Moving From FTE to Contractor

In the UK, according to the 2013 Project Management Benchmark Report from Arras People a third of project management practitioners choose to work as independent contractors rather than working for an employer on their payroll in exchange for a wage. In fact as the economic situation persisted over the last 5 years and some practitioners found it difficult to secure permanent work again after redundancy, many turned to contracting* Whilst this enabled some practitioners to get back on their feet, the influx of new, and inexperienced PM contractors has contributed to an adverse effect on conditions for many existing PM contractors who have worked this way for years.

The market in the UK for PM contractors has taken a hit with many experiencing fewer opportunities, shorter durations and worst of all falling day rates. One of the key factors driving this includes the influx of more PM contractors being available and organisations sensing that it’s a ‘buyers’ market’ and adjusting their rates accordingly (read downwards). Put these two combinations together and a new PM contractor is more likely to take on the work at a reduced rate, leaving the seasoned and experienced PM contractors out in the cold.

You may well think that this situation is just the way of the world at the moment, it’s tough out there and everyone is feeling the pinch. So what if the PM contractor is well experienced, the other guy who just came from a full time position could be well experienced too and we all have to react to the market forces of supply and demand! The new PM contractor however is not an experienced contractor and ultimately it’s the combination of PM experience AND experience of working in a contract role that ultimately makes these practitioners successful whilst reducing the risk for the engaging organisation.

So let’s take a look at a profile of an experienced and successful PM contractor; what follows are the main attributes that I consider to be the most important when hiring a contractor.

  • Project management skills: the ability to manage projects at the level required by the client. The successful contractor is fit for purpose from day one, the organisation has no interest in training and development when it comes to a contractor
  • Domain/sector knowledge: An organisation may not have access to specialised knowledge and experience in-house, nor have the need to retain this long term. Hence contractors have the opportunity to secure a premium rate because they have the experience to fill that gap
  • Self-confidence: the ability to enter a new organisation and make an impact straightaway. Hitting the ground running, takes self-confidence and belief and will test all those soft skills that have been accumulated along the way
  • Gravitas: the ability to take control of the new team; influence stakeholders; work with the sponsor. All these crucial elements of PM need to happen fast, you don’t have the luxury of time
  • Enthusiasm: If you can’t get enthused by the challenge that lies ahead how do you expect others to? Whatever the project, it is crucial to be bought into and believe that you and your team are going to deliver the desired outcome

So that’s one side of the story, but equally important are some of the attributes that go to make up the total contractor;

  • It’s a lifestyle: You are no longer on the payroll, just a hired hand which changes your relationship with not only the client but also those you come into contact with. No feet under the table, you are being paid for results!
  • It’s a lifestyle: You have to be ready for the non-work periods as much as the full-on working times (and they can be full-on!). It’s important to remember that you only get paid when you work, no holiday pay or sick pay; so it’s essential to know where your breakeven point is for any fiscal year.
  • You’re the salesman; as well as being responsible for the delivery you are also responsible for the sales and marketing! A perpetual challenge for many contractors is avoiding the feast and famine cycle as they forget to plan ahead for their next assignment!
  • Financial Director too: being a contractor means you are running a business (a point some forget), you have to plan for the fallow periods; build in your own training and development budget; process invoices, chase payments and hopefully pay your tax.
  • Marketing too; promotion of your capability is crucial; there’s always been a saying,”you’re only as good as your last contract” which ultimately means you are always thinking about doing a great job which may lead to extensions on your contract or recommendations to others inside or outside an organisation you are engaged with. Every contact is a potential customer so building trusted networks is essential. It’s worth remembering that 80% of opportunities are never advertised so your network of associates, recruiters and clients is probably crucial to your long term success. Ultimately in a services environment “people buy people” so your every action could make or break a sale.

Being a FTE can certainly mean the project management skills and domain/sector knowledge is there but what about the other attributes? How does a FTE make the transition to the contracting world, especially that all important first contract?

Join us this Friday at #pmchat……

Lindsay Scott

Lindsay Scott co-founded Arras People in 2002 following a career at Esso and Hewlett Packard. Following her graduation from Manchester University, Lindsay went onto work within the recruitment arm of Esso before leaving to join Hewlett Packard. At Hewlett Packard, she worked within the professional services consulting division, first as a Project Co-ordinator and then the Project Office Manager for the division.



To download a copy of the newly released Project Management Benchmark Report for 2013




<script type="text/javascript"><!– google_ad_client = "ca-pub-8334046383696150"; /* PMChat Header */ google_ad_slot = "8203916761"; //–> </script> <script type="text/javascript" src=""> </script>

Comments are closed.