Talent Development Centre

Category Archives: Independent Contracting

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

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!

Health Insurance for the Independent Contractor – What are your options?

When you make the switch from being a full-time IT employee with a great company to being an independent contractor with your own company, one of the stressful changes you’ll encounter is the loss of health coverage. Especially if you don’t have a spouse with sufficient coverage through their job or if your household medical expenses are relatively high, you want to find a new solution quickly. There are several great health insurance providers available to IT contractors across Canada and we are not providing one specific recommendation, but here are a couple options to help you start your research.

Insurance Plans

Standard health insurance plans, similar to those you received through your employer, are available through suppliers such as Blue Cross, Desjardins and PROLINK. As an incorporated contractor, your business pays a premium and selects a package that covers specific items, suitable for the needs of your employees (you and your family). When an employee needs to make a claim after paying for an appointment or purchasing prescription drugs, they (you) submit it to the insurance company and then get reimbursed.

While the process is easy and familiar, it’s recommended to do the math and research whether an insurance plan makes sense for your IT contracting company. Whether it’s an individual or group insurance plan, like any insurance, premiums can add up quickly depending how much is being claimed. In addition, there’s a good chance that the cost of those premiums include benefits that you are not ever going to use, but because they’re part of the package, you’re paying for them.

Private Health Services Plan (PHSP)

An alterative to regular insurance plans are Private Health Services Plans (PHSPs). These are CRA-approved solutions that allow your business to provide a non-taxable reimbursement for health expenses and claim a 100% tax deduction for the business. Compared to monthly premium plans, PHSPs can be a smart choice. In addition to the tax savings for both you as an individual and your business, they offer more flexibility in benefits. There is a wider range of choices in what you can claim and you only pay for what you do use. This gives you more control over costs and ultimately can lead to significant savings.

While PHSPs can be managed on your own, they require significant reporting and have some detailed rules to them, mandated by the CRA. As such, it is recommended to work through a middle-company, or an administrator, for example Brock Health, Trusted Advisor or PacifictFirst. These organizations will help you set-up and manage the right program for your small company and provide you with the proper reports for your accountant at the end of the year. There is an administration fee — sometimes fixed and sometimes a percentage (which is also charged HST) but this fee is usually much smaller than the premiums you’d pay with health insurance.

The options described above are a couple routes to explore when searching for the right health coverage solution for you and your IT contracting business; however, Eagle does not endorse any specific type or organization. We do strongly encourage you to discuss this further with your accountant and financial advisors. If you have anything to add on this topic based on your own experience, we’d love to hear it! Please let us know in the comments below…

10 Steps to Take Before Becoming an Independent Contractor

Frances McCart By Frances McCart,
Vice-President, Business Development at Eagle

The shift into the “gig economy” in Canada is growing at a very quick rate, especially in the tech sector. More and more people are choosing to become independent contractors and for many good reasons.

  • You decide what you do
  • You decide who you will work for
  • You decide where you should work
  • Opportunity to gain exposure to new work environments with every new contract
  • Exposure to new technologies
  • Exposure to new ways of thinking
  • Freedom to take more time off
  • Opportunity to make a higher income
  • “Potentially” getting away from office politics

With so many people interested in getting on the bandwagon, I am often asked the question “Where do I start?”

The first piece of advice I give to “would be” contractors is to speak to contractors they already know.  Ask them what they like about being an independent contractor and to dig down into what worries them about being independent (ie: not finding a role, too much time off between positions, etc.).

10 Steps to Take Before Becoming an Independent Contractor

Here are 10 additional steps you can take before entering the world of independent contracting:

