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What you need to know before starting a new contract

Do you have your ducks in a row, or will you be scrambling to catch up for the first few days? Here’s what you need to know before starting a new contract.

Abbey Charles
Abbey Charles
· 5 min read
A black crow sitting on top of a sign with a man holding a stop sign on the left and the words "prepare to" below the crow – what to know before starting a contract

Starting a new contract is always exciting. It’s not just the assurance of income, it’s also the chance to learn about and get involved with a new product and tech landscape. The best way to make sure you can be productive right out of the gate is to make sure everything is lined up before you start.


In almost all circumstances, when you are a contract employee, you will be using your own equipment. There are obviously exceptions to this, and they usually come into play when you’re working in highly regulated arenas like security and finance. Otherwise, you should be prepared to use your own computer, and make sure that you either have the requisite programs downloaded prior to your start date or you have cleared up the space on your computer to do so once you officially start the project.

Set expectations at the outset

There are a lot of things that can get lost in the fray when starting a new contract, so try to get as much information up front as possible. We recently had one of our platform developers, Danial Mizra, share what he asks at the outset, and it’s an amazing round up of questions for the client:

  • What are your expectations for this project?
  • How often do you want to communicate? 
  • What is your preferred method of communication (phone/email/slack)?
  • What if I complete my working hours between Monday and Thursday and am assigned a task on Friday?
  • What will a “win” look like during this initial contract?
  • What’s the most expected aspect of my individual contributions?
  • If I run into some sort of a problem, who is the first person I should contact? Someone at your company, or at
  • Does this position have any type of paid leave? I know this is a contract, but are there provisions for sick leave?

While this is neither an exhaustive list nor completely applicable to every contract, you can see how he’s thoughtfully chosen to ask questions that have an impact on both sides of the working relationship. Feel free to change it up as you see fit, and cover all your bases from day one.

Get things in writing

It doesn’t matter who you are or what kind of job you are working, the number one piece of advice in the employment world is to get things in writing. Just because you have talked at length about completing a project or discussed the payment details doesn’t mean a client can’t still pull out at the last minute. And what happens if you put off other clients or turned down another job for this, only to have the rug pulled out from under you? It’s a humbling lesson to learn, and if you don’t have to be one of those people who learns it the hard way, all the better.

This doesn’t just go for the initial contract either. Get scope changes in writing. Get contract extensions in writing. Get it all. In writing. When you’re working through, this is obviously something that is a little easier to keep track of, but there may be times when you’re asked to do work outside the bounds of that contract we helped to set up, and those also need to go in writing. If it’s not in writing, it didn’t happen and you shouldn’t work on it. Got it?

Establishing communication

You’ll obviously have a main point of contact with any contract you are working, but make sure they aren’t the only point of contact you have. If they happen to be out of the office or have an emergency, do you know who the next person in the chain of command is? Having contact with multiple people means you’re less likely to have days where you’re sitting around waiting for incoming information, and allows you to remain efficient and keeps the client happy.

You also want to make sure you know what level of communication is expected from you. What meetings are you required to attend? Which Slack channels are the ones you should keep an eye on? Establishing this at the outset can save a lot of time and trouble down the road. 

Don’t oversell your skills or time

There’s a tendency in contract work to make yourself a Yes Man, because happy clients are the ones who feed you more work and recommend you to their colleagues. Be careful, however, not to oversell your skills or time when trying to keep them happy. 

It’s pretty simple: if you don’t have the skills to do something that’s been requested of you, don’t pretend like you do. And if you’re being asked to do something that will take more time than you have allotted to the project, be realistic with the client about it. Let them know that if they want that particular task completed, they will need to either extend the contract or shift the current priorities to accommodate the ask.

Agree on payment terms

At, we operate on Net 30 terms. That means your first payment will come 30 days after the start date of any contract we are working with you on. Other companies pay on completion, while some follow the traditional 2-week payment schedule. Whatever the agreement is, make sure it is clear to you and the client when payment is expected. This doesn’t just help with financial planning, it can also help you decided when to start looking for your next contract.

Don’t slack in the onboarding process

The first few days of any new job always feel like a whirlwind: you’re meeting new people, learning about the business ethos, connecting to the repositories, getting the code pulled down, and a million other little things. This isn’t the time to kick back and take it easy. Stay alert and stay interested. It’s not going to impress anyone if you have to repeatedly ask questions that were covered in your onboarding. It’s the single easiest way to prepare for the work that’s coming down the pipeline, and you can learn a lot by listening. 

The more contracts you work, the more dialed in your own personal process will become, but hopefully this can serve as a good jumping off point to ensure your next contract goes as smoothly as possible. 

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