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How to set up your new business

Start ups: How to secure your first contract

You'll need to learn how to market yourself effectively to secure contracts. Here's what the experts at the UK200Group recommend:

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One of the biggest challenges for a first-time contractor is securing their first professional contract. Agreeing a contract is very different to securing a full-time job, and so requires a distinctly different approach.

Contractors either contract for a client directly, or via an agency. The former tends to be an option for established contractors who have a large network within their industry, meaning the latter is the more common approach to sourcing work.

Where to find a contract

There are three primary channels that you can use to source potential contracts advertised by clients and recruitment agencies:

  • Job boards – As well as major job boards, there are many sites specifically targeting contractors and specialist industries
  • CV databases – Uploading your CV to a database alerts recruitment agencies to your skills and availability
  • Social media – Sites such as LinkedIn are increasingly essential for finding contracts, as well as marketing and networking

How to market yourself

Your CV and LinkedIn are the two key components of your marketing collateral. You could find the ideal contract, but in order to get it, your CV and LinkedIn profile will have to demonstrate that you're perfect for the job.

When writing your CV:

  • Tailor it to the role in question, with relevant skills and experience featuring more prominently
  • Demonstrate the value that your skills have added for previous clients or employers
  • Keep it concise and relevant

Recruitment agents will often search for you on LinkedIn as part of their vetting process. Some tips for marketing yourself via LinkedIn:

  • Maintain an active profile and fill it with industry relevant content
  • Optimise your profile for search engine optimisation (SEO) in order to be found by more recruiters
  • Use the platform to network and join industry forums

Following the guidance above will help gain the attention of recruitment agencies, who for the vast majority of contractors source the first and many subsequent contracts.

Working with agencies

Unless you're already well connected in your industry, your first contract will almost certainly be sourced via a recruitment agency. Agencies provide access to a wide network of potential clients, and are often key to securing further work. Some clients will only hire contractors this way, as the agency's presence eliminates many risks.

How agencies win you work

The primary duties of a recruitment agency are relatively straightforward:

  • Match contractors with suitable contract opportunities
  • Negotiate contract rates and fees with the contractor and client
  • Secure the contractor an interview
  • Assist in negotiating any possible contract renewals

Agencies take a cut of your earnings, but they do plenty to justify their fees.However, don't forget recruiters are working for the client and not you, the candidate, and you are in business, not looking for employment. So make sure you negotiate a good deal.

Negotiating your rate with agencies

Your agent acts as a broker between you and the client, and may wish to establish your contract rate before arranging an interview. You aren't obliged to confirm your rates, although it is good to get a ballpark figure so you and the recruiter are not wasting each other's time. However, if you choose to do so, there is a general rule of thumb to follow.

Research the going market rate for your skills before proposing a rate towards the top end of that bracket. Agents that are not on a fixed percentage – often the smaller agencies, but not always - will often try to bargain to secure a healthy margin for themselves, so aim high to begin with.

This extract was taken from the practical guide to 'Running a Limited Company'. It was reproduced with permission from UK200Group and written by experts in the UK200 Freelancers & Contractors Group. Find out more about the UK200Group here:

Click here to download your copy of 'Running A Limited Company'.

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