Despite a backdrop of economic uncertainty and anxiety-inducing legislative reform, the contracting community has thrived in recent years. We now face an unprecedented situation on a global scale in the form of COVID-19. While the almost inevitable lean towards self-employment will continue when normality resumes, those already contracting may face challenging times over the next few months.
So, what can contractors do in these strange and worrying times to feel productive and retain as much work as possible?
Communicate with regular clients and other contractors during coronavirus lockdown
One of the biggest issues contractors face in the lockdown is a loss of work from regular clients. Many companies are moving to bare-bones remote working, and some are having to consider redundancies to keep their business afloat as spending decreases. Contractors could find themselves in a situation where end clients pull ongoing projects or slash budgets in a knee-jerk bid to control losses. This is where maintaining good communication is absolutely key.
If your clients do decide to pull the plug, initiate a frank conversation with them about their reasons for doing so - chances are, they’re just as panicked as you.
Gently remind them why they sought out your services in the first place. Now’s the most crucial time for companies to double-down on marketing efforts, whether that’s PPC, UX, or social campaigns. It’s also a good time to see IT projects through with minimum disruption to traffic while business is quiet. Even if it doesn’t reap an immediate boost to sales, ensuring they stay in the foreground for their customer base - or even just making website and system improvements to make the customer journey easier - will help them stay ahead of the curve when things get back to normal.
As a contractor in this difficult time, it’s equally as important for you to stay visible to your target audience. Stay active on LinkedIn and make an effort to network on the various self-employed forums (ContractorUK is a good one) and Facebook groups (Crunch Chorus is another). Not only does it lift the weight of isolation, but you could refresh old business contacts and even pick up some new clients along the way.
Use COVID-19 lockdown to hone skills, invest in branding, and prepare for legislation changes
While there are certainly bigger worries in the world right now, it’s imperative that you’re ready to take on work as soon as the opportunity arises. You may, like many businesses, be clamping down on expenditure, and feel that not renewing your business insurances is one way to save cash. This is counter-productive, however; most limited company contractors require at least a basic professional indemnity policy to win work from medium-large clients and it could make finding new projects harder than it needs to be if you don’t have cover in place.
It’s also prudent that you keep on top of your IR35 employment status. We’re sure you’ve heard about the postponement of the off-payroll changes by now (if not, we wrote about it here); just because the reform isn’t due until 2021, doesn’t mean that IR35 isn’t something to bear in mind. You are, in fact, still responsible for determining your own employment status as a contractor until the reform is implemented. We’re urging end clients and recruiters not to rest on their laurels and to use the extra year to refine their IR35 processes, and you should likewise be making sure your contracts are watertight and educating yourself on the subject before April next year. The best way to do this is to get a professional contract or working practices review from an IR35 specialist – we offer a next day turnaround on both.
Lastly, if you find yourself short on work and at a loss, use the lockdown time to learn a new skill or pursue a personal project that you haven’t had time for previously. It’s also a great time to invest in or update your marketing, branding, or website; all of the above will contribute to making winning work easier.
Make sure you’re ready when contract work picks up again
We’re confident that the tenacity of the contracting community will prevail over the COVID-19 pandemic, as it has with every other challenge in recent years. It’ll be the contractors, freelancers, and gig workers that help to get the UK economy moving again once the lockdown is over, and it’ll be the self-employed that are on-hand when businesses realise that the current situation won’t be over in a matter of weeks and that project work needs to continue regardless. This is why it’s imperative to stay prepared, even if work has slowed down for the moment.
Besides a comprehensive suite of business insurances including professional indemnity and public liability, Larsen Howie offers a range of contract and working practices reviews – you can find out which option would be best for you here. We also offer representation from Andy Vessey should it go to tribunal, as well as training and consultation for businesses that wish to continue working with their invaluable contractor workforce.
For any further information or advice, please call us on 01163 800 400 or drop us an email. Alternatively, take a look around our Knowledge Hub for more IR35 advice, industry news, and contractor guides.