Talent Development Centre

Tag Archives: behaviour

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

3 Decisions You Should Make When Personal Branding

Your personal brand defines who you are and will have a strong impact on your success as a contractor.  Have you thought much into what your personal brand represents?  It’s never too late to get started, but while you plan it out, here are 3 important things you should decide:

  1. Decide what your personal brand looks like. Perhaps you want to be seen as a professional, accomplished, ambitious contractor. “The way to gain a good reputation is to endeavor to be what you desire to appear” Socrates.  (Clearly this is not a new concept!)
  2. Decide what actions will always support that brand.  Others will associate your decision-about-personal-brandactions to the type of person you want to be.  The following might be examples that support the “professional, accomplished, ambitious” brand.
    1. Dress professionally;
    2. Invest in training – continue to learn;
    3. Take on more responsibility;
    4. Always take accountability and do not look for excuses;
    5. Be a cheerleader. Take on the glass half full attitude;
    6. Look after your health. Stay relatively fit (you don’t need to be an elite athlete) and eat relatively healthy (you don’t need to be a model);
    7. Look for ways to give back to charities, to the industry, to colleagues;
    8. Be a team player.
  3. Decide how you will protect your brand.  You’d hate to go through all of the steps of creating your personal brand, only to jeopardize it with inconsistent actions. Following the same concept, that you want to cultivate, for example the “professional, accomplished, ambitious” brand, here are some don’ts!
    1. Don’t use abusive language in any circumstance when dealing with your clients, especially never in writing.
    2. Don’t let your communication style be “un-business like”. You may use text messaging or IM shorthand with your friends, but business communication should be understandable to everyone;
    3. Casual work days should not mean ratty jeans and well worn sweat shirts. Adopt a smart casual approach (always dress just a little better than you need to);
    4. If you write “stuff” outside of work (blogs, facebook posts, articles etc) you might want to be sure that if your clients read them they would not raise their eyebrows;
    5. Don’t compromise your own principles. Work with clients that have your kind of principles;
    6. Don’t let your personal life encroach unduly into your work life. It’s OK to be proud of your kids, but most clients don’t need a blow by blow of their lives and they certainly don’t want to be dragged into your personal “dramas”.

What are your top branding tips?  Leave us your thoughts below!

Listen AND Read: Two Ways to Differentiate Yourself!

Want to know a secret? Of course you do! Here it is: most people do NOT comprehend what they read, or what they hear, unless it is really basic.

Try it out on a few people.  Send them an email that is a few paragraphs long, contains some facts and a conclusion and see how many of them actually understand it.  You will likely find that more people will fail to understand what you write, than not.

The same goes for some verbal instructions in the normal flow of conversation. Give someTwo people talking people extensive verbal instructions about anything and there will likely be a high failure rate.

Why is this?

  1. Many people have trouble focusing on one thing for any length of time (shiny object syndrome).
  2. People are generally multi-tasking while listening to you (ex. texting, watching sports scores, thinking about their evening, etc.)
  3. We operate in a fast-paced world and people feel that pressure and end up doing a LOT of stuff, with very low QUALITY.

It seems incredulous that all you need to do is actually UNDERSTAND what you hear and what you read in order to stand out as the top contractor at your client site. However, in many cases, that is all it takes!

So how do you take advantage?

  1. Be “in the moment” when you are having conversations.  Really listen to what is said.  Do NOT let your mind wander!
  2. Focus when reading anything. A white paper, a short story, an email or even a tweet.  Do NOT assume you know what it is going to say.  Focus and understand it before you let your brain do other things, such as respond!
  3. When YOU are communicating with others make sure that what you say, and what you write, is very simple to understand.

That’s it! You can quickly differentiate yourself from your peers simply by understanding them.

Are You Thinking Like an Entrepreneur?

