Be your own boss, sort of. Life as a contractor

Nadiya average Paid Search expert

As the number of people I interview grows it’s becoming harder and harder to describe sitting down and having coffee in new and exciting ways. Well here goes. I had come to a warm beverage shop to meet Nadiya, a free-thinking, footloose Search specialist, currently working at ASOS.

Omar

Nadiya has forsaken big agency life for the seemingly not-so-secure life of contracting – taking short term contracts, from whoever needs a temporary Search expert. As we sat down to drink our, hot, brown, foamy, coffee-tasting drinks (I’ve lost it) I wanted to know what the potential pitfalls are of contracting, how strong the contract market is and why it can be great leaving a permanent job for a short-term contract.

After rising the ranks in big agencies, why did you decide to jump ship?

I got to a point where I felt I didn’t want to go any further up the hierarchy as this requires you to devise strategy, there is less implementation and you kind of separate yourself from the front line. My role became a lot more administrative and the next natural step up would have been a Head of Department.

I thought, do I want to go sideways or go up and I decided that I wanted neither really. Plus I was really tired in my role, I got sick of working for other people and you do get overworked. I wanted a bit of a break to think about what I did want to do and then maybe travel. That’s when I thought I would try contracting. I thought to myself I enjoy moving around, I enjoy different experiences and that’s where contracting would be perfect.

What were your initial emotions when you went into the contracting world?

Of course scary, because you don’t have the security of a permanent salary anymore. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not comfortable, I’m not in a position where I could not work for a while. In my mind I thought, if I don’t get a contract, what will I do? I was trying to mentally prepare myself for being skint at any given time.

I met a contractor in my last permanent job who I got in touch with and he put me in touch with a recruiter who also did this kind of thing and that is where I started. The beauty of contracting is that you don’t feel the weight of responsibility that you would in a permanent role. You work your contracted hours, do your job and leave.

Is it difficult to keep starting afresh and meeting new people in new offices?

No. There will always be a breaking in period, but that’s a matter of weeks. The good thing about Paid Search in particular is that once you learn how to do it, you can do it anywhere with anyone. That’s literally how it is and that’s why Search lends itself very well to contracting and freelance work.

From a technical point of view, how do you set yourself up?

I got an accountant to take care of that. I’m a limited company which any accountant will know how to guide you through.

Do people ask you why you are contracting and won’t take a permanent job?

Yes.

What do you say?

I say that I prefer contracting because I like the variety of moving around, working with different clients, working on different pieces of work – something you can’t guarantee in a permanent job. In an agency, once you are allocated to a client, it is a nightmare to try and move people around and to do different things.

Also I go through the whole back story of reaching a point in my career where I just needed change, I didn’t want to go any more senior, I was happy where I was, which doesn’t always reflect well in a permanent role. Whilst I’m contracting, I have the freedom to do what I want and get the experiences that I want more frequently without putting pressure on my employer. I can just say look, something else has come up, I want to try it out.

Is the contracting market strong and fairly easy to stay afloat in?

I think so, yes. So far it has been great. I’m on a maternity leave contract at the moment which are the sort of contracts I am looking for. You are often in a situation where your contract gets extended anyway and you will always know where you are at. There are a lot of other contractors out there, I still get emails all the time.

How long do you think you are going to be contracting? Are you secretly searching for the thing that you would love to do?

I think I have kind of accepted that this is it. Wherever the work takes me. I’m not a planner, I can’t plan very well. I think it gives me flexibility to be able to change my career if I want to. I want to live abroad at some point, and because I’m not tied in to anything long term I can plan for that.

My ideal is to be able to travel with my job, I would love to do that. That would be a step that I would want to try. Not all contracts require you to physically be in the office. You can just do the work and get paid for it.

What is the best thing about contracting?

Freedom and flexibility.

Would you ever go back to an agency?

To contract, yes. Permanently, no. I’ve done that and it is the same thing every time.

Epilogue

That was the straight-shooting, candid, breath of fresh air that is Nadiya Omar. I had found her so convincing and inspiring that I thought of getting a job in an agency just so I could leave and start contracting. Alas, we had reached the end of our conversion and it was time to go. We finished our kind of, liquidy, brown, coffee-beany, warm drinks and rode off into the sunset.