As with any job, just as there are advantages, there are disadvantages. Life as an IT contractor is not all peaches and cream. There are some definite negatives. Depending on your viewpoint, they can be significant enough for you to abandon the idea of life as a contractor. When weighed against the advantages, an IT professional or a career changer can decide whether contracting is the way to go.
Some of the disadvantages that I have encountered include elusive security, periodic downtimes, financial responsibilities, and travel.
A job with a major company has one clear advantage over working as an IT contractor: security. When you go to work with a company, you know when you will get paid, what your benefits are, what your schedule will look like, and what career options are open. There is a definite ability to predict the futuremost of the timewhen employed by an established company. In the old days, if you went to work for a company early in your career, you could plan to retire from the company in 30 or 40 years. That is not the case in today's market, but there is still more security working for an established company than there is being an IT contractor.
One of the early lessons I learned as an IT contractor is that there are times in the year when work slows down. It is not a reflection on your work or your skills. It is simply an unpleasant fact. Most contract jobs slow down around the holidays and at the close of the fiscal yearwhen budgets are being redone. Work generally comes in spurts. You have to be ready for it and not get lazy. You also have to plan your finances around downtimes so that you don't get caught financially short. One of the decisions I made, when I realized that there are downtimes, is to plan vacations or personal training around industry-wide downtimes.
Another disadvantage of life as an IT contractor is that all of the financial responsibility is yours. Retirement plans, quarterly taxes, insurance, and expenses all have to be figured into your projections for the year. It is easy to say I need to make 70K for the yearmeaning 70K for my salary. But what do you have to make when you figure in your Federal, State, and Local taxes, not to mention your Social Security and any IRAs or 401Ks? Then, what will the costs be for equipment purchase and maintenance; maintaining an office at home; health, life and liability insurance; and any other expenses? All of those numbers have to be added onto the 70K to arrive at what you have to bring in to stay in business. Many prefer to work for a company because all of this is taken care of behind the scenes. The other factor that has to be figured into your financial needs is the cost of marketing yourself. Marketing comes in many formseverything from telephone work to advertising. Marketing does not come cheap, and it requires a good deal of time.
The last major disadvantage of life as an IT contractor is travel. Life as a contractor is often spent on the road in hotels, away from family. This can take a terrible toll on one's life. You can make a lot of money as a contractor, but you have to be aware of the time and emotional costs involved. I know of many people who spend 3050 weeks a year on the road. They have bank accounts that are unreal, but little in the way of family time. There is a way around that. If you live in a major city, contractors can often limit travel and make a good living by marketing themselves in their local city. I have avoided extensive travel by diversifying what I do and what I offer clients. Travel is often the straw that breaks the camel's back when an individual considers life as a contractor.