David O'Brien By David O’Brien,
Vice-President, Government Services at Eagle

Several years ago I attended a business conference in the US and the keynote speaker, the Founder/CEO of a nationwide Pizza delivery chain, told the story of an early strategic marketing meeting he had with his internal team.  While reviewing advertising dollar spend through the months of the year, he noticed something that struck him as odd and asked something of his team: “Why do we spend so little on advertising in February?” to which his Ivy League educated marketing MBA’s responded “Because nobody buys pizza in February.” After an awkward silence the CEO’s deadpan response was ‘ well no kidding!”

A similar story of entrepreneurial opportunity can be told of the Czecholsovakian born Strategic entrepreneur looking at unsolved puzzleand ultimately Toronto-based one-time business owner, Thomas Bata of Bata Shoes. Before deciding on whether to expand his shoe empire to Africa, he decided on a plan where he and one of his other Senior Executives would embark on an excursion through the continent.  To assess the market, one would travel down the East Coast, the other the West coast and they would meet back in Canada and compare notes.  Upon returning, the Senior Executive basically said “It is hopeless, 90% of the population doesn’t wear shoes, the other 10% wear sandals. We will not sell shoes there.”  Mr. Bata listened and contemplated the Senior Exec’s observations before responding “This is the greatest opportunity in the history of our company, nobody wears shoes there!”

Two tales of how entrepreneurs view opportunity where many others do not.  What do these stories have to do with you? As an independent contractor, you are running a small business and, therefore, are an entrepreneur.  Logically, then, it only makes sense that you also think like an entrepreneur to continue to thrive and grow our business.  If you’re not already, here are just some great reasons to start today and benefits you’ll see:

  • You Will Seize More Opportunities! Like the two stories above, opportunity is everywhere. By thinking like an entrepreneur and grabbing those opportunities, you’ll keep a steady stream of work coming through the door.  For example, there is a lot of vacation in Canada during the dog days summer months of July and August, but clients have projects that don’t go on vacation.  This is a great time to respond to their requirements while others are sitting on the dock.
  • You Will Develop Long-Term Business. Thinking and acting like an entrepreneur means consistent marketing, developing solid business relationships, and living up to contractual commitments in a business-like way to deliver to your client. All of these will go a long way to sustaining and building a long-term business, as opposed to the higher risk path of jumping contract-to-contract.
  • It Will Protect You. Successful entrepreneurs have a marketing plan, website, home office, business plan and messages. These are all very strong indicators to CRA you are not an employee but are a business, and help to reduce your risk at tax time.

The stories above help remind us how easy it is to become successful and find opportunities, simply by looking at a situation from a different point-of-view.  When independent contractors look at themselves as entrepreneurs, they too open the door to many new opportunities.  Do you have an entrepreneurial mind-set with your business or do you just go from one contract to another and hope for the best?  What other opportunities have you reaped from acting like an entrepreneur?  Let us know in the comments below!

Self-Discipline is Your Competitive Advantage

We live in a society where we get quite comfortable in our surroundings, and there is little that we deny ourselves. If we feel like something to eat, we eat, whether we are truly hungry or not. If we want to buy ourselves some treats, clothes, jewelry, electronics or whatever, whether we need it or not, whether it is a special occasion or not, we go ahead and buy it.

There really isn’t anything wrong with that, we just need to be aware of the consequences because there are consequences to EVERYTHING! If we over indulge in food we may put on weight, if we buy too much “stuff” we might get ourselves into debt, etc.

Applying some self-discipline to these situations might make us act a little differently, but again, that is personal choice.

Nothing worth doing is ever easyIt is very easy to let our personal habits take over and that can hurt your productivity, your chances for a contract extension, and even your professional reputation!  Think about this: if you bill for an 8 hour day, and you “waste” 1 one of those hours each day over the course of a 30 day project, you have just charged for 30 hours where you weren’t actually working! Your client will notice and start adding up how much they think you’ve “ripped them off”.

