Firstly, I am a programmer. I am currently working in a company building a .NET web app. I have 4.5 years of programming experience in companies but I have been programming website applications for 10 years now. I am a full-stack programmer capable of creating proper relational databases in MySQL / SQL, I can write SQL stored procedures which are extremely complicated but efficient, I can program with PHP / C#, I have a high level of HTML/CSS/jQuery, I know how to use photoshop / illustrator. In summary, I can build a web application from design to delivery on my own if necessary. If not on my own, I can easily work with a team to achieve those goals, focussing on specific areas.

When I look at contractor jobs in the UK I see incredible salaries ranging from £200 - £400 a day for a contractor.

  • How good do you actually have to be for these roles?
  • How can I determine if I am capable of actually getting these jobs?
  • I imagine them paying this much money for some incredible genius who arrives and solves all their problems? Am I just creating an image and it's not like this?
  • 12
    They pay you well because you know what you're doing. But more importantly, they're buying flexibility : as soon as the job is done, you're not on the pay roll anymore. Consider that, as a contractor, you will have days, weeks, possibly months without any income, in case of a shortage of projects. The "incredible" salaries might as well bring you a "normal" range of yearly income, and you'll need to manage that. Companies pay what they are most generally asked, the price of the market if you will. Since contractors have to plan for those inactivity periods as well, the daily salary is high.
    – Puzzled
    Commented Nov 26, 2015 at 10:57
  • 4
    As @Puzzled said, also don't forget that while a company might be paying a contractor £200 - £400 a day, they're only paying them for the days they work, not public holidays, sick days, annual leave, etc. etc., which makes a difference. Commented Nov 27, 2015 at 2:38
  • Pension. Accountant....
    – Ed Heal
    Commented Nov 27, 2015 at 10:09

3 Answers 3


As both a hiring manager and a contractor hopefully I can answer this:

The day rates you say are OK, good roles can pay 600+. They are paying for your flexibility, your skills and for their convenience. I've had contracts where I've been expected to relocate ( or travel and stay mon-fri) at a days notice. I've had 6 month contracts that give notice after a few weeks due to budget changes. The money reflects this, plus the fact you may finish up and take months to secure the next gig.

How good do you actually have to be for these roles?

You need to be up on current trends/practices and skills and be able to hit the ground running. No easing in as a contractor, you'll be expected to be productive within a few days with little training.

How can I determine if I am capable of actually getting these jobs?

Go for them, the interviews tend to be simpler/quicker as it's easier to push you out than as a permanent staff member.

I imagine them paying this much money for some incredible genius who arrives and solves all their problems? Am I just creating an image and it's not like this?

You don't need to be a genius, but a skillful, driven and quick worker.

You also need to decide how you want to do this. You can get paid via an umbrella company, tax is taken care of, but you'll come out with salary like a permie once they take their cut. Alternative is your own company, much more money, but you are running a business, so you need to deal with tax, accounts etc. You'll also need to pay for indemnity and liability insurance.

It's not for everyone, but good fun if it fits.

  • Good answer, they pay for results, and can boot you out anytime you don't produce, I've charged up to 600 an hour on urgent specialised work
    – Kilisi
    Commented Nov 26, 2015 at 22:29
  • 2
    Good answer. About umbrella companies - if you want to contract for financial services companies in particular, you will need to have your own limited company as a lot of these large corporate entities view umbrella companies as tax avoidance schemes which would cause them to be sanctioned by their regulators.
    – toadflakz
    Commented Nov 27, 2015 at 11:38
  • And get an accountant who is conversant with IR35
    – Mawg
    Commented Nov 9, 2016 at 18:23

It is a fallacy that contractors know everything and that this is reflected in the rates that are paid. I have worked with contractors who ARE exceptionally good and I've worked with ones where it was apparent they knew little. This is also true of permanent staff.

The rates being offered and paid reflect the flexibility the company gets and the saving on overheads such as pension, healthcare, holidays that are associated with permanent staff

Obviously, interviews for contractors within some companies can be as thorough as those for permanent positions whereas other companies will literally take the first body they are offered as they know they can get rid of them after x weeks/months.

The way to think about being a contractor versus a permanent employee when it comes to skill levels is that your renewal is effectively your performance review. If you are doing a good job and the project/budget is still there, you will be renewed, otherwise you will not.

The only way to determine if you are capable of getting these jobs is to go for an interview and see if you are offered the role.

To answer your final question directly, YES, you are creating an image and it is NOT like this!


In the united states the rate your boss charges a customer for your time would be twice your salary. That covers all your benefits, taxes, insurance, vacation, sick leave, retirement, the overhead of running the company and business development. So the rule of thumb for £400 a day contracting rate would be £50 an hour contracting; which would translate into a salary of £50,000 a year.

That flexibility you give them is what they are paying for. If they need to cut your hour they can do so. They can terminate your efforts based only on the terms of the contract.

The ones who excel in that life as a independent contractor are those whose cost of living is less than what that rate would imply. In the US that tends to be people who have another source of the benefits or their retirement pay is covered. That means that they can survive on a dry spell. It is also done by people who are using the role as a contractor a the first step to starting a contacting business.

As for finding work. It isn't the normal type of interview. In the US you would have to bid for a contract. They will want more information on past performance. They will have already decided to go the route of hiring a contractor. In some cases they want a very specific skill set, in other cases they are looking for a more broad set of skills. Gigs can last days or weeks, or years depending on the situation.

  • Your rule of thumb looks like it grossly underestimates take home pay assuming consistent work - in fact in the UK contractors can take home a much higher portion of their gross pay than permanent staff thanks to their ability to avoid large amounts of income tax.
    – Ant P
    Commented Nov 13, 2016 at 21:39

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .