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Author: Graeme McInteer,

Is Contracting for You?

Is Contracting for You?

By Graeme McInteer, Director and Founder at Zephyr Consulting Limited.

So you’re thinking of taking the leap from (so called) secure fulltime salaried employment into the unknown world of Contracting. Have you thought it through and weighed up the benefits vs the pitfalls? Or have you just seen the dollars that these contractors earn and are thinking “I’ll have a piece of that”?

Becoming an independent contractor can give you better working conditions, variety of roles/industries and potential flexibility, but there are disadvantages too. It’s not a decision to be taken lightly, so what do you need to consider in order to make a business case for “taking the leap”? Below I’ve taken a sample of the common so called Benefits of Contracting and provided a contra view to assist you in analysing these benefits and how they would apply to you.

You Are Your Own Boss (Yeah right!)

Sure you decide when and where you’re going to work, what you will and will not do. But the reality is, once you’ve decided to enter into a Contract between you and a Client it will dictate what you do and do not need to do. Generally speaking, that means whatever the Client wants you to do. So yep, you’re the boss of deciding which contracts to take, but once you’re in one, the Client IS the boss.

Good Work/Life Balance

This is very much in line with being your own boss and the ability to choose when to head home for the day. The reality is that as a contractor you’re probably going to be working on a project. Projects inevitably come under pressure and when that happens how pleased is your client going to be when they see you heading out the door on the way to the beach while their fulltime staff are working all hours to get your project over the line?

Sure the potential for great work/life balance is there, but sometimes it won’t be your choice.

No Politics

This one is actually nearly true. The office politics will still be there, but as an independent contractor you can ignore them. You’re there to do a job and generally can simply let that ‘stuff’ flow over your head (depending on your role).

Having said that, the contra view is that if you’re not the type that can let that stuff ‘flow over the top’, then contracting might not be for you!

Test Out New Fields Industries

Not sure if you want to shift your career into a new field? Absolutely Contracting provides an opportunity to “try before you buy” without committing yourself to a fulltime job. If it doesn’t work out you can quickly move on and your CV doesn’t look like you had a meltdown. The contract simply came to a natural end.

The tricky bit is that generally Clients take on contractors for the expertise and experience in the domain required. So the opportunity to test out new fields may not be as accessible as you think.

Earn More Money

Everybody sees the hourly rate, multiplies it by 2080 (52 weeks * 40 hours) and thinks wow. Trust me, you will not earn that figure! There’s two things to consider when it comes to evaluating Contractor income vs Salary income.

What’s Included?

Salaried employees have a whole list of things ‘included’ in their salary that Contractors do not. The obvious ones are payment for Statutory Holidays, Annual Leave, Sick Leave, Bereavement Leave, and Jury Service. Very quickly your 2080 hours available comes down to around 1700.
Then there is the “Company benefits” like mobile phones, expense reimbursement, car parking etc etc

2. Downtime

Every contractor will experience it. Downtime, On the Bench, Lost Time, call it what you like but the ability to move from one contract to another without any is extremely rare. Make sure you factor in some Downtime in your calculations. Any available hours being paid at $0 wipes out the extra income of the contractor rate very quickly!

So sure, the potential to earn more money is real but don’t under estimate the increased risk being taken and make sure you’re being fairly rewarded for that risk.

Ability to Work Part-Time

Everyone would love to get that fabulous work life balance and work 3-4 days per week, and yes contracting can provide that opportunity. But there are pitfalls that make it difficult to sustain. Clients are happy to pay top dollar because you’re skilled and bring expertise. They want you accessible and available when they or their team members turn to ask a question. You may well be quite capable of “doing the job” in 3 days a week, but if your absence is being noticed the relationship will suffer.

So, being a contractor is very different to being a fulltime salaried employee. You no longer have a boss. On the other hand, you’re alone and responsible for your success and failures. If you coast, you’ll be found out. If you fly, you’ll (probably) have great success.

