Building a positive reputation that encourages repeat business and premium billing rates has always been difficult for tech contractors who travel from one gig to another. After all, roving professionals rarely receive formal performance reviews, and their clients typically own the rights to their work and code, so they have a hard time documenting their roles, responsibilities and impact as important contributors to a project team.
The good news is that there are some ways to prove your greatness. Here are several strategies for authenticating your contributions and demonstrating your value to current and future clients and teammates.
Use SOW to Measure and Track Your Performance
Create a culture of accountability from the outset of an assignment by taking ownership of your work and personal performance, advised Lynn Hilt, president and CEO of Ashvins Group.
Don’t make assumptions. Start by reviewing and helping to create or refine the statement of work (SOW). Write down all the deliverables, goals, timelines and schedules that you will be responsible for, as defined by the project manager.
For contractors, a well-crafted SOW is essential to managing expectations; it not only serves as a performance baseline, but also a communications tool that you can use to gather feedback from your project manager (in addition to recording progress throughout the project). “Don’t go more than 30 days without requesting a formal review,” Hilt said, “and be sure to schedule periodic reviews with your PM or team lead when you’re working on a long-term assignment.”
Connect Your Role to the Bigger Picture
Sorry, but keeping your nose to the proverbial grindstone won’t set you apart from other contractors or enhance your reputation as a key contributor, noted Donald Hatter, speaker, author and expert on how to maximize your influence.
“Look for opportunities to create value outside of your basic tasks by suggesting ways to reduce costs, decrease errors or produce more code,” Hatter suggested. It’s all about creating the perception that you’re an invaluable contractor, one that the company needs to either keep onboard or bring back repeatedly for future gigs.
Understanding the strategic value of a project will help you connect your role to the end result and identify ways to become a top contributor. What business problems or issues does the project address? How do you fit in, and why do your contributions matter? How can you go above and beyond? Contractors should always measure their actions in terms of business impact when marketing their services to prospective clients, or discussing their roles in previous projects.
If the project manager doesn’t offer to share the business case-project charter, goals and schedules, ask to review the documents or discuss the intent of the project with your teammates to draw a connection between your daily activities and the company’s top and bottom lines.
Document Your Achievements and Attributes
If possible, keep a daily journal of your work, or track the progress of resolving bugs and issues via version control systems. Alternatively, you can cite the scorecards or KPIs used to measure your project team’s effectiveness before describing your specific contributions.
Unless otherwise restricted, share samples of your code online, or links to websites or apps you’ve worked on. You could also blog about your successes using the STAR format. Creating a digital trail of your work activities, team participation and experiences can increase the demand for your services and boost your ability to command premium rates.
Always conduct an end-of-assignment review with your PM, and document your accomplishments and feedback in your résumé’s project addendum, your personal website, and your profiles on professional networking sites. While your technical skills may help get your foot in a company’s door, it’s your soft skills that will keep you in demand. Give deliberate and equal attention to teamwork, collaboration and problem-solving when describing your methodologies, approach to projects, or the feedback you received from teammates, stakeholders and PMs.
Finally, ask a satisfied PM or team member to endorse your skills or to submit a public performance evaluation (using a tool such as StaffingScore). Referrals, reviews and references can dramatically increase your client base by offering official proof of your expertise as a technical contractor.