar role and company you’d like to work at and who are using the technologies you want to use. From there, avoid selling yourself but talk to them and build conversations.
  • Put Yourself Out There: Make sure people know what you are up to and what you are interested in. This means sharing relevant content on social media or a blog, and simply talking to like-minded professionals about what you do. The more you put yourself out there and start conversations, the more luck you have!
  • Build a Reputation: The author of the article puts it best — “Once you have the chance to work with a client and help them achieve the results they want (or better), this will lead them to tell other people about you. The other people will want those results too, and they’ll come to you when their business needs you.
  • Skip the Competition: When you hang out with your target customers and position yourself as a solution, you’ll no longer be one of 100 people who bid on a gig. You’ll be the professional they already know and trust!

The final two points are crucial to building your IT contracting business finding tech gigs with less effort, but also the most challenging to accomplish. Building that solid reputation will get you more business and allow you to bill at a premium, but you will not do it tomorrow. The good news is, Dice has some suggestions to get you there:

  • Use SOWs to Measure and Track Your Performance: If your client doesn’t already have one, work with them to create a statement of work with specific deliverables, timelines and schedules. Regularly review it and demonstrate how you’re meeting or exceeding expectations.
  • Connect Your Role to the Bigger Picture: Understand the strategic value of a project and work to make suggestions that add value. Reducing costs, decreasing errors and producing more code are all examples of how you can go above and beyond.
  • Document Your Achievements and Attributes: Keeping a regular journal of your accomplishments, conducting end-of-assignment interviews, and getting testimonials is a solid way to get your next contract. These referrals and reviews can be included in your resume, personal website or social networks and will do wonders in your job search.

Building an independent contracting business is hard enough, and getting to a point where you minimize the amount of time you spend searching for jobs is even harder. However, when you put in the work and continue to maintain those efforts, you’ll understand why so many senior IT professionals would never look back from their contracting lifestyle.

2018 in Review: Business and the Workplace

Independent contracting is no regular type of employment. On top of ongoing skills development and job searching, you have to worry about the rest of your business – accounting, taxes, marketing, networking, navigating relationships with recruiters, building your reputation… the list goes on!

If you’re drinking your coffee today and stressing over some of these areas (actually, even if that doesn’t sound like you at all right now), have a look through the list of posts below. Today, we compiled the top posts of 2018 that are related to running a business, navigating the workplace, and keeping an overall professional image.

Enjoy!

Working with Staffing Agencies

Life as a Contractor

Workplace Tips

How Mesh Wi-Fi can Improve Your Home Office

The cool part about an IT contractor’s home office is that it doesn’t need to be an “office”. With the right Wi-Fi connection and proper equipment, you could work at a desk, but you can also get work done in the living room, kitchen or even your back deck! That wireless network is crucial, though. Slow speeds can mean trouble connecting to client sites, patchy VoIP calls, and overall less productivity.

There are a few different solutions to boosting your Wi-Fi signal at home, but according to this video from TechQuick, Mesh Networks are ideal. Why? Watch the video and find out. It may not be too late to add one to your holiday wishlist!