Unsure which step to take before you make the leap? For free advice and guidance, chat to us to see if becoming a Consultant / Contractor is right for you

Do I Need a Server?

My server is dying – do I need to replace it?

There’s a simple answer: yes and no.

ICT Managed Services and Support at Zephyr Consulting Limited.

Let’s paint the picture: your server is 3-5 years old and wheezing. It may be running out of space to store any more of your files and you’re not sure how much longer it will last. You’ve had a quote for $20K to replace it (perhaps lots more) and you are not keen on lashing out cash if you don’t have to! Leasing is an option, but you know that in the long-term it’ll cost more. Ditto financing the deal. So what do you do?

We all know that servers are not cheap. Understandably, as server manufacturers use quality components for reliability. But the last thing you want is your server playing up while 100 people are trying to work. As a comparison, a replacement hard disk drive for your home computer is about $100. For a server, think more $1000….EACH, because normally you will need to buy at least two at a time.

Servers should be replaced every 4 years at the most, and generally every 3 years is a normal life cycle. They are the most critical part of your computer network, and not something you would want to stretch out to last as long as possible, as you might with a desktop PC.

Firstly Do I still need a Server?

A server is the heart of your network. It handles the security around who can log into your network, it handles any print jobs that comes through, it holds all the files you (and the rest of your staff) work on, it probably does all your email too, as well as dishing out Windows updates and managing the antivirus updates for all your computers. There are other jobs it does that you have no idea of, and I’m not going to discuss them here and totally confuse you. Just be aware the server in your office isn’t just doing a single, obvious job; it has many hats and works hard. There are many variations to the above scenario. Some companies may have moved their email to Office 365, and out of their own network (great for disaster recovery!). And others may have moved their email and shared files to Office 365, you don’t need a server to do this work.

Is security Important to You?

Security is a big one in an office network. You don’t want just anyone logging in as you, and looking at your email or files. That’s one of the main roles of your server – security over who can do what. If you take that security away, you need to be careful on how people log into their (or your) computer, so confidential information doesn’t get exposed to the wrong people.

Your server also makes it so much easier to make changes on your network. Let’s say you get a new printer/photocopier. With a server, the new printer is ‘loaded’ onto it, and everyone picks up any changes to the printer from the server. Want to force everyone to print double sided? Just one change on the server, and then everyone else gets that change. Without a server, you would need to visit every computer to make a single change. Time consuming at best.

You may have worked out then that there’s some jobs your server does that you can’t put in ‘the cloud’. On the other hand, you’ve likely heard from some people who have moved everything to the cloud, wanting no servers on their premises.

Is it Possible (and economical) to get rid of your severs?

Let’s get one thing clear. Those people who say they got rid of their servers, probably haven’t. Their server may now be ‘collocated’ so while it’s not at their site, they would have paid someone else to ‘host’ their physical server/s for them at (for example) a datacentre, where there’s better earthquake strengthening, better power redundancy and better physical security. So while they may say they have no server, they still do – it just isn’t on their premises.

Benefits of a Cloud Based Server

There are many benefits of having your data stored in the Cloud, like flexibility and costs. But a huge benefit of having a cloud server is Disaster Recovery (DR) and Business Continuity Planning (BCP). Which means when there is a natural disaster for example an earthquake, your company data is safe and your server is not covered in piles of rubble. It’s a huge risk to think about, and we’ve seen some companies unable to come back from such a disaster.

But like everything there are some disadvantages too which you’ll have to keep in mind. To read more about Cloud-base Server, check out our thoughts on the Pros and Cons of Using a Cloud Based Server.

Is Your Internet up to Speed?

At this point you may be thinking, “Right that’s it! I am going to get me some of those cloud servers and dump all my onsite servers.” Ah if only it was that simple – you will need to plan this out and check that your supporting network is capable for such a move. For example, it is pointless having a cloud server if you are on an ADSL or VDSL internet connection. Don’t know what this means? It’s the type (and that means speed) of your internet connection. You will also need to have at minimum, a fibre connection to the internet (for example, UFB) to effectively use a cloud-based server. Otherwise you are asking for slow speeds of service and frustrated staff.

