When thinking about whether contract work might be right for you, you may be concerned with issues like stability. But in to today’s world, lifelong careers at the same organization, where you joined a company right out of school and slowly worked your way up the ladder until you received your gold watch and pension, are gone, baby, gone.
More and more, professionals are forgoing the world of regular pay cheques, nine-to-five work days and dental plans. One of the most popular alternatives in many disciplines, including the accounting and finance world, is project-based work. The question I’m asked constantly is, “Can I make a career out of contract work?” The answer is, “Yes, providing…”
Here are four things to consider if you’re thinking of embarking on a career as an independent accounting and finance contractor.
1. Being a specialist vs. generalist works better for contractors
For a successful career as an independent contractor, is it better to have a reasonable grounding in a broad range of areas, or narrow your focus and specialize? As of today, contract work is best suited to people whose professional skills are already at a high level. In a mega market like the Greater Toronto Area, there are lots of big companies with demand for highly skilled individuals in areas such as mergers and acquisitions, financial reporting, tax and internal audit. We’re also seeing a lot of demand for individuals who specialize in data analytics, system implementation at scale, tax reporting and accounting, and public financial reporting.
“Hyper-specialization” in high-demand areas definitely increases your chances of steady contract work compared to other professionals with more general experience. Employers who hire independent contractors aren’t looking to train them. They want highly specialized and competent individuals who can hit the ground running and work with minimal supervision.
2. Contractors can reap great financial rewards
Contractors often make more money than their full-time counterparts. Compensation is a reflection of an individual’s skills and experience, and contractors who command top dollar tend to be highly specialized in high-demand areas. You’re paid for the hours you work, and what you do tends to be concentrated in your area of expertise. You’re not spending time at staff meetings, doing administrative tasks or other things that can eat away your day.
You can probably deduct more of your costs and expenses, especially if you work from home at least some of the time. But if budgeting and handling the “down time” between assignments are not your strong suit, think carefully how the interruptions in cash flow may affect you and your family.
3. Consider whether your freedom is worth the lack of security
Accounting and finance independent contractors often have more flexibility with the hours they work, and from where they work. They can often schedule themselves “off” in between assignments. On the other hand, they usually don’t have other benefits that full-time employees enjoy, although many companies are beginning to offer contractors health and dental plans. There’s also the option to insure yourself through independent insurers who offer extended health coverage for a reasonable monthly fee.
Job security? Well, contract work is by definition temporary, with start and end dates. If your personal situation or lifestyle doesn’t lend itself to some “off” periods and/or irregular income, this may not be the right choice for you.
4. Contract work has plenty of variety and little predictability
Working in different companies doing different things gives you a broad base of experience and the chance to learn different accounting systems. You can grow your skill set and your network. If you like change and challenge, the newness and understanding that it’s only for a finite period can be very attractive. Clearly, contract work requires you to be adaptable and flexible. Being able to competently apply your knowledge and abilities to new situations is a talent and a skill that all independent contractors must have to be successful.
Contract work can be very rewarding, but make sure it’s right for you!
If you like predictability and a more stable, traditional employee-employer relationship that’s invested in growth with a single company, contract work may not be for you. But if you have a more entrepreneurial bent, relish new experiences and want the chance to move around, work with different people on different problems and issues, and do it in different places, a career as a contract worker can be just what you’ve always dreamed of.
Have your own thoughts on the pros and cons of contract vs. permanent employment? Experiences you’d like to share? I’d love to hear them.
About the author
Robert Fletcher is a Partner with The Mason Group, Contract Division in Toronto. Rob is extremely passionate about the recruitment and staffing business. His genuine desire to see his clients and consultants succeed is what has made him successful for more than a decade. You can reach Robert at 416-572-5257 or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
Rob, nice article. I made the move in late 2013 based on burn out from commuting from Kitchener to a “job” near the airport. There is also the consideration as to whether you should look and negotiate on your own behalf or register with a placement (RHF and Lannick come to mind and not sure if Mason does a lot of contract placement) where you have more control over the rate and other elements. I have found that RHF and Lannick tend to attempt to deliver a more experienced product to their client but they work to chop the contractor’s rate as they need to make their profit as well.
I am focused on SMB’s and Startup’s under ASPE where being a Generalist has greater relevance but where there is definite resistance when discussing hourly rates as the owners can’t always link the benefit / value to the company of having accounting processes that have integrity and reliability to the upfront and ongoing costs. I spend a lot of time rebuilding accounting processes that were designed ad hoc or by a non-designated accountant who opted for the shortest route rather than the most reliable route.