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Mindset Mentality: Independent Contractor

What truly goes on in the mind of an Independent Contractor? Think you may behave like one? Here are some things to think about before you use this title on your taxes.

In part 2 of the Mindset Mentality series, I’m tackling the Independent Contractor, or IC. Let’s just say that if you’re in business, it’s not just your abilities that shine through. Your personality and mode of operation is at least as important as your talent when it comes to growing a sustainable business.

As you may have gathered, I’m NOT an IC. In fact, this whole piece was a stretch for me to write, but I did it. How? Working with/living with an independent contractor for 26 years, that’s how. He and his peers had a lot to say on our similarities and differences, in fact. And they are as baffled at my mindset as I am of theirs, which is absolutely fine. It takes all kinds of personalities to drive the business owner’s life. I simply don’t operate from this mindset. But I did go through this method of operation when I started out. I tried on the hat and it clarified much for me. So let’s talk about the Independent Contractor Mindset.

First off, what is an Independent Contractor? According to the IRS, “… an individual is an independent contractor if the payer has the right to control or direct only the result of the work and not what will be done and how it will be done.”  They, like Freelancers and Consultants, are self-employed workers. However, unlike the other two, usually an independent contractor will work for one client, full-time, for a set period of time, often in the client’s office or place of work. An independent contractor is usually paid hourly, as well. This is also what sets them apart from the Entrepreneur we talked about last week.

Recognizing your Mindset

A few things need to be established if you, as an IC, are looking to make this thing stick. When the crap hits the fan, do you stand back and go, “Not my job”? Or do you own the project, dive in, and get things done? Is it possible that you do a little of both? If so, you may have those Independent Contractor tendencies.There just happen to be two types of IC business mindset, however:

  1. The first type is using this role as a transition to go from employee to a business owner or to another full-time employee role. It’s a perfect stepping-stone for someone in transition.
  2. The second type is where this pace is their niche. They’ve found a good balance of structure and freedom and they’re happy there. They will make a career of it.

The question is, which one are you? Assessing your IC type, your mode of operation, and commitment level will help clarify your long-term planning needs.

Why are you here?

Getting clear about your reasons for contracting in the first place gives you the framework for everything from the length and type of contracts you take, to the amount of business tools you invest in to keep learning and expanding your experience as a business owner. This is the first question to ask yourself. So being honest about why you want to contract helps you and the company hiring you for their project.

So ask yourself the five most important questions, first.

  1. Am I just looking to clock in and clock out of a project, pick up my paycheck, and keep looking for the perfect company?
  2. Do I have a passion for what I do and am looking to find every option to fulfill it?
  3. Do I feel comfortable jumping from project to project, feeling satisfaction in a job well done?
  4. Do I look forward to the challenge of consistently starting something new? If so, this may be a good role for the long haul.
  5. Is the start-and-stop method of wrapping up a project just as I’m getting the hang of things, causing havoc in my workflow? If this is the case, maybe you’d better look for a different option and use this as a transition.

This is a not a value judgement, but it does help determine what type of IC you are. If you are passionate and looking for the best way to fulfill your passion, this could be a really good long-term solution. If you’re just paying the bills, it’s more likely to be a short-term transition. (HINT: In other words, don’t take on a 2-year contract until you know why you’re here.)

How do you stand out?

As an IC, you are with a project for a specific, targeted amount of time, and you have the knowledge and experience to do what needs to be done. The next questions to ask yourself are:

  1. Am I great at what I do?
  2. Am I unique in my approach, my talent, my experience, or other differentiating factor?
  3. Do I work well under pressure?
  4. Do I deliver consistent, successful results?

Well, my friend, as you answer those questions positively, you’ll know to feel at home as an independent contractor. And that means you are going to feel right at home being part of a bigger project. Whether in IT, construction, or somewhere else, you know you stand out because you were hired to do something that the hiring company just doesn’t have the chops to handle. You are the specialty talent that comes in, like a closer in the 9th inning, to bring the heat and make the difference.

