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To Be An Independent Contractor Or Not?

For the technology professional (or maybe any professional) pondering the question of whether to become an independent contractor there are many questions to ask, and some very honest self-assessment to be done before making the leap.

If you talk to a true independent contractor today, he/she is very content with their status. They have a better income than as an employee, they can "choose" from multiple job opportunities rather than be told what project they can take, they can choose to take extended time off and they can even take jobs that allow them flexibility for other "interests". The contractor does not need to be involved in the parts of corporate life that can be unappealing, such as office politics or the concern about job progression. They would not want to be an employee any more, and they enjoy the flexibility and freedom of the self-employed.

As with anything in life there are costs associated with this life choice, and they can be in dollars and cents or they can be less tangible. The overriding difference is that a contractor is not an employee, cannot think like an employee and cannot expect the benefits of an employee. A contractor is only paid when they are working ... definitely the number one concern for contractors. Contractors are responsible for their own training and for keeping current with trends ... its easy to be left behind and that affects job opportunities. A contractor needs to obtain their own medical benefits and insurance, typically through industry associations or other such means. The contractor needs to keep good books, to market themselves and to operate in all ways like a business. The contractor is a one person business and that can be hard for people who want to be a part of something bigger.

At the end of the day I think it's important that the independent contractor have enough entrepreneurial spirit to take a little risk. He/she needs to be very competent at the technical aspects of their job. They also need to have better than average soft skills, an ability to communicate effectively and they must project a professional image.

I do believe that more people will choose the path of independence as we experience greater skills shortages. It will be important that those making the leap have really thought through the consequences and are ready to take the risk. It's a great way of life for some, but not for everyone!