  1. Risk assessment
    • How long can you afford to be off for between landing gigs?
    • How flexible are you on your rate in order to land a new role and still be financially comfortable?
    • Are you comfortable with uncertainty?
  2. Update your resume – keep in mind you may have to have several different versions depending on the position you are going for.
  3. Set up your company.  While it’s recommended to work through this with an accountant, setting up a corporation is not too difficult.  There are many online guides to point you in the right direction, including a number of resources here on the Talent Development Centre. You’ll also need to get an HST/GST number and set up a corporate bank account.
  4. Consider getting corporate CGL and E&O insurance. You are a corporation and a professional. Not only will this insurance protect you liability-wise, but it can also contribute to proving your independence and help protect you when being audited by CRA.
  5. Set up a website that can act as a resume, complete with testimonials and samples of your work.
  6. Get business cards to market your business and help with networking.
  7. Update your LinkedIn profile and ensure it is tagged, notifying recruiters and would-be employers that you’re seeking new opportunities.
  8. Let your network know you are becoming a contractor and looking for new contract opportunities. Word-of-mouth is a powerful marketing tool, including as an IT contractor.
  9. Align yourself with agencies and get to know them well. Keep them updated as to your status once you land a new role or are becoming available. Ensure you send them an updated resume after each project is completed.
  10. Start networking!! Take every opportunity to get out and meet people. You never know how you will land your next role.

This might seem like a lot to do but it is not. Many contractors have told me that they were reluctant to get into contracting as it seemed daunting to go through the above steps.  However, once they became a contractor and landed their first role, they comment that they should have done this sooner!!

The Benefits of Working Remotely for IT Contractors and their Clients

Crystal Nicol By Crystal Nicol,
Delivery Manager, Eastern Canada at Eagle

Are you looking for a way to improve your work/life balance? Or are you looking for ways to increase your productivity and lower the number of unpaid sick days you have to take? Then maybe the introduction of remote work should be considered. Each day, more and more independent contractors are joining the “working from home” bandwagon.

The reality is that commuters face delays on a regular basis. Whether it’s because buses are late, trains are delayed or cancelled or there is congestion on the roads, it causes our commute times to double or even triple in length. This is one of the strongest reasons why more IT professionals are implementing flexible working schedules and working from home on client projects.

We all know commuting can often be time consuming, stressful and expensive. The modern business model includes more flexibility for their workers. Companies are providing their employees with an incentive to work from home a certain number of days each week, which allows the workers to avoid long commutes and is saving them the transportation costs. So why not do the same for yourself?

In this technological age, even educators are paving the way to learn from home. Students often have the option to listen to seminars remotely or take quizzes online from the comfort of their home. And even though they are doing a large majority of the work from home, they are still successfully graduating, proving that people can be successful from wherever they work.

Many of your clients and their employees are already on board with this way of thinking. An article from WomensPost.ca shows that a 2017 FlexJobs study of 5,500 people found that a work-life balance was critical to the productivity and success of a company. Out of all the survey respondents, 62 percent said they have left or considered leaving a job because of the lack of work flexibility. An even higher response of 66 percent said they were more productive working from a home office as there were less interruptions from coworkers, fewer distractions, less commuter stress, and they were removed from any office politics.

So will you be more productive when working remotely? You’ll be able to work (and therefore bill) extra hours in the time you’re not commuting. The better work-life balance also means you are less likely to get ill in the first place because stress levels are typically lower. And since you are not commuting, you’ll find more time for your activities, such as going to the gym or spending more quality time with your family. According to an article from the Telegraph, a study by Canada Life found that home workers took fewer sick days compared to those based in the office. The study found that employees working in an office took on average 3.1 sick days last year, whilst homeworkers only took 1.8 sick days and employees who have a cold or are mildly sick can still get work done at home, while office workers are more inclined to take the entire day off to avoid leaving the comfort of their home.

There are, of course, some challenges in working from home:

  1. First of all, the job itself must have the necessary tools to allow for remote work.
  2. Secondly, you must be independent and self-directed in order to be productive while working without guidance.
  3. Thirdly, trust is a big factor for this. If there is no trust between you and your client, then they will begin questioning your timesheets and you will lose out on future references.

Personally, I think a mix of both models is best. One in which you work from home on a certain day or days, but otherwise spend time at the client site to connect with the employees and managers for face-to-face meetings and collaboration. Even one or two days out of the work week spent working remotely does wonders for your mental health, morale, and productivity.

The world of work is dramatically changing. In a competitive world, flexible working schedules are creating healthier and happier workers and increasing productivity. The evidence so far suggests that working remotely benefits clients just as much as it benefits their independent contractors.

The Game of Life, Freelancer Edition

Life is a journey, not a destination” — words once spoken by American poet and philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson, and then sang again by Aerosmith in their song Amazing. It’s definitely a journey — a long, unpredictable, sometimes-good-sometimes-bad journey, and independent contractors are not immune to the volatility.

