When your project ends early, it’s likely that you’ve either done a great job and brought the project in ahead of schedule, or the client underestimