The key traits you need to run a successful contracting business

If you’re starting a contracting company then the odds are that you’ve been thinking about how to be successful in your chosen field. The fact is that there are certain personality types that take to becoming a freelance contractor and there are some that need to work a little bit harder. It comes down to personality — but don’t worry, even if you feel you’re not naturally gifted, you can still learn how to be a good contractor.

So, how can you cultivate the personality traits that make a good contractor? We’ve narrowed down a few of the qualities you’ll need to adopt. With experience, you’ll learn how to manage a company successfully *and* be able flit from assignment to assignment with ease.

1. Sociability

If you’re a natural extrovert then there are parts of a contractor’s life that will come easily to you. When it comes to the day to day running of a business, the ability to network and put people at their ease is really important when your role is, by its very nature, temporary. Often, you’ll be asked to work within an existing team and an ability to integrate and get along with all sorts of different people is extremely useful.

If you’re not an extroverted person, it doesn’t mean you’re at a disadvantage, it just means that you have to work at developing a work persona that makes sense for you. Remember, it’s not about being the most popular person in the room, it’s just about being affable enough that you can get your job done and to ensure you’ll be remembered quickly and fondly if there are follow-up assignments. Taking a short course in improv or drama can help you develop the kind of responsive communication skills you’ll need.

2. Adaptability

This is one of the key traits that distinguish good contractors from great ones. The unpredictable nature of contracting work is what drives a lot of people to give up permanent employment and set out on their own. You never know what’s going to be asked of you from assignment to assignment and that means you’ll never be bored.

However, adaptability is more than showing up to different workplaces, it’s about cultivating the Zen Buddhist practice of Mushin. Mushin translates as “mind without mind” and for contracting purposes, it means not being attached to a set way of doing things whether that’s because you’re used to them or it gratifies your ego.

Adaptability is the constant acknowledgement that although you are extremely knowledgeable, you might not always know best. The ability to drop into company culture and adopt existing methodologies where necessary (and useful) will put you in high demand with clients.

3. Meticulous

The ability to document what you do will benefit every aspect of your life as a contractor. The reasons for this are twofold:

(1) Your brain can only hold so much information

If you’re working on an assignment and you learn something useful, like a timesaving process or a smart way to run your workflow, it’s important that you document it as quickly as possible so you can pull it out of your bag of tricks on other assignments. The nature of your work means that you learn (and forget) vast swathes of information as required by your client. Documenting useful processes will mean that you’ll never lose a helpful tidbit as you ‘mind dump’ after a demanding gig.

(2) Your accountant will thank you

Documentation doesn’t just pertain to the practical aspects of your work. An ability to store and collate all your expenses, work receipts and deductibles will make you and your accountant’s lives much easier when it comes to doing your taxes. There are plenty of apps that allow you to digitise the whole process, so there’s no excuse not to become a full-blown archivist, particularly if you’re fond of a business lunch.

4. The ability to be a follower *and* a leader

We’ve already talked about how every contractor needs to be an adaptable, charming magpie – ready at a moment’s notice to step in and get the job done, while recognising the useful processes they can adopt for the long haul. But the single most important trait small business contractors can possess is the ability to switch up their behaviour in order to match clients’ expectations.

Working out when it’s best to be assertive and lead and when to hold back and work as part of a larger team is rarely an innate skill, rather it’s something learned and combines your years of experience and a finely honed sense of intuition.

You know that you’ve got the skills and intellect to do the job and some clients will expect you to lead, acting as a consultant. Other times, it’s about hanging back and understanding the nature of a company’s culture, sharing and disseminating ideas without running the show. Really it comes down to feeling secure in your own prowess and having the courage to both seize and relinquish control knowing it’s not about you but about advancing the project.

Sound tricky? That’s because it is. Becoming a contractor is a skill like any other and it takes a while to master the complex interpersonal cues the work requires. But the good news is that you already have all the baseline skills needed to help your contracting business thrive. All you need to do is believe in your instincts, let go of your ego and trust that just by showing up every day, even when things are challenging,, you’re building all the skills you need to excel. You’ve got this – and it’s only going to get better.