The classic board game “The Game of Life” makes light of the ups and downs of the average life and how single decisions can impact your future, but Freshbooks felt it still doesn’t portray the life of a freelancer so they created this fun infographic. Sure, there are only 23 steps compared to the thousands you’ll have to take in your career, but it still gives an accurate depiction of independent contracting at a high level that’s easy to understand. If you’re exploring a career as an independent IT consultant, then get started by reviewing this infographic and to see what you’re in for.

Obtaining a Federal Government Personnel Security Screening

All companies and organizations perform some sort of background check on employees and independent contractors before hiring them, but the extent of the check will vary. One organization in Canada known for its checks is the Federal Government, which requires nearly everybody who works with its information or assets to go through a degree of security screening. For IT professionals new to the government, this can be a long, intense and confusing process.

Types of Federal Government Security Screenings

As mentioned, nearly every individual who works for the feds will require some sort of security screening. There are a number of types and levels of screens. The one you will require depends on your role, project and information you’re accessing, but it will typically be one of the following 3:

  • Reliability Status (valid for 10 years and required when accessing Protected A, B or C information, assets or work sites)
  • Secret Clearance (valid for 10 years and required when accessing information classified as Secret)
  • Top Secret Clearance (valid for 5 years and required when accessing information classified as Top Secret)

The Federal Government Security Clearance Process

A federal government security screening should begin as soon as you become employed with a company or organization that will require access to protected or classified information. In theory, for independent contractors, that would be as soon as you start working for your own independent business, and your business should be the organization initiating the clearance through its own organization security clearance. However, due to various process and efficiency concerns, independent contractors will often obtain their personnel clearance through a Recruitment Agency, who will start the process as soon as they verify that you’re a potential fit for government contracts.

The complete screening process and all the requirements are extensive and you can find all of the information here. Reliability Status can take as little as 2 weeks where a Secret or Top Secret clearance is usually a minimum of 6 months and up to 2 years or longer. The length of time depends on the history of you and your immediate family, including the countries in which you lived and/or worked. More specifically, the screening will require:

  • Background checks (5-years for Reliability status and 10-years for Secret or Top Secret clearance)
  • Background checks of your immediate family (Secret and Top Secret clearances)
  • Law enforcement inquiry through the RCMP (fingerprinting)
  • Credit check
  • Loyalty check conducted by CSIS (Secret and Top Secret)
  • Passport photos (Top Secret)

Depending on your history, you may also be required to complete out-of-country verifications, interviews, and provide supporting documents.

Federal Government security screenings are owned by the organization who completed the screening. For example, if you received your clearance through your recruitment agency, it’s your agency who holds it. This also means that they have the ability to terminate your clearance when you no longer work with them. To be safe, many recruiters will ask you to complete a form to duplicate your clearance, meaning their agency will also hold your clearance. This way, if your first agency terminates your Reliability Status or Security Screening for any reason, it will still be valid and active through the second agency.

There’s no doubt that Federal Government Security Screenings can often be complex, confusing and frustrating. The best advice for getting through it is to remain as detail-oriented as possible, be prepared, and work with the Company Security Officer who is helping you obtain it. For more information, you can also visit https://www.canada.ca/en/services/defence/nationalsecurity/screening.html.

Workplace Health & Safety for Independent Contractors

You’re an IT professional working at a comfortable desk in a cozy office, what could possibly go wrong? Compared to working on a construction site, very little; however, health and safety hazards exist in offices and still require attention. From slips, trips and falls to mental health to ergonomics, there are health and safety considerations for all office professionals. Independent contractors need to understand their responsibilities and those of their client.

Who’s Responsible for an IT Contractor’s Health & Safety

To start, please note that this post is not intended to provide legal advice in any way. Our goal is to ensure you’re starting the right conversations and discussing any concerns with your lawyer.

According to OHS Canada, clients can’t necessarily “delegate safety”. At the highest level, all clients and companies always have a responsibility to provide basic human rights, including a workplace free of discrimination and harassment. However, specific health and safety responsibilities between clients and independent contractors can be a grey area and there are various legal cases demonstrating the complexities. Each province across Canada has its own variations of their health and safety laws, with all industries and situations having a number of differing variables.