Sure, one hour seems a little extreme, but it’s easy to do without even noticing.  Here are some examples:

  • If you smoke, it’s easy to waste 20 minutes each time you smoke a cigarette. Think about the time it takes to get ready for a smoke, gather your companions, wait for the elevator, go outside, chat, wait for your friends to finish, walk back and get back to work. If you smoke just 3 cigarettes in a day you have easily wasted an hour.
  • If you read the paper at your desk, maybe when you get to the office or at “break”, you might be wasting a half hour of productive time each day.
  • If you surf the Internet for some personal stuff, read online articles and stay on top of news you can easily waste an hour a day.
  • If you are texting your friends while doing your job, you will easily waste time.
  • If you get up and go for coffee/water every hour or so, stop and chit chat for a couple of minutes, maybe stop at the washroom, then that could be 10 minutes every hour, or more than an hour every day!

These kind of behaviours can become the “norm” especially when you look at the behaviour from some of the full-time staff around you, but contractors don’t have the same benefits as full-time staff (for example many unionized environment have mandated breaks). Clients have different expectations for contractors and expect to pay only for hours worked.  Productivity is a big reason organizations hire independent contractors.  Think of it in terms of when you hire a lawyer, rates are high and you expect your lawyer to bill you for every minute they work – nothing more.

Discipline is an old fashioned word that could help you to be a better contractor. DON’T give up your competitive advantage.  CHOOSE to be productive! Look at the top producers in your network and emulate them. Choose to stop doing the things that hurt your productivity. Choose to be very focused with your time, DO only the things that will bring value. WORK at being successful. That means giving up bad habits and investing in new ones!

All of that takes SELF-DISCIPLINE. Have you got what it takes?  Everyone can strive to be better and enjoy the “wins” along the way. The personal satisfaction you get from self-improvement, from recognition and from the resulting opportunities are the rewards for this kind of approach.

Take an honest look at how you are spending your time.  Is there room for improvement?  Any change, however small, will have a positive impact.  So start working on improving your competitive advantage!

Contractor Best Practices

Establishing a strong business presence is an important step to ensuring both you and your Independent Contractor business is protected.  It helps to think of your business in terms of two different contexts: the business structure and your behaviour as the business owner.  Below are some tips to help you establish your business presence:

Structural Tips

  1. Business woman bookeepingHire a professional accountant to ensure you’ve properly set up your incorporation
    • Keep detailed records
    • File proper tax returns
  1. Set-up a separate business banking account.
  2. Maintain appropriate expenses
    • Determine in advance what is billable to your client and what will be considered a business expense
    • Keep mileage logs, as well as any home office bills
    • Determine legitimate business expenses, such as your website, marketing costs, etc.
  1. Risk of loss is a key differentiator
    • Is there risk of loss in your contract with your staffing agency?
    • Maintain your own business E&O insurance (talk to Eagle about how to acquire this insurance for $21.00 per month)
  1. Leverage opportunities for more profit through more hours
  2. Discourage your agency, or client, from mandating your hours of operation at a client site
  3. Avoid numbered companies and name your corporation.

Behavioural Tips

  1. Act like a business, not an employee
  2. Avoid the 9 to 5 workday – vary your hours at a client site.
  3. Avoid politics and people issues at a client site
    • Don’t partake in the water-cooler chatter
    • If something, or someone, is in the way of completing your mandate, focus on the issue, not the person
  1. Don’t expect to attend your client’s social gatherings or events such as the annual holiday party. If you do participate, pay to attend  and use the opportunity to network
  2. Take on additional contracts with multiple clients, even if only part-time
  3. Invest in regularly upgrading your skills through training activities paid by your incorporated business.
  4. Bring your own tools to a client site – laptop, office supplies, etc.
  5. Maintain a company internet profile.
    • Website
    • LinkedIn company page
    • Facebook company page
    • Corporate Twitter account
  6. Advertise
    • Maintain your own business cards
    • Maintain a listing in various directories (i.e. Yellow Pages)
    • Consider sponsorship advertising opportunities

Lastly, if you do get audited, let your staffing agency Recruiter know about it. While there are no guarantees, the industry association might be interested in getting involved.

If you have other tips or advice, please share them in the comments below.