Many professionals have yearned to be their own boss, whether it’s as a writer, creative designer, or entrepreneur. It’s no different for learning and development (L&D) practitioners. But perhaps the marketing, administrative tasks, and meeting payroll aspects aren’t your ideal either. An additional option is to be a subcontractor (though, of course, some subcontractors also serve as independent consultants as part of their portfolios).
The authors of TD at Work’s December issue, “The Ins and Outs of Subcontracting”—Howard Prager, Joe Willmore, Rebecca Boyle, and Rick Hicks—point out that anyone considering the move should go in with their eyes wide open.
Things to Consider Before Starting OutWhile a major plus for some L&D professionals looking to become subcontractors is that they don’t have to handle direct marketing, they should understand that they will be required to do the task in some way—they’ll have to market themselves. As the authors write, “Subcontractors still need to sell themselves, but it is usually through networking, involvement with associations, and reputation rather than cold calling, creating a pipeline, making sales calls, and then working to close the sale.”
Some professionals explore the possibility of going solo by beginning with some subcontracting work. By doing this, they can better ascertain what skills have high market demand and whether they like doing project-by-project work. Testing the waters in this way can be a way to start getting your name out there.
Potential Downsides to Think AboutSome of the challenges with subcontracting can be said for contracting or other “going out on your own” situations, such as slow periods where a paycheck may be small or even non-existent, a lack of paid vacation, potential loneliness, or not having someone to bounce ideas off of.
Additionally, as a subcontractor, you need to understand that the contractor will usually be the one who gets paid first by the client and it can be several weeks or even months before you are reimbursed.
There also are situations where subcontractors accept a temporary on-site assignment, such as a three-month term. There may be uncertainties where boundaries are. For example, in many respects, you may be treated like an employee, reporting in at 8:30 a.m. and leaving at 5 p.m., using client equipment—in many ways, feeling like a member of the team. In other respects, you may be seen as—and feel—like an outsider. For example, you don’t have the vacation, access to employee benefits such as reduced prices in the lunchroom, or access to privileged company information. Where exactly these lines are drawn may not be clear.
Improving Your Chances of SuccessBesides going in with your eyes wide open, here are some further tips for success as an L&D subcontractor.
Stay up-to-date. Retain and hone your skills and capabilities by regularly reading, listening to webcasts, and attending workshops (many of which come at no or low cost). The world of work—including the technologies and methodologies of L&D—is changing rapidly, so it’s critical to spend time upskilling and staying at the forefront of the profession.
Find your niche. Don’t try to be an expert in everything. Choose the work you most like to do and never take on work that you’re not competent to perform.
Don’t spread yourself too thinly. Because you’ll have lean times, you may think you have to grab every job that comes your way when you encounter more robust periods. But if you do, you’ll probably find yourself stressed and will be unable to give your best to the contractor and the client.
One final tip is to seek professional help—that is, have discussions with your lawyer and financial advisor to ensure you’re doing everything you need to be doing to be a successful subcontractor on those fronts.