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A contractor survival guide Personal experience Updated 13 March 2013 (click in little arrows for links and click the + to expand the branch) Comments or questions: Skype: markout Twitter: @mark_outhwaite by Mind Map: A contractor survival guide  Personal experience  Updated 13 March 2013  (click in little arrows for links and click the + to expand the branch)  Comments or questions: Skype: markout Twitter: @mark_outhwaite
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A contractor survival guide Personal experience Updated 13 March 2013 (click in little arrows for links and click the + to expand the branch) Comments or questions: Skype: markout Twitter: @mark_outhwaite

Manage the money Cashflow is king. You need to do proposals and estimates, track and invoice your time and expenditure, handle VAT, pay your taxes, link to your bank account, pay your bills and have a good overview all the time of your financial position. You need a good accountant for end of year but you can keep yourself organised financially with one of the good online packages - keeps your data safe and accessible through multiple devices. You will also need insurance - Professional Indemnity and Public Liability


HMRC - 'here be dragons' This is where you need a good accountant to explain to you the pitfalls for the unwary in both personal taxation and company taxation

Road warrior kit The essential stuff to take on the road and to stay connected


Internet on the move

Communicate Talking to people one to one or conferencing

Phones and stuff

Serious Web-based Conferencing Travel is a very expensive overhead to a small organisation working nationally or internationally. OK - so you have to find time for face to face relationship building but web-based conferencing is growing in usefulness to keep in touch with clients and associates and on-line coaching where you both need to be seeing the same thing such as a psychometric profile

Social Media Its all the rage. More unintelligible jargon used about this than anywhere else. But hey - we have got to be seen to riding the wave. And actually there is some benefit if you know what you are doing..

Do I need a website? It helps. But do not pay a fortune to get one designed. Try and find a hosting service that provides simple website building tools and have a go yourself. Do not put on content that you are not willing to update frequently.

How about a blog? Useful - but only if you keep it up to date focused and avoid ranting! Better to do fewer more focused posts than a lot of lower value ramblings. But then take the time to signpost to your Blog, attract traffic, encourage interaction - otherwise you are talking to yourself.

Stay organised No mystery - you need good discipline as well as good tools. No amount of great software is going to help a disorganised person want to be more organised. And never, but never have any email, calendar, contacts book or to-do list that is not based in the Cloud somewhere.

Email, Calendars and Tasks

Notes - replacing the Red and Black

Basic Survival Skills You will be an expert in your chosen area(s). But have you got the basic skills and disciplines to underpin what you have to offer. These are my suggestions and must-haves for Associates that work with me.



Project management Whatever you do you need to be very disciplined about how you organise the project - small or big. You need to be able to report to the client, keep within budget and time and track deliverables. If you are running several projects for different clients then this is essential to keep it all together. You do not need to be PRINCE2 qualified but it is quite useful as a background discipline. Business Balls has a good guide and templates - follow the link. Good project tracking and reporting is also the foundation of invoicing correctly.

Basic software skills Sorry if you think this an insult to your intelligence or that it is not something you really need. But it helps - and gives a veneer of professionalism if nothing else. And at best improves productivity, wins you the business because of the professionalism and keeps you a step ahead of the competition. Nothing worse than a messy tender, presentation or report - what does it say about you as a contractor? And you will not be popular with Associates who might be having to rework your contributions. I am constantly amazed by the failure of public sector organisations to properly train staff in the exploitation of these technologies and the consequent loss of productivity opportunities.

Running projects So you need to scope, set up and run a project. Perhaps track and assign tasks, estimate resource requirements, create critical path analysis, hit them with a GANTT Chart. Well there are a lot of different options out there. But you need to start by knowing a bit about Project Management...

I am a MindMapper - if you had not already guessed.There are a couple of MindMap tools that allow you to brainstorm out a project list and then turn it into a project management framework. You pays your money and takes your choice.

Useful Project Management Tools If you are going to go for a Project management tool then try and find one that integrates well with your task and calendar applications. This usually means Google. I have yet to find one that integrates really well for a team allowing good cross integration of tasks and calendars. It should be intuitive enough for your Associate colleagues to pick up and use quickly

Useful stuff Just 'stuff' I have in the 'kitbag' that I have found useful and cheap...oh yes cheap is good. Free is better.

Mindmeister You are looking at it. If you use mindmapping then this on-line tool is excellent. It can be taken off-line, and there are good iPad and Android versions. The big plus is that it allows any number of other people to work on the same mindmap at the same time. Run a workshop or attend an event where you have collaborative note-taking or brainstorming. Use it instead of an expensive web-conferencing package for live brainstorming with a virtual dispersed group. Personal version is £4 per month.

SurveyMonkey You need to design and send out surveys - Delphi Surveys, feedback surveys, send reminders to those who have not completed the survey..well this is what I use

Doodle Trying to organise a meeting amongt multiple participants or offering appointment slots that people can book themselves into? There is useful integration with Outlook and Google Calendars so people can see your free/busy times and propose meetings and calls. You can add a personal Doodle link to your email signatures.

Prezi Sorry about this but if Masters and designing and applying Layouts mean nothing to you when you are using PowerPoint then you are one of the many users I have come across that have never been taught to use it properly and the result is pretty poor. So this is one for you - just a canvas you can write on and then connect to make a presentation - well a bit more than that but there are good online tutorials if you can be bothered to use them. If not then suggest you give up on presentations.

