Why contractors should never underestimate the importance of soft skills

Clients pay for hard skills, but soft skills are how you get to clients first, so contractors can't afford to neglect them

Any contractor needs to make sure they shine during interviews, have the ability to negotiate a decent rate and manage their workload to meet all their clients’ requirements.

Soft skills for contractors means keeping up with networks, understanding how to sell services, keeping on top of day-to-day admin, understanding contract and tax law and dealing with unforeseen circumstances.

In short, these are the skills that anyone requires to run their own business successfully, and the best contractors are the ones who understand that they are running a business where their skills are the product.

Networking and selling your services

Getting a contract means finding the people who are in a position to sign it, so networking and salesmanship are vital components in every contractor’s armoury. Devoting time to networking events, whether those are conversations with former colleagues, going to industry events or even just staying active on LinkedIn, will pay dividends for contractors in the end. Even though the benefits may not be tangible or immediate, they will eventually pay off.

Networking and selling are two sides of the same coin, but that doesn’t mean putting on the hard sell to everyone. Contractors simply need to understand their place in the market, what differentiates them from others and how that might benefit a potential client and their business.

Knowing tax law and contract law

Relying on lawyers and accountants for every decision and every decimal point is unsustainable for anyone except the super-rich, so it’s important for contractors to understand their obligations and what opportunities they might discover.

A lot of this is simply down to good administration and organisation. Filing tax returns becomes much easier for people who are good at managing their expenses, keeping records and putting aside time for invoicing. Learning the basics is key. When signing a contract with a client, there may be hidden consequences for anyone who does not read the fine print properly. No one wants to commit to deliverables that are undeliverable after all.

Sometimes, the contract may be fine, but the way it’s worded can create tax problems – an IR35 investigation into a contractor’s self-employed status can be avoided with the right kind of contract. So having admin skills and paying attention to detail are important skills for contractors to improve.

Negotiation and resilience

Finding new work, renewing a contract or just dealing with the issues that come up during a contract all require the ability to negotiate. This doesn’t mean trying to get one over on the other side – a successful negotiation is about reaching an agreement that works for everyone, because it’s usually the start of a relationship.

Contractors do best when they know what they want and what is achievable, so keeping abreast of market rates and having good communication skills are good ways to achieve this.

Naturally, being a contractor is like any role – there are bound to be bad times and it’s important to keep going. Developing a thick skin and having the resilience required to keep going are very useful attributes for any contractor.

Considering Contracting to increase your take home? Read the in-depth permanent work to contracting guide from ContractingWISE.

Article by Jon Millar, Director, Contracting Wise

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