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Make the most of your downtime this Christmas

Make the most of your downtime this Christmas

As many businesses wind down for the Christmas break, contracts can be thin on the ground. This gives contractors the perfect opportunity to get their affairs in order and prepare for the year ahead. It’s easy for contractors to get stuck in the same pattern of searching for work, completing a project and getting paid, without taking the time to think about their long term careers and how best to achieve what they want. In this article, Contracting Scout considers how to get the best out of your Christmas downtime so you can hit the ground running in 2019.

Create your personal brand
Recent IPSE reports show that, despite a tough couple of years, contractors are confident of growing their careers and reputations through their personal brand. Creating a personal brand for your contracting business will enhance your professionalism and credibility as a contractor. This is important in attracting good clients who look for high quality talent. Contractors can implement a successful branding strategy from the outset by ensuring that all visual assets, such as company colours and fonts, are consistent across all marketing communications (read our articles on creating a brand and brand marketing for more information). Branding works on the premise that information grouped together by identifying shapes, colours and phrases is easier to remember. This will ensure that your marketing activities not only make the right impact, but a lasting one.

Expand your network
Expanding your network will allow you to grow your contracting business and increase your chances of securing consistent work from the clients you want to work with. Use the Christmas downtime to increase activity on your social media channels and update your profiles (and your CV) to reflect your recent experience and achievements. While platforms like LinkedIn offer contractors excellent potential for building their network, consider whether you could benefit from creating a profile on platforms such as Instagram. In 2018 the number of UK contractors on Instagram rose to 48%, compared to just 18% back in 2015. Instagram’s visual appeal will give your marketing another dimension that you can link into your other social media. Don’t forget to find out about face-to-face networking events that you can attend – although it requires a little more legwork, networking in person still creates the biggest impression.

Invest in new skills and training
Contractors should view training as an investment in their career development; improving your skills increases your marketability and allows you to negotiate a higher billing rate. Take some Christmas downtime to research what training would benefit you before investing your valuable time and money. Research will allow you to anticipate the demand for specific skills in your industry, as well as identifying possible niche skills that fewer people can offer. Learning online is a popular and cost effective way of acquiring new skills as it’s at your own pace and can be easily fitted around your work schedule. For engineers and IT contractors, formal CPD or technical software courses held by accrediting bodies may be of more value than online courses and seminars.

Develop a business strategy for the New Year
The end of one year is a good time to take stock of your work over the past 12 months and think about where you want to go in the future. Taking a long term view will ensure that you work towards specific goals, rather than getting stuck in a repetitive cycle that limits your growth. Think about how your sector is likely to be affected by factors such as the UK leaving the EU and changes to off-payroll legislation. Ask yourself what kind of opportunities will be created and what skills clients will be looking for in your sector. It could be that smaller, niche business could offer you the best opportunities to capitalise on your skills, while reducing the likelihood of having to work under IR35. Large, corporate clients are always good prospects for higher rates and sustained contract work, but competition can be fierce. If you’re going to take the time to target high value clients, then read our article on the best approach here.

Organise your paperwork
Paperwork can quickly pile up, so it’s important to take advantage of any opportunity to keep on top of admin. This can be an even lengthier process if you run your own limited company. Making sure your records are in order will make it easier when you come to complete your self-assessment tax return, but it’s also increasingly important to keep organised documents related to your working practice, including receipts, copies of contracts and subcontracts. Changes to the off-payroll rules mean that contractors need to take due care to inform themselves of tax matters and to maintain reliable records relating to their contractual work. If you are simply too busy, consider using a professional advisor to assist you.

Take some time-out
Last but definitely not least, take some time out to relax, rejuvenate and enjoy yourself. Contractors are often driven to work longer hours than most, while also taking less holidays. While it’s true that contracting can give you greater choice and flexibility over the way your work, it’s often harder to keep work from spilling over into your private life. Multi-tasking is inevitable and can even be an effective means of getting things done, however not many people can sustain this on a daily basis without corners being cut and mistakes being made. Rather than trying to bake mince pies with one hand while taking an international phone call with the other, give your downtime full attention. This can be anything from a foreign holiday to relaxing with friends and family, just make sure you disconnect from your work mode otherwise you could find yourself slipping into bad habits.

If you’d like to talk to us about your contracting options for the New Year, call our team on 0203 603 1878

Talk to a member of our team about your contracting options

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