Coming out of the pandemic, the IT Labour Market is heating up again. That's great news for IT workers and especially for those who are contractors and may have been hard hit by the slow-down. Not all assignments require full time work so there may be situations when a contractor might wish to take on multiple concurrent contracts to fill in the hours of their day. Or, it is possible that a person has a full-time job (either contract or permanent employment) and they wish to take on a part time gig to build their resume and earn a few extra dollars. These are both great ideas... providing a certain line isn't crossed.
The "line" that I'm referring to is when a worker takes on multiple opportunities and bills for more hours than they actually work. This is fraud; and it is illegal.
Here are some tips or best-practices to use when taking on multiple contracts concurrently:
It is best to be open and transparent about what you are planning to do. Most clients will support you, especially if they are not able to give you full time hours. In knowing, they may be more flexible in their expectations as well. And through full disclosure, you remove the possibility of "being found out" which could lead to hard feelings, or worse.
Plan, plan, plan. Before taking on another role, be sure that you have the time to complete both… AND, that you can manage any potential scheduling conflicts. This goes back to the first point, if both parties know that they are sharing you, they may be more flexible in scheduling meetings, etc. In a perfect world, the two assignments' time expectations should contain no overlaps. For example, one may have expectations that you are available during regular working hours, while the other gig is expecting you to work evenings or weekends to complete the work.
Over communicate with your clients AND set "realistic" expectations that meet the needs of both. Do not consider a combination of assignments if you know that you will be doing sub-par work for one or both of them. Not only will your professional pride take a hit, but so will your reputation… the IT market is big, but not so big that word doesn't spread. The short-term gain will not be enough to cover the long-term pain of such an approach.
And, most importantly… NEVER bill for hours you did not truly work. This goes for any contract assignment but is so very important when you are juggling between 2 or more. This practice is becoming more wide-spread - It has been noted in the news (Wall Street Journal); and agencies such as Eagle and our clients alike are on the alert and watching for this. Nothing can be worse than a criminal record relating to fraudulent activities of this sort… it's just not worth it.
For one of my Eagle Tech Talks podcasts, where I interview IT SMEs and Thought Leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Lisa Shipka. Lisa is a veteran IT professional, and the very nature of her work requires her to maintain multiple concurrent contracts. She says that she's never seen the market this busy, and she gets calls almost every day offering her new work. I spoke with her about her own approach for managing multiple contracts and the advice she gives follows:
You need to have a very good handle on how many hours you want to work each week… and don't overload yourself. In addition to other assignments, you must also consider your own lifestyle and what you want to have for your own personal time. Your reputation cannot afford to disappoint your clients and a commitment is a commitment… if you accept the contract, you must live up to it, even if you've bitten off more than you can chew.
Don't be afraid to say "no". But say it politely. She recommends taking every call that comes in from clients or agencies but let them know that you are completely booked up. You can always suggest a timeframe when you expect to be less busy in case they have more work for you at a later time.
To keep the various contracts properly separated, Lisa sets aside specific days of the week for each individual contract. She builds her calendar around this, and she communicates her schedule with her clients religiously. They all know what "their time slot" will be so that they can plan to work together on those days. She does this in collaboration with her clients, setting careful expectations.
Throughout our discussion, Lisa was consistent in referring to the clients' knowledge of and participation in the setting of her schedule. This gives both her and her clients peace of mind, both knowing exactly what to expect and protecting her good name. After all, reputation is everything… and it's one of the reasons her services are in such high demand today!