I recently had the pleasure to meet with an Australian contractor who is currently working in Sydney. Tom is a self-described perennial student of love, life, death and all of life’s lessons. He grew up in rural NSW before moving to the big city and becoming successful in the ICT industry. He also has a reputation for being (slightly) enigmatic. Sydney looks like a dream destination in glossy postcards, however speaking with Tom convinced me that it could actually be a nice place to work too! I mean, Tom is probably the only person in the world who admits to liking recruiters so that’s gotta be something. Please read on to hear more of Tom’s story as well as the real life view on working as an Australian contractor.
Interviewing with Bossy Flossie, this is your five minutes of online fame! Have you had any other brushes with fame before?
When I was 10 I was sent to our local Henny Penny chicken shop to pick up our family dinner. My parents both worked and takeaway for the family was a special treat. There was a film crew in the store that I thought nothing of at the time. For the next six months I turned up on our local rural TV station as the boy carrying a large number of chicken dinners out the door. Early celebrity status when you are still in primary school is awesome.
I am curious what it is like to be an Australian contractor? What would you say are the pros and cons versus a full time job?
I have recently chosen a contracting role after leaving full time employment, and you are right, there are benefits and disadvantages to both.
In permanent employment all your costs and risks are covered by your employer. They provide you with an agreed salary, financial incentives, paid leave, access to sick leave, workers compensation access, superannuation contributions, indemnity against customer issues and litigation, lodgment of all obligatory employment documentation, your work tools and work environment. You can also access other employees benefits and discounts.
As a contractor I have limited access to workplace tools and facilities, and I need to claim reimbursement or work related costs. I’m required to carry my own indemnity insurance and lodge all associated employment documentation. Practically, I also need to carry my own income protection insurances and ensure I contribute to superannuation. I’m also responsible for paying all Goods and Services and personal income tax obligations.
On the plus side I have a broader framework through my business to claim all work related expenses including work accommodation, travel, transport, work tools, promotional materials, insurances, conference and training costs. There is also a significant work / life balance benefit. In previously demanding permanent roles I found work encroaching on my availability as I was receiving phone calls and emails between 7 am and 10 pm and on weekends. With contracting work I’m available for a fixed conventional work day Monday to Friday, other work commitments have to be negotiated and paid for a higher rate. Perhaps, and this may be the best benefit, I leave the work at work when not there!
Is it true that contracting pays better than full time work?
Generally, yes. Contracting remuneration should also take into account the higher level of employment risk. I’m not guaranteed employment continuity or a contribution to my superannuation. I don’t have sick leave or paid holiday leave, if I don’t work I don’t get paid. To develop a personal view though your true comparison should also take into account all the employer funded benefits associated with a permanent role that I have to pay out as a contractor, or forego.
Can anyone be an Australian contractor and how do you get setup, do you need an ABN?
There are three main contracting structures that are used widely in the ICT industry. You operate as a PAYE contract employee with a contract provider looking after all support requirements, you create a business structure as a sole trader or registered company which you manage, or you operate through a managed contract provider who will provide a comprehensive support model for a management fee. Registering a business offers a lot more latitude with the accounting treatment of income and expenses, although you are then bound by corporate regulator guidelines on business accounting, business structure and reporting, all of which make it more expensive to operate. All non PAYE options require that you register for an ABN, and an ACN if creating a registered company.
Do you work with recruitment agencies, and if so do you care to name them?
The larger recruitment organisations typically have an arm of their business that handles contractor placement. They offer support for the 3 options outlined above, with a range of functions that you may choose not to manage yourself like invoicing, taxation, superannuation management, insurance and training. These businesses will also provide access to a range of benefits negotiated on behalf of their contractor community like health fund membership, reduced rate financial services and goods and services discounts.
Some of the more reputable organisations I am familiar with include:
The recruiters that I have dealt with that support contractors are very focused and professional. They realise that they can earn a broader income stream for their businesses by capitalising on a flexible, specialist work force. Accessing a contractor workforce also allows them the possibility of a highly lucrative permanent placement if the contractor can be persuaded to work for their client.
Imagine you have just won a huge sum of money. However the deal is, you must continue working for a company for 1 year and pay your own salary. However you can do any job, which job would you choose?
I’m a huge fan of professionals providing their services to organisations that would not normally be able to afford them. Given my ICT skill set I would love the opportunity to set up brand new client service support environmnents for some of our most needy charitable organisations. Areas of personal interest include support and protection services for young people and women, and organisations that provide community health care services.
Describe what kind of boss are you, are you a bad cop or good cop?
As I have matured in the workforce and my career I’ve become more of a good cop. I no longer have to prove my management credentials and have an open and transparent enough management style that most workplace issues are raised immediately and directly.
If you could give someone just starting out one piece of career advice, what would it be?
Don’t sweat the small stuff. Typically most employees, no matter where they are in an organisation, want to be seen as performing near perfectly. This is unrealistic in normal business practice and leads to people over managing micro issues and becoming stressed and ill. Develop an ability to see what is important, this should typically be through the eyes of your boss. I was given an amusing (but true) insight early in my career – “what interests my boss FASCINATES me.”
What was the worst colleague you ever had and why?
Unfortunately businesses aren’t immune from individuals with personality disorders. I spent time working for someone with a sociopathic personality. He spent time micro managing, acting out bouts of paranoia and self-aggrandisement before eventually being moved out of our business unit by the senior management team. Businesses are like boiled fruit cakes, you hit the occasional nut.
Finally, we want to learn about what Australian contractors like. What is your favourite holiday destination and your pet peeve when on holidays?
As an Australian contractor, I’m currently in love with Portugal. It has a relaxed lifestyle, a largely happy, family and community centric population, great shopping, excellent dining and a wonderful coast line. My pet peeve, meeting other travelers just doing the sites so they can cross it off a check list, or take a selfie. This recently includes travellers in Portugual headed to the fado festival. Have you heard fado? There’s a reason why it’s not on my must do list.
Thank you Tom for your time and insights.