To protect themselves and their employees, it is not uncommon for clients to include their health and safety regulations as part of their contract agreement with all independent contractors. Such documentation could include all of your responsibilities in protecting yourself and others while on the client site, as well as an outline any hazards of which you should be aware while working there. Clients may also conduct background checks before hiring, specifically to ensure that you will comply with all regulations and are not a risk to their business.

If something goes wrong and coverage is required, independent contractors should air on the side of caution and assume that they will require their own coverage. As an example, in Alberta, the Worker’s Compensation Board does not require clients to provide coverage to any incorporated contractor, regardless of whether you have an account with them or not. Just as important, if you hire an employee in your contracting business, you take on additional responsibility and are required to ensure coverage for them as well.

You already know that as an independent contractor you’re not entitled to the same rights as regular employees of a client. It’s important to note on the health and safety side of that, according to this article from WorkHoppers, this includes the right to file complaints for free to the Ministry of Labour. Instead, IT contractors may incur some legal costs involved in the same complaint process.

What Can IT Contractors Do to Ensure Health & Safety?

There are simple steps you can take to ensure a safe workplace, as well as reduce your risk as an independent contractor:

  • Ask questions before and after starting a contract about policies and procedures, ensuring you have a clear understanding of all hazards and expectations.
  • Make suggestions to your client if you notice the work environment could be better. Concerns may be directed to your supervisor, your client’s HR department, or to your recruiter who can further investigate.
  • Ensure you have your own coverage through your provincial workers’ compensation board. For example, WSIB in Ontario or WCB in Alberta.
  • Help maintain the health and safety of your client’s employees. You’re required to follow your client’s on-site regulations (and you should generally act like a decent human being), plus it’s good business practice and failure to do so could cost you future work.
  • Consult with a lawyer if you have any concerns.

Have you come across any health and safety issues or concerns in your IT contracting career? If so, we’d love to learn about them and how they turned out. Sharing your experiences will help other contractors understand and prepare for these dreadful situations.

How to Talk Money with Recruiters

Sam Rahbar By Sam Rahbar,
National Training Manager at Eagle

No one likes to discuss salary or rate, it can be an awkward conversation. But as an IT consultant this is a topic that comes up all the time when discussing contract opportunities with recruiters. Rate conversations can often turn into a long drawn out back and forth between the recruiters and consultants. Here are five tips on how to work with a recruiter to avoid the unnecessary lengthy conversations and land the best rate possible:

  1. Customize your resume. Before applying to the role, make sure to include all your relevant experience related to the provided job description, including the nice to haves. Don’t leave any room for assumptions. Competition is fierce and a customized resume is the first step towards getting a more competitive rate.
  1. Remember, you are on the same team! A recruiter’s primary role is to present the best available candidate with the most competitive rate. Work with your recruiter to find out the top end of the rate and the sweet spot where the client likes to hire at. With VMS companies dictating level playing grounds for all recruiting agencies, these days all recruiters work within the same rate brackets and cannot go above or below a certain percentage. This means all recruiters will compete for the best candidate with the most competitive rate.
  1. Ask about market rate. When it comes to current market rates, recruiters have VIP access! There is no one better to educate you on who is hiring at what rate. This is crucial information when it comes to landing your next gig. Ask your recruiter for current market rates, so you are able to position yourself accordingly.
  1. Be flexible. I hear so many times about great candidates that lost out on opportunities due to not being flexible on a couple of dollars an hour. Clients want the job done with the best quality and most reasonable price. Sometimes that 2-3 dollars an hour can put you in a competitive advantage. And when you calculate 2 dollars an hour over a course of a 6 month contract, after taxes, it does not amount to much. It’s definitely not enough to lose out on a chance to work on a project with a reputable brand.
  1. A new project means a new budget. Different clients will have different budgets based on their industry, type of project and market rates. It is normal to have your hourly rate fluctuate 10 dollars, up or down, depending on the end client and type of project. So try not to use your most recent rate as a hard bottom-line for your next contract because that will potentially limit your options.
  1. Consider the BIG picture. When discussing a new opportunity with a recruiter, make sure to consider all angles: length of the contract, possibility of extension, getting exposed to new technology, or a new type of project under your belt. Think about what the positive effects could do for your marketability long term. There are other factors to consider like your hours, commute, company culture, and perks to name a few.