Should I go Contracting in South West England?

  • Should I go Contracting in South West England?

    I've got a chance to take voluntary redundancy and find a new job. My aim is ideally to take winter contract work enabling me to take time out in summer to ease towards retirement in less than five years.

    I've got a computing degree and 35 years in the software industry with nearly twenty years working with SQL Server as developer in various languages and DBA. I've got strong SSIS, SSRS and some SSAS and good DBA skills so would prefer to go in the BI direction if possible although in this job, I also write VB.NET intranet web applications with sql server.

    So I'd like to hear from others in the UK as to the state of the contract market and whether they think my ideas are feasible.

    I'm not scared of the financial side of contracting or setting up a limited company and I'll have a reserve of money to start me off. I'm not sure about IR35 etc. though and would like to hear how other SQL Contractors manage their affairs and whether they think this would be a good move.

  • I don't know anything about England or the state of employment there. If you can find a lot of good short-term contracts, then your plan sounds like a good one. Remember, however, that just because you have a good financial cushion now doesn't mean you'll have one in 5 years. As tempting as taking off summers sounds, my fear would be that I wouldn't be able to find winter work after the first one or two jobs, and then have to start my retirement several years earlier than expected. Which would eat into that retirement cushion and ... well, austerity is an unhappy state of existence.

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  • I presume that you've been keeping an eye on vacancies in the last few months. That should give you an idea of the market. My perception, as a person who keeps an eye on things while being a permie, is that there is not that much available there. Or maybe I'm not seeing the relevant feeds.

    I'm guessing that London is a no-no, but if I were you, I would keep it as a last resort at least. Especially to get that first contract on the CV. If you are prepared to do that, you should be fine.

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  • The south east appears to be still quite bouyant after a peak in June/July. There used to be a lot of activity based around Exeter but I haven't seen any for a while. If you can consider Bristol, you'll probably be ok. Luck and hard work both come into the equation. You get more of the former if you do more of the latter.

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  • This is something I've just spent a month or so deciding for myself, so I will try to help. (FYI I'm based in London though. The market looks good in London, but I haven't looked too far outside the region. If you would also consider Cardiff- and maybe even Swindon too- you may be able to find enough work.)

    I'll start with the basics, so sorry if I'm teaching you to suck eggs;

    - I really recommend that you buy a book called The Contractors' Handbook. It's £40 but you can offset it against your start-up costs, and also if you register on the website you sometimes get a voucher for £5 off. (I do not have any financial or person connection to this book, I just think it's really useful. You can get the first 3 chapters free as a PDF if you want to get a feel for it.) The book covers a lot of the basics which you may already know, but also some stuff about how to negotiate your contract, when to seek legal advice, and that sort of thing.

    - As you may be aware, the most recent budget has really stripped away a lot of the benefits of going self-employed (outside IR35). More tax will be payable on dividends from next April (quite a lot more- I don't have the facts to hand right now, but check out the Contractor Calculator website for expert advice). In many cases, however, if you have regular contracting work you will probably still be a lot better off than you would be in a permanent position- but obviously without all the perks, as you know.

    - The rule of thumb seems to be that you need to look to earn a minimum of 1.5 x your permanent day rate. In practice, if you're quite well paid now, this may not be so easy. The rates may well be lower outside London, but some places will pay more because they're in an undesirable location. Only you know how much you want to live on.

    - Be prepared for your job search to take a few weeks at first. Also, you need to be able to move quickly- interview now, start in two days, that kind of thing. Nobody's going to wait around for you to work your notice. (I know this may seem obvious, but I thought I should mention it.)

    - Job sites/apps that may be useful are (sorry I can't link to them; my PC at work is massively locked down, so you'll have to search for them): Jobserve, CWJobs, IT Jobs UK/Technojobs, Reed.

    If I think of any more advice, I'll come back. Good luck!

  • I made the jump to contracting ten years ago (I have gone back to permie work since) so some of my thoughts might be out of date.

    Where are you calling the south west? Cornwall or Wiltshire? The Bristol / Bath area is quite good for contracting.

    I didn't think of doing it at first, but where you work doesn't have to be in commutable on a daily basis - I live in the south west and worked in Rugby for 5 years - drive up on monday back on friday and in digs in between. This depends on your circumstances though, my family were happy (might even been ecstatic!) at this prospect.

    To add to Beatrix's list - dice list a few jobs that satisfy your criteria too.

    I used an umbrella company (parasol - there are others out there) rather than setting my own up and found this quite easy, but you do pay employers and employees NI this way.

    In addition, you will need to spend the last month of your contract starting to look around for the next one and as Beatrix said you may have to move fast. One contract I was on, I interviewed on the Thursday and started on the next week.

    Good luck!

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  • Thanks all, especially Beatrix and Stuart. Bristol and Bath are readily commutable and Swindon too. Even Southampton isn't really too far. I'll look for the book and peruse the websites. It's good that the general tone of response is supportive so I'm going to aim for the contract work and get on with the necessary preliminaries of setting up and finding out details and getting professional advice on accounts etc. whilst I wind down my current job.

    The whole department has now been axed so everyone from service desk to head, via developers, server team, change management and desktop support is going through redundancy and are job seeking in various areas of the country.

  • I was just wondering how this is going for you?

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