Contracting stretched me professionally

I enjoyed the pressure but I’m ready to move on

Harry* is in mid-forties with 8 years of unbroken contract work as a programmer in financial services behind him, followed by almost two years out of work.

Although he’s now ready to take his working life in a completely different direction, on balance Harry is satisfied that the benefits of being a contractor outweighed the negatives.

In The Timesheet, the first of a series of interviews with contractors examining their experiences and the pros & cons of contract work, Harry reflects on his professional life.

With an interesting perspective on what contracting has brought him beyond the financial rewards, here’s what Harry learnt at the sharp end of contracting in FS…

Keeping it simple pays off

Harry provided his services through a limited company, using an accountant and an agency to deal with the complexities of VAT returns and payslips.

“Contracting is not a lifestyle to me, it’s just a working arrangement to do a decent job. I was happy with the money I was making and the tax I was paying – some of my tax bills were huge but it still worked out for me.”

You miss out on the company pension plan (but can always start a personal one)

“The contractor set-up works if you have the right personal circumstances, which I did. There are no paid holidays, paid sick days or pension contributions, but you live with it. I could have started a personal pension from my earnings but I didn’t get round to it and spent the money elsewhere, which was my choice, but I have bits and pieces of pensions from previous employment which I need to chase down.”

Contractors are often a hidden expense – even from shareholders

“I’ve always worked for well-known brands, the biggest names in fact. Corporates need to look lean to shareholders but I don’t think shareholders realise how many people are on the “hidden payroll”.

Contractors’ costs are swallowed up by the project budget, they are not included in the headcount. You get brought in on a day rate and can end up staying for years, so sometimes it’s a false economy just to keep the headcount down.”

You are only as good as your last day’s work

“Contracting really kicked me on to deliver my best work – I enjoyed that pressure, which gave me a bounce in the morning and the enthusiasm to get on with it. Contracting supercharges your work ethic, I was employed as a Subject Matter Expert (SME) in my field and you simply have to deliver.”

You need to be tactful with your “permie” colleagues…

“The atmosphere of contractors in the workplace around permanent staff can sometimes be awkward – it is a contractor’s duty to be respectful of the permies and listen to them, not lord it up over them. I was always conscious of avoiding any confrontation as you are representing your own business – it’s your reputation on the line, so you keep your cool when the going gets tough.”

…but I always felt part of the team

“Socially I was always part of the team – these were high performing agile teams working on major transformation projects, and our achievements and successes were shared regardless of how you were employed.”

COVID meant you had to take the rough with the smooth…

“You’re always aware that you can lose work but still have the commitment of a mortgage. When COVID hit, firms said goodbye to contractors across the board overnight. They had every right to let us go so it didn’t hurt emotionally, but I was anxious about getting re-hired during the pandemic.”

…but rates are on the rise again

“The COVID clear-out led to a buyer’s market for the services of contractors, but Brexit and the lack of resource now means day rates inside IR35 are going up again. I’ve taken my details off LinkedIn but I’m still getting calls from recruiters and agencies, so it seems things have changed very quickly.”

Contracting has been good to me, but I’m done

“It’s been good but I’m done with it – I’m leaving office work altogether to freshen up my working life. No more laptops, tube rides and pricey coffees, I’m looking forward to a new life outside of the office routine. It’s a fresh start and I won’t look back.”

*not his real name


Cleerly is a specialist mortgage broker serving the UK contractor and freelancer population, offering access to lending based on your contract daily or hourly rates from some of the UK’s leading banks.

We move with the times

See all blogs and guides