What kind of person makes a successful independent contractor?

What kind of person makes a successful independent contractor?

Attitude Is Everything!

Every independent contractor we have ever known has had certain personal and attitudinal characteristics in common with other successful contractors. We’ve seen some otherwise well-qualified people fail miserably as independent contractors simply because they lack those characteristics. We’ll even go so far as to say that you can’t succeed as an independent contractor unless you possess most of the characteristics we’ll discuss here.

Let’s look at an example. Suppose one swimming pool contractor you talked to had a grumpy, who-gives-a-damn attitude and complained about how tough things are in the swimming pool installation business these days. Suppose another contractor was cheerful, upbeat, and mentioned how things have been a bit slow in the pool business lately but it’s now looking up. When they submitted their bids, the first contractor underbid the second by about 10%. Who would you give the job to?

Probably the second one–the cheerful, upbeat one with the higher bid. You wouldn’t do so because you like spending money, but because you would feel much more confident of getting good value for your money. The first contractor–the negative one with the lower bid–smells like a loser. Sure his bid is lower, but you would suspect that he wouldn’t be especially motivated to do a good job for you. You would probably rationalize away the lower bid with things like “you get what you pay for” or “he’s probably desperate for the work, that’s why he’s so cheap.”

Of course, you might be completely wrong in your reasoning. The negative, cynical contractor might really be capable of doing a first-rate job at a bargain price. But he would never get a chance to do that work because you were turned off by his Personality (or lack of same). The same thing applies to you as an independent contractor. Clients are not buying just your skills or services; they’re buying you.

Using an independent contractor always involves some degree of risk for a client. This risk can be expressed in terms of money, time, opportunities, or even someone’s job if you don’t perform as you promise. A large part–maybe even the biggest part–of a decision to use you as a contractor will be the client’s emotional reaction to you. A client has to feel confident that you’re going to reduce his or her problems, not add to them. All the qualifications and experience in the world won’t do you any good if clients don’t feel they can trust you to get the job done right.

You don’t have to enroll in a charm school or undergo psychoanalysis before setting up shop as an independent contractor, but you do have to take a hard look at what kind of person you are and how others see you. In dealing with other independent contractors as peers and as clients, I’ve noticed that successful contractors tend to share some common characteristics.

Try answering each of the questions in the following list. Some of the items on our list involve how others react to you, so it might be useful to ask others you’ve worked with (not your friends, who tend to tell you what you want to hear) about how others perceive you. If you’re honest with yourself, you’ll have a good sense of whether you have the personal attributes you need in independent contracting:

Do I really like what I’m planning to do as an independent contractor?

Even at the professional and technical level, many people don’t like what they do for a living. This explains why mid-life career changes are so common. If you don’t truly enjoy what you plan to do– problems and all–and if you don’t look forward to doing it every day, then don’t try to do it as an independent contractor. It’s no secret when someone would rather be doing something else, and clients and potential clients can sniff that out in a hurry. Moreover, if you don’t like what you do, you won’t be able to summon the necessary enthusiasm and energy to keep going when things get rough or you have problems on assignments. The urge to avoid dealing with tasks and problems, either overtly (going to the golf course when you should be working) or in a more subtle fashion (endlessly researching a problem instead of actually dealing with it) will be overwhelming. Such behavior is common in large corporations, but it will kill you as an independent contractor.

Are my skills current?

You may have years of experience in a field, but organizations are typically looking for contractors whose skills and knowledge are as current as possible. At my current business, we need contractors with skills in computer-based book publication, including familiarity with popular computer hardware and work processing, illustration, and page layout software. However, we still get inquiries from contractors whose skills are still based on conventional typesetting and paste-up page layout, and we can’t use those people at all. A combination of years of experience coupled with the latest skills is tough to beat. And acknowledge of current methods and technologies can compensate for a lack of experience–if the methods and techniques are really new, then no one will have extensive experience with them!

Is doing a good job important to me?

This doesn’t mean you want to do a good job because it keeps you out of trouble or someone pays you a compliment Instead, is being a person who can do a task competently and professionally an important part of how you see yourself? Do you get real satisfaction out of doing something well even if no one else notices? If you do less than your best, do you feel bad about afterward even if everyone else is happy with the results? Then you’re a good candidate.

Can I accept responsibility and blame?

This is a trick question; everybody likes to say they can accept responsibility. But when something goes wrong, their actions tell a different story. Somebody else didn’t do what they were supposed to do…something didn’t arrive in time .no one told them. or whatever. It’s a rare person who can really accept full responsibility for an unhappy result and admit “I screwed up; it’s my fault entirely.” Yet accepting full responsibility for an outcome is a requirement for an independent contractor.

Can I see things from someone else’s perspective?

As an independent contractor, you have to look at a situation as your clients do. This doesn’t mean that you lose your capacity for independent thought and judgment or agree with everything a client says or does. However, it does mean that you have to be able to understand what is motivating your clients and what their needs are. You don’t have to be psychic to do this, but you do have to be a good listener, observant, and willing to ask questions of clients.

Am I willing to take the initiative in dealing with problems and suggesting solutions?

Organizations usually don’t hire an independent contractor to implement a solution they’ve devised. Instead, they want contractors who can analyze problems and devise solutions for them. Organizations don’t often suggest additional tasks that a contractor could undertake; that’s something that an independent contractor who’s willing to seize the initiative has to do.

Adapted from On Your Own: How to Escape the Corporation and Make More Money as an Independent Contractor, by Carol Lewis and Harry Helms.

Learn more about Independent Contracting – Common Questions

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