Five career rules you can break when you’re a freelancer or contractor

Have you lived your entire career according to an inherited set of ‘rules’? Find out five you can break when you’re a freelancer or contractor. 

We’ve all heard those career old wives’ tales that are designed to make you question your professional experience, and keep you adhering to certain ‘rules’.

You know, the ones like: “You should stay with a company for at least two years” and “If you move industry, employers will think there’s something wrong with you”.

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But what if we told you that a career in contracting or freelancing breaks these rules? And liberates you from the restrictions placed on permanent employees?

Five career rules you can break as a freelancer

Jenny Winslow from Intouch Accounting explores the top five career rules that permies stick to, and why you should ignore them when taking the leap into self-employment.

1) You should never leave a job unless you have one to go to

In theory this rule is a smart one to live by, as not having an income can be daunting – especially when you have responsibilities and scheduled outgoings that you need to support.

When you’re self-employed it’s the nature of the beast to find yourself without a contract from time to time. But don’t let this make you doubt whether it’s really for you. Understand when is the best time to start looking for your next contract and build up a solid client base that you can turn to for work.

Once you’ve created a pattern for finding work that fits you, you won’t need to worry about where your next contract is coming from.

2) The longer you stay with a company, the better

How many of us have friends who hate their permanent jobs, but stay with the company because they believe that the longer they’re with them, the better it looks on their CV?

When you’re a freelancer or contractor, it’s a different story as you will only ever spend the length of your contract with each client.

So don’t let short term professional relations cloud your judgement on how well you’re doing in your career. When you’re self-employed it’s the reputation you build that speaks volumes, rather than the length of time you’ve been with a certain client.

To help build your professional profile ensure you ask each of your clients for a testimonial of your work (or write a case study), and count the value in these. Who needs years of unhappiness under their belt when you have a whole host of happy clients singing your praises!

3) You have to work your way up the career ladder to reach your dream job

Most professionals believe you have to earn your stripes in order to achieve your dream career. For many, starting at the bottom is a good way to learn the ropes, before working their way up to the position they really want.

As a contractor or freelancer you can effectively skip this step, as it’s your skills and experience that win contracts, and not your previous permanent position’s title.

If you’re new to contracting and don’t have any previous experience to sell yourself, don’t panic! Your skills will speak for themselves. And in no time you’ll have a CV any permanent employee would dream of having.

4) Your career level defines your salary

This is one rule that contracting and freelancing smashes. Being self-employed means you can usually charge more than your permanent counterparts.

While permanent staff traditionally must wait for an appraisal or the right time to approach the subject of pay, you are able to charge what you like (within reason of course!).

We advise you to always do some research into what other contractors charge, to ensure you’re on par. Charge too little and you may appear inexperienced; charge too much and you’ll price yourself out of work.

5) Your career will never be your passion

Again, for contractors and freelancers this simply is not the case. You may have dipped your toe into the world of self-employment to see if your passion could turn into your profit, or if it would provide the personal freedom you crave.

Whatever the reason, both contracting and freelancing allow you to design your work around your personal life, rather than the other way round.

And as you have complete control over your career you can make it what you like, so why not let it be your passion?

Final thoughts – don’t let ‘rules’ define your success

As a contractor or freelancer it’s up to you to decide what rules to make, and more importantly which ones to break. You are a product of your own success, so decide which path you want to take and go for it. After all, there’s a reason you became your own boss!

Jenny Winslow works for Intouch Accounting, the expert contractor accountancy firm for Limited Company contractors.