“What do you do?” It’s an interesting and intriguing question these days, considering where I started, where I am now and what happened in between.
What is the motivation to stay permanent, to go contracting or freelance, or start a business? What skills are needed? What should you be aware of before taking the leap out of permanent employment into the contracting world or starting your own business?
I started in bids as many of us do – by accident. Trained in journalism, communication and English, I wanted to work in Marketing or Organisational Communication; I wasn’t expecting to end up writing bid responses. I started as Sales Support to two Sales Managers at a busy business travel company. We formed a close-knit team. Both Sales Managers were hands-on as far as developing solutions and responses went, and I owe my colleague, Joanne, a debt of gratitude for teaching me how to develop customer-centric responses. It was a ferociously busy place to be for almost three years, with long nights and occasionally silly hours but there was always a sense of ‘team’ and mutual support.
- Skills: a sense of humour, commitment to being part of a team, enthusiasm, willingness to work long hours, ability to transfer complicated information into something clear and concise, tenacity, ability to set boundaries.
- Prepare for: being expected to leap in and plug the gap at a moment’s notice, rollercoaster emotions as you shift from one bid to the next, exhaustion, feeling undervalued and underpaid.
- Motivations: wanting to be part of a team, job security, opportunities for career progression, known salary and benefits, paid holidays.
I then met my husband, an analyst developer contracting in IT, who was sure there was more scope and more money available to me in the contracting world. I said I didn’t know whether contracting existed in bids. It turned out it did. I was terrified, signing up for something impermanent (my first contract was a nine-month maternity cover role) and uncertain. I did take the leap though, contracting for close to 11 years (including two patches of maternity leave) and developed my skills, grew an amazing network of colleagues and friends and loved the change of scenery and challenges that came with each new opportunity.
- Skills: in addition to what’s needed for being permanent – bidding experience, motivation, ability to learn quickly and ask questions, confidence in yourself, being able to deal with people at any organisational level, willingness to take chances, professionalism, an understanding of how small the industry actually is, developing good relationships with recruiters.
- Prepare for: not finding a contract immediately, ups and downs between contracts, needing to find your feet quickly, being left to do the work after the permies go home, listening to complaints, self-doubt, getting paid more (and needing to be better at financial planning and budgeting – there’s no sick leave or holiday pay as a contractor), learning about things you didn’t know existed, fewer opportunities for career development/training, the opportunity to form an incredible network of people, keeping up with relevant legislation (e.g. IR35, taxes and running a company), paying for insurances and technology. Also be prepared for some animosity from permanent employees who may see you as trying to show them up.
- Motivations: more money, opportunities to work on interesting proposals and projects across multiple sectors, varied challenges, less office politics, freedom to take time out for travelling or anything else.
Moving to freelancing from the comparative safety of contracting was a shock, although it suited me from a work-life balance perspective at the time. Freelancing is as close as it gets to running your own business (but without employing anyone or subcontracting work out). You are totally free to say when you are available and what hours you want to work, and it really is up to you to take on a role or opportunity. I was also exposed to a wider variety of roles.
- Skills: as for contracting.
- Prepare for: as for contracting and add in the potential for a bigger dose of uncertainty, a wobblier cash flow, sometimes needing to work extra hours to balance things.
- Motivations: better work-life balance, more flexibility, the ability to pick your jobs.
A year ago, I decided to pursue my passion – bid content libraries. Having contracted for a decade and dealt with the challenges of outdated and at times no information, I decided I’d leap into the unknown and specialise in providing something I believe will improve the way bid teams function. Thanks to developing that network of contacts and experience across a wide range of industry sectors as a contractor, and finding I have a previously unknown knack for sales, I am doing something I really love and believe in. I get to work with people across a range of sectors and with professionals who freelance in the world of bids who can fill in when I am maxed out. Maybe one day there will be an office with a team of people… Running a business provides you with endless potential for charting your own path – decide what you want to do and run with it.
- Skills: everything you ever learnt from being permanent, contracting and freelancing; an ability to accept defeat, get up and keep going; willingness to learn everything about running a business.
- Prepare for: it taking longer than planned to get off the ground, learning to stifle self-doubt, working longer hours (initially anyway), potential for a wobblier cash flow, planning everything and having an overall picture of what is happening, changing your job role entirely (depending on what you want to achieve).
- Motivations: wanting to change the way things work, generate jobs for others, more financial freedom, pursuing your passion.
However your journey unfolds, at each step think about your motivations, what support you need (friends, family, six-months’ worth of savings…), the skills you have and the skills you need to develop – then simply enjoy the ride!
This article was written by Kathryn Potter.