Who do you serve, specifically?

This is a tricky question because if you are an Independent Contractor, your loyalty is to you, first. Your career and the development of your toolbox. Sound harsh? A bit like a mercenary? It is, according to a few I’ve spoken with. Depending on what line of business you are in, you serve whomever you darn well feel like serving, and who has a need for what you do, and who has the money to pay for your skillset. So ask yourself:

  1. What size company can afford me?
  2. What am I willing to take on, specifically, for the hiring company?
  3. What am I not willing to do?
  4. Who don’t I want to represent?

The freedom to work with who you want to is an attractive part of being an independent contractor because, depending on your skill and experience level, you are sought after. (HINT: Don’t be a jerk about it. Nobody likes to work with a cocky IC. They just don’t.) You’re hired because you are great at what you do. But you better know your parameters.

Also, If you aren’t clear, right up front, you may end up inadvertently taking on the role of another part of the project. Whether stepping into the shoes of another person, team, or whole department, if you aren’t clear about your boundaries, resentment can happen on both ends. Which means burnout can happen. The long-term IC types are comfortable with their skillset and are great at staying in their lane. (HINT: Not so comfortable with just doing your part? Being an IC will probably drive you crazy.)

The results are…

IC’s stay focused on results because that’s how they are measured. This is where you shine! Your experience and talent are why you started contracting in the first place, but being able to get put on the spot, day after day, and perform like a champ is why you get paid the big bucks. You are the specialist.

If you know the answer to these questions, Boom! You are different, interesting, and in the running to stay in the black as an Independent Contractor. If you aren’t clear, you better find out, toot-sweet, my friend. Because in order to give your clients an accurate picture of how you can serve them, you need to know what you do and what you don’t. It’s all part of who you want to attract, and knowing for how long you need to stay engaged.

What does a day in the life look like?

Here are some positives and negatives. (Hint: Honestly, it looks a helluva lot like being an employee. But without the comfort of a boss’s benefit’s package or having to put up with him long-term.)

  • The positives – You usually get paid more. You are in control of the contracts you take. And when you’re done for the day, you can hang up your work hat and go live life outside work. Because you aren’t the boss of the company where your project originates from, you don’t have the pressure that comes with owning whether every part of the project is successful. Your only job is to do the best at what you were hired for. The rest is on ol’ what’s-his-face.
  • The negatives – An IC is a bit of an in-between role. You are not in charge of the whole picture process. I know. I said it was a positive, just up above. But depending on the type of Independent Contractor mindset you have, it can be either a pro or a con. You are one aspect of many in getting a job done. So you aren’t part of a team (unless you bring in your own) and yet you don’t call the shots. Therefore, you don’t have a say in whether your project succeeds or fails. You’re gonna have to be okay with that.

What I’ve learned, in a nutshell

As we’ve established in Business Mentality: Entrepreneur last week, I’m Entrepreneur-Minded. I just am. Chalk it up to personality, business history experience, or methodology, but it’s where I operate best. I’m all in for the long-haul, the vision to make a company the best at … whatever it is I’m on board with… but I have to work really hard to be well-rounded. Not only do I thrive in the visionary role, but as a business owner, I have to provide a disciplined approach to things like processes and an exit strategy to keep me even-keel. This is where I admire and have learned from the independent contractor mindest.

I’d say that an IC role is an acceptable mercenary-driven mentality. It’s the perfect role for someone who is either transitioning to their next employer, or who is comfortable in their lane and works well letting other people do their thing. So if you are an IC, I salute you! You are already looking out for #1 as far as the bottom line and an exit strategy goes. Or you will be, shortly, because experience is teaching you to keep that in your sites. You’ve got to get in, give great results, and get out. I had to work hard to make an exit strategy a priority.

So what have you learned as an independent contractor? I’d love to hear your stories of balancing your talent with staying in your lane. Next week I’ll be talking about what it’s like inside the mindset of a Founder.