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TL;DR Is it reasonable to do contract work for a single job between full-time jobs when I don't yet know much about what contract work involves, or is it something that requires more time and investment?

I'm a software developer, or at least I was until the company I worked for folded. I'm used to full-time, and I'd like to stay that way, but many of the jobs I'm finding in my area are contract (I've found one in particular that I'm really interested in, but is contract). Contract looks quite involved and I don't understand it, but I need to take something soon. I'm afraid of being too picky in my job-hunting, especially since I can always search for a full-time role later, but I'm also afraid of jumping into a form of employment I know little about (I understand many people have been hard done by through the finicky wording of contracts). Basically, I don't know enough to make that call.

Is it reasonable for someone in my position to learn everything I need to know about contracting in order to get a reasonable job more easily in a short space of time? Or is that time better spent sifting through to find the full-time ones?

(I'm in Australia, if that matters.)

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This is hard to answer without knowing you personally. Being self-employed clearly isn't for everyone. Some people really enjoy it, while others constantly get screwed and loose money on every project they touch.

As you constrain your question to creating proper contracts, I feel the need to point out, that even if you have a "good" contract, people may simply screw you through not paying and hoping you don't have the money and time to go to court, or they'll go bankrupt in the meantime.

So while having a proper contract really helps in preventing a lot of problems right from the start, it's by no way an insurance guaranteeing well-going projects.

To answer your actual question, I would say it's reasonable, if you are following some simple rules.

  • Don't take to large projects to limit the risk involved in a single contract. When I started contracting, I wouldn't take projects over more than 10.000€ even when there were direct inquiries. This atleast somehow limits the financial risk associated with each single project.
  • Trust your gut and don't work for people who are difficult from the start. Avoid customers who are constantly changing their mind (such people call that "being flexible"). Success in contracting is atleast 50% the knowledge of human nature.
  • I wouldn't advise you to work for a single employer, but to always try to work for different ones, so you won't be totally ruined if one doesn't pay their bills (and this will most likely happen some day).

You'll learn everything you need to know the hard way (through practical experience) anyway, but if you are following the above points you would atleast be able to limit your exposure to the risk of huge financial losses in the starting period.

In almost any case, people start of with no prior knowledge in contracting/accounting/etc. and then figure it out by themself somehow.

In the end I would therefore say, your question is more a question of personal attitude. Being a contractor means you'll have to care for yourself. There is no employer who will care for you. If you are fine with that, there is nothing stopping you from just doing it.

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    "Being flexible" is fine as long as the customer pays. Many people learned half of the rule "The customer is always right". The complete rule is "The customer is always right as long as the customer pays". – gnasher729 Jun 20 '16 at 16:31
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    the only thing I'd add is "talk to an accountant first". Discovering after the fact that you weren't doing something that the tax man requires is not a pleasant situation to find yourself in. – Dan Neely Jun 21 '16 at 0:19
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A full time job is a contract job. This is much the same, but you have to be a lot more careful of what you're contracting to do and how the billing is arranged. It's your responsibility to make sure you're not going to come out badly.

But if you keep it simple and have a thorough paper trail you'll be ok. Many people actually prefer these sorts of jobs.

The main things to watch out for are making sure you're getting paid promptly, and not agreeing to anything too vague which might lump you with a whole bunch of issues. So get a very clear idea of what is needed to complete the project, make sure both parties agree to that (in writing). And make sure anything outside of that scope is understood to be an extra bill.

If you're working to timeframes, make sure you have a solid estimation of the time needed, don't make a rough guess, there's nothing worse for your reputation than failing to meet deadlines.

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Agree with the above answer to an extent.

If you're struggling to find a full time permanent position right now, then contract might be the only way you can survive financially. There is always the chance that future employers will question the move but in your case it seems like a genuine reason.

If financially you need to be working - I would take the contract and actively search for permanent roles.

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