An Option for Small Organisations

If you have say 10 staff or less, you can get away with no server onsite and effectively no servers in the cloud. There are some caveats around this. Your computers all need to be running Windows 10, and you’ll need to be using Office 365. And as long as your company’s documents and files are stored in SharePoint Online, for example you should still have security over people logging into your computer, and privacy of them not being able to view your documents at the same time.

As long as all these caveats are met, you should be able to remove the need for any server onsite. Zephyr can help you with more information on any of these options.

So what is the Answer?

It’s frustrating and it’s one of those questions we often get asked here at Zephyr. So what is the answer? So, can you get rid of your server? The answer is still yes and no. Each company has different requirements, and you may find that you have no choice but to have at least one server onsite. However, you may find that you can move many of your IT requirements offsite, and that means if you do need a server onsite it can be a much lower-specified (i.e. cheaper) one.

What has been your experience with Servers? If you have been using a Cloud-Based Server, what are your thoughts?

Pros and Cons of Cloud-Based Server

Pros and Cons of Using a Cloud Based Server

ICT Managed Services and Support at Zephyr Consulting Limited.

So your server is 3-5 years old and it’s wheezing. Should you replace your server or is it time to consider other options? There are other alternatives to not having your server on your premises or collocated. An option is to use a cloud-based server, such as Microsoft’s Azure service. This is effectively renting a server for your own use, to do the job one would do if you had it onsite. There are advantages and disadvantages of using a cloud-based server, here’s a summary of what we reckon are key:

Cost Savings

You don’t have to buy a server, which can range from $10,000 to many, many tens of thousands of dollars. By renting, you pay as you go. Say it’s a test server, then you can turn it off to save money. You generally don’t pay anything for a cloud-based server if it isn’t turned on. But then you aren’t likely to do that with your ‘main’ server if it was in the cloud – that would be crazy turning it off and on every night and morning. And in the long run, it is still much cheaper to rent an Azure server than having your own.

But of course, over time, that money is going to add up substantially, however it does also mean you will never have to fork out for a new server after 5 years because it’s now out of warranty.

Flexibility

An advantage of having a cloud server is that you can add easily more disk space or disk speed to it if you need to. If the server in your office runs low on space or speed, it can cost thousands to update your own server. With a cloud server, you simply press a button on a website when you want to add more space or speed – easy. Sure, it costs you more per month, but later if you manage to reduce your disk space and speed requirements, you can reduce your use and save! You can’t do that with physical disks you have purchased.

Disaster Recovery

For many businesses, a huge advantage for using cloud-based servers is Disaster Recovery (DR) and Business Continuity Planning (BCP). Because your servers are offsite (potentially even in another country) that means if there’s a natural disaster, your staff can still access everything they normally would, because your servers are elsewhere and unaffected. Your staff would need to have internet access of course, but this instantly takes away the pain of having to recover your servers buried under rubble. Some companies unfortunately cannot come back from such a disaster, if they are not fully prepared for it.

Speed

With the Pros, there are also some Cons and disadvantages of using a cloud server too like speed and distance. Having a cloud server does not impact on how things connect but no offsite server is going to be as fast as a decent onsite server. Your staff will probably get used to it, but initially they may feel the initial difference.

Data sovereignty

Another problem with offsite servers, especially those based overseas (like Microsoft’s Azure servers) may be data sovereignty. Data sovereignty means the laws governing data in whichever country your data may be located in. Some companies are simply not allowed to have their data offshore. If they use a service (or server) that is based in another country, well they can’t. End of story. There are many New Zealand-based providers who can rent you a server that is based in New Zealand, and for many this is the preferred (and legal) option.

What do you think of our summary? Are there other points we’ve missed?