The Ups and Downs of being a Contractor

As with most careers being a contractor has it’s ups and downs and I have certainly had my share of both over the last couple of months.

When my last contract came to an end I entered the limbo land that is ‘between contracts’. Due to the nature of contracting many clients require someone who is immediately available, or at least within a week or so. Looking further than a couple of weeks ahead and you are probably going to be passed over for someone who can get their feet under the desk much quicker.

I had not been looking for a follow-on contract because I already had a holiday booked and, knowing that I would have minimal phone & email access for a couple of weeks, I had decided to leave that until I returned to the UK. I then gave myself a couple of weeks ‘off’ during which time I would continue work on the Xamarin implementation of the FillLPG for Android application and hit Pluralsight to keep my axe sharp and my stills current.

This worked out quite well and I secured a contract with a previous client pretty quickly – but this was subsequently withdrawn as their client put the brakes on the project. Disappointing but that’s how it goes sometimes. At this point I was approaching the end of the two weeks I’d given myself to find a new contract and for the first time in three and a half years I was not actually billing any time at the end of a month. Still – something else would come along….

And it did, in the form of a potential 12 month contract which required SC clearance (which I have). The location was a comfortable commute and the day rate was pretty good too. At the start of October 2014 I was offered the contract (subject to references) which I duly accepted. It turned out that the client was using an external resourcing company and they required 3 years of references – which as a contractor amounts to quite a few people to contact. Fortunately my recruitment agent dealt with most of this for me and after completing numerous forms I was finally given a start date.

But the story does not end there – more’s the pity. While driving to the client site I received a phone call (yes I have hands-free in the car) advising me that the external resourcing company had not processed my security clearance and I would not be allowed on site. This was disappointing but it turned out that while my SC clearance was valid it had deactivated because I was not in a security role for more than 12 months – who knew.

Worse was to come as the process of reactivating my clearance relied on a clunky website that frequently displayed the good old ‘Yellow Screen of Death’ but eventually served up a PDF form to be completed and was followed by a 10 day process of validation. This would be more billable time that would pass me by. I was able to pick up some freelance work, make good progress with my Xamarin development and watch a number of Pluralsight courses so it was not as if I was sitting around watching Daytime TV.

The validation process ended up taking almost 3 weeks and I was eventually given another start date and my recruitment agent was just waiting for the purchase order so that he could generate the contract.

The start date arrived but I still didn’t have a contract to sign. Finally, at 2:00pm I was advised that the client had reorganised resources and didn’t need my services anymore (apparently I was not the only contractor who was cut loose).

So between the incompetence of the external resourcing company and the unprofessional behavior of the end client, who has expressed their desire to get me on site as soon as possible, I had essentially ‘lost’ over £6500 in billable time. This was bad enough but I had been contacted about numerous other contracts while I was waiting but due to the nature of this one I decided to wait it out.

But it’s not been all bad. During the last month I have been able to migrate a local church website from an aging version of Joomla to a slick Squarespace site and secure a maintenance contract to administrate and maintain it. I’ve also migrated their creaking database (created by a parishioner) to an MVC4 web application and add new, desperately needed, features that the previous implementation could not support. The FillLPG for Android application has been written using Xamarin, has gone into Beta testing and should be released before Christmas. I’ve also watched a number of Pluralsight courses to help keep my skills current and improve my chances of securing interesting contracts in the future.

They say ‘You Can’t Keep a Good Man Down’ and as I type I have an interview for a Bristol based contract later today and have a number of other irons in the fire so things are looking up.