What is a “Professional” Contractor?

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November 13, 2019

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Fimatix’s excellent reputation for delivery is closely linked to the quality of our people and the way we support them.  

To ensure quality we expect a relevant skills demonstration from all roles; for example we set developers a coding test and ask agile coaches to facilitate a workshop designed to help people learn an aspect of Agile.  We also have a conversation with them to assess cultural fit with both the client and ourselves.  

However we have noticed a gap in our selection process which we broadly summarise as “How mature are they as a contractor?”  We have a good track record helping new contractors settle into their first gig. However we realised that with more experienced contractors we have sometimes been making assumptions that they know more about the business of contracting than is the case, sometimes causing unnecessary friction and waste.  

When someone said “as a professional contractor you really should know the basics of IR35”, it triggered a brainstorm about what puts the professional into the phrase “professional contractor”. 

So this is the list we generated in no particular order:

  • Know the basics of IR35 properly and how it affects your specific role / skills.  
    • Always remember IR35 is as much about your working practices as it is about your contract
    • Also remember that an assessment is a balance of factors.
    • Know what Mutuality of Obligation, Substitution and Control are and how they apply to your role. 
    • Always take the scare stories with a pinch of salt.  
  • Remember you are contractor not an employee 
    • Always remember that you receive more money in your pocket than the employees you work with.  
      • Never complain about your rate to them.  
      • Don’t brag about your designer watch / flash car / expensive holiday.
    • Employee benefits are for employees e.g. if you have a childcare problem don’t ask if you can bring the child onto a client site.  It is better to take time off. 
    • Every permanent employee is your client, avoid getting involved in the politics. 
    • Don’t “go native” unless you want a permanent job with the client.
  • Know the basics of contract law both in theory and in practice 
    • A contract is a contract.  Short notice periods are there for the client’s benefit not yours (except to help keep you outside IR35), you should complete what you’ve been asked to do. 
    • With intellectual property just accept that the client has to end up owning any IP you generate so Fimatix has to own it to assign it to them.  
      • Most Intellectual property is impossible to protect in practice. 
      • If you have IP you think is valuable talk to a lawyer about how to protect it and don’t use it in a contracting situation.  
  • Learn what conflicts of interest are and be transparent about any you may have
    • If you want to be entrepreneurial that’s great, we will support and share the rewards with you for bringing business our way 
    • If you want to be entrepreneurial on your own that’s fine, but find your own clients in your own time, please don’t approach ours. 
  • Always demonstrate value for money, 
    • If you want more money add more value 
    • Never “Chill and Bill”, someone will always notice
  • Do the business basics well 
    • Make it easy for people to pay you through timely, accurate invoicing
    • Pay your tax, file your accounts and other company administration on time
    • Put time into keeping your marketing material (e.g. a CV or a portfolio), easy to read, accurate and up to date.  
    • Learn the core of GDPR, Cyber Essentials and the Equality Act.