Unless you’ve ever been an independent contractor, you may have a warped view of how it’s different from being an employee. On the surface, it appears that both contractors and employees might do the same work. The employee gets lower pay (per hour) in return for job security, while the contractor gets higher pay (per hour) and the ability to work for multiple customers.
That’s a much too simplistic view. The mindset of independent contractors is more complex because independent contractors have more concerns to deal with.
It’s likely that employees and contractors don’t do the same work. A company will hire an employee if it believes that it needs to have long term control over that job, has a reasonably stable job description, and can fund the position for a longer period. Other jobs, for which there’s little stability, no need for control, and questionable funding, will tend to go to contractors.
What you would experience as a contractor will be very different from an employee. An employee becomes attached to the employer, accepting both the good (stability, security, position) along with the bad (overhead work, politics, reorganizations).
A contractor experiences instability and insecurity, moving from job to job and not necessarily knowing when income might arrive. It takes focus to constantly be selling your services and to manage your finances so that you’re not on the edge of bankruptcy. Your reputation becomes your primary asset, hopefully opening the doors for multiple clients. Any overhead work is yours to define, but is unpaid. Office politics are less of a concern, until they affect your ability to get contract work.
I’m not saying that one is better than the other. But it certainly is true that certain people are better suited to one environment than the other, particularly at certain points in their lives.
What can employees learn from the contracting mindset? Quite a bit. Contractors have to pay a lot of attention to the satisfaction of their clients and stakeholders, because that will directly impact where future work comes from. In the corporate environment, there are also clients and stakeholders – far beyond just your boss and teammates – who will impact where your next job or promotion comes from.
And as an employee, you should be “selling” your services. Not necessarily using sales language, but in the sense of making the quality of your work known and getting feedback on the impact that’s having. Those stakeholders need to see that you take seriously the larger goals of the organization, do great and useful work, and enthusiastically support changes.
Think of yourself as “contracting” with your boss month to month, and you’ll start with the right mindset.
by Carl Dierschow