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Declare your independence

Just starting as an independent contractor? Read on. Career Advisor hed: Declare your independence dek: Just starting as an independent contractor? Read on. by Molly joss

Q: Where can I go to learn about contracting myself out as a programmer/business analyst?

A: To contract yourself out, you need to do more than just find potential customers; you need to familiarize yourself with the legal and financial aspects of a life lived independently. Here are some short takes based on my own experience:

To find work, go where the work is. Find companies that need your services and ask them for work–even if it’s just a small project–so that the two of you can get to know each other.

Always help your customers achieve their goals. Many people can write a program; it’s the rare programmer who can write the program the customer needs to have.

Know the IRS regulations on what constitutes an independent contract, and abide by them religiously. By doing this, you will sleep better and be sure you are not setting up yourself or your client for tax hassles.

Live below your means, and learn the basics of accounting and accounts-collection strategies. It’s all about cash flow when you’re on your own, and keeping expenses lower than income will help you hang in there over the dry spells. Knowing how to ask for your money without being nasty also helps alleviate cash-flow crises.

Here are a few Web sites that will help you learn more about contracting yourself out in the business world:

Independent contractor aggregator sites:

Independent Contractor Exchange SoloGig IC Planet

Learning soft skills: Dale Carnegie Franklin Covey

IRS independent contractor rules and regulations:

Internal Revenue Service Quicken

Q: I am 23 years old with no college degree, but I love working out and I love computers. I thought about coming up with some way to track my workouts using my computer, but right now writing stuff down in a notebook is working for me. Is there any way I can combine these two strong interests? Right now I am working part-time as a rock-climbing instructor and I know that I need to get busy doing something else.

A: You know, I can’t think of two activities that seem more far apart. But there is a lot of overlap these days, thanks to the interests of the physical-fitness industry in how to use computers to help improve fitness education and training. For example, many health clubs have installed computer systems that monitor your workout as you use various weight machines. The systems track and record your performance, allowing you and your trainer to review exactly what you did during a session.

I’m going to throw out some ideas for you to explore: How about going back to school for physical therapy, but adding the component of using computers to track your clients’ progress? You could also become a sports or personal trainer by getting a certification. Check out the certification process by visiting the American Fitness Professionals and Associates Web site.

You can use computers in both occupations by tapping software to track performance. One such software program is

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