Slideshark - free for basic edition which is entirely sufficient PowerPoint is your comfort zone but want to use an iPad for presentations? Often when importing PowerPoint into Keynote strange things happen. Normally because of incompatible fonts or your approach to using masters and layouts. It's a very neat free tool that allows you to convert PowerPoint for presenting through an iPad or iPhone. And you can use your iPhone as a remote control for your iPad. Connects to DropBox as well as having its own online storage solution. You cannot edit the presentation which is only drawback. Otherwise preserves your transitions and also any multimedia you may use.

Vimeo Possibly a bit specialist but a good alternative to YouTube for hosting those video clips and recordings.

YouTube OK - so why you ask would I want to suggest watching a fat South Korean pretending to ride a horse (ask your children)? Well actually it is a brilliant source of 'how-to' and training videos. There is an army of people out there keen to share their knowledge. So if it is how to use Excel, PowerPoint, get the best out of your kit then it is here. And why not share some of your own knowledge?

Events Management So you need to organise workshops, run events and handle invitations and bookings etc. Well so do lots of other people and so there are some neat web-based solutions out there.

Business Balls Marvellous resource for lots of basic and useful information on business models and methodologies

Box - free for basic edition and 2GB Not to be confused with DropBox - a very neat document collaboration and sharing platform that allows you control sharing of documents, see who has looked at them or downloaded them, control versions and add threads and tasks to documents

Keep it safe If you are on the road a lot then you need to keep kit and data safe. Kit needs tagging and tracking, data needs to be securely backed up in the Cloud


Data A first rule for all contractors - always have your data backed up. Given the number of free Cloud services there is no excuse for losing your data. And if you are using cloud based software then check the providers back-up approach. it will always be better than yours! Use a Cloud storage service that allows access to files online and offline. Set up your file structures in the Cloud - do not use My Documents on your laptop. A hint: Use one provider for all the stuff you are not going to share with anyone else. Use another provider for documents you want to share. So I use Skydrive for all my document back-ups and to make them available across my devices. If I want to share documents, for example templates to be completed during workshops then I use Dropbox or Box

Device back-up You will need to keep your devices backed up as well. Settings, email archives etc. At home you should always have at least two Network Storage devices. One for all your laptops and PCs to back up to every night and one to back up a duplicate of the other Network Storage Device. You could replace your second network device with a Cloud back-up provider. There are many cloud back-up providers. Some come with antivirus product suites such as Norton. You do need good network speeds. My suggestion is that you do your own research as the landscape is changing so fast and the amount of storeage you can get for free is increasing. The one I have used is:

Stay inspired There are times when you just need to be ahead of the game, be inspired and challenged and ensure your brain is given a work-out from time to time

TED An endless source of fascinating and thought provoking talks from the leading thinkers. And all the better for being about 15 minutes long. Challenge yourself to tell great stories in just 15 minutes. And you can use videos in presentations etc. One day I will be able to afford to go to one of the events.

Royal Society of Arts Great videos of leading thinkers talking about their subjects and also the excellent RSA Animate series

Harvard Working Knowledge From the Harvard Business School a free newsletter with access to latest research and discussions, Well worth subscribing to and reading.

Economist Not just about economics - but a wide ranging journal which keeps you in touch with the world and is an example of outstanding clear writing. Good iPad editions. If you are a subscriber then website excellent for research. Get your company to pay for your subscription.

Blogs and News Letters Spend some time looking for the blogs that matter, that interest you and subscribe. Keep in touch and join in.

Starting Out - Do your homework Prior preparation and planning pays enormous dividends. From deciding if it is right for you and your family through to using your last months in the job to prepare there are things you can do to make the transition successful. And just for you - I offer a PRISM Personal Insight profile and 2 hour coached insight session for £400 - either webex or face to face

Is this right for me and my family? Going out as a contractor, either alone or with a number of others is not for everyone. If you have been used to all the trappings of corporate support it can suddenly seem very lonely.

Doing your sums - zero based budgeting Can you afford to do this and handle the risk?

Networks Almost all your work in your first year will come through networks and contacts. Spend time before you leave 'polishing' your networks. Make sure they know you are going out and will be available.

What do I charge? This is the most common question I get asked. And there is no easy answer. But..

What does the market look like? OK - so exactly what are you offering, what is the market, who are the competitors out there?

Working with others - To Associate or not? Going out on your own can be satisfying but can be lonely. And there may be really interesting projects you find that require more than just you and your skill set. Building a network of Associates makes sense.

How formal do you want to make this?

Who do you choose to work with? Things to think about

Some questions you need to answer

In the quiet moments There will always be those slightly nerve-racking downtime moments. Between projects, waiting for responses to bids. There are always downs as well as ups. Well the good news is that you can probably do something unheard of in paid full-time employment - actually have a Personal Development Plan and achieve it.

Personal Development Plan Write your own PDP. Perhaps do it with a couple of colleagues together to spark off each other and to act as a learning set. what are all those things you wanted to find out more about or you wanted to get better at. Hold yourself to account for delivering on it.

Development Task List I keep a task list of all the things that come to mind that I want to follow up but do not have time for. I add in emails, clippings links and thoughts and inspirations. Once in a while I review them - which go into my more structured PDP (courses, training conferences etc) and which go into my diary - setting aside time to read, explore, discuss, synthesise and match to my offering. I use Evernote as my repository as I can add pretty much anything from any device.

Practical Task List I also try and keep a list of practical tasks I need to do - filing, returns web-site maintenance, blog writing, painting the house. its a simple cost equation - is it more cost effective to pay someone lese to do it or do it yourself. If you have down-time then maybe cheaper to paint a room a week than get someone to do it for you - interspersed with Personal Development Tasks