Should We All Be Contractors?

Posted May 2, 2013 by Ellen Hunter Gans in Career Moves

contract work


Let’s start with a provocative line: Would you be better at your job if you were a contractor? If you were paid hourly, or at least per project?

I worked for an hourly wage when I was fourteen: I nannied for twin two-year-old boys and their six-year-old brother.

I did it again throughout high school, sorting dirty clothes and taking money from rich people at a dry cleaning facility.

Flash forward twelve years, four degrees, and a salary-based corporate gig later, and I’m doing it again.

Say whaaaa?!

I’m a freelance writer and communication strategist. People give me projects. They agree to pay me a rate that is inspired by my hourly rate. (I often do value-based billing, and I’m on retainer at a few places, but all of these contracts are structured around my base hourly rate.)

I recently got to thinking about the psychology behind project-based contracts and hourly pay.

At a fundamental level, it means that your time is quantifiable. When you have a salary job, the more hours you work, the LESS your time is worth.

That’s kind of messed up, right?

No wonder people resent long hours and unpaid overtime and “can you just handle this for me quick” and “be a team player and take on your share of the TPS reports…”

No wonder people resent endless box-ticking and routine and projects that never end and never change.

What if there was an end date to the work you did? What if you put a nice little bow on it and then moved on to something else? What if you knew that someone was putting a dollar figure on your time (and, understandably, expected rock star results in exchange for those dollars)?

It’s not for everyone. For me, it’s certainly enjoyable knowing that my time is valued, but there’s more to it than money: I love taking on a whole project life-cycle and ending up with something visible (if not actually tangible).

I love pressing “send” on a finished project.

I love the variety and excitement of taking on a new challenge with every project. (It often means getting an education on a whole new industry, which frequently means unpaid get-up-to-speed time, but it’s totally worth it in my opinion.)

It also gives me some perspective: if I’m considering making a purchase, it’s easy to translate that purchase into hours of my time. Worth it? Maybe. Maybe not.

Reasons being paid hourly could be a problem?

1) If you’re at a dry cleaner or some other job with no project life-cycle, no end date, no variety, and “hourly” really just means: “Be here until the clock runs out.”

2) If you are horrible at time management and aren’t able to provide value to your customers by getting the job done in an amount of ¬†time that will translate to a good deal for both of you.

Reasons being a contractor could be a problem?

1) Silly little things called “job security” and “health insurance.”

OK, so it’s not all sunshine and roses and baby lambs.

But think about it: Is your time valued? If not, how can you change that?


About the Author

Ellen Hunter Gans

Ellen Hunter Gans is a freelance writer and communications strategist. She's also a marathon runner, an Ironman triathlete, a wildly untalented cross-country skier, a newly minted Crossfit junkie, a yoga devotee, a wannabe culinary genius, a voracious reader, a grammar snob, a world traveler, an outdoorswoman, an oenophile, a mediocre gardener, and a secret fan of awful television. Her blog is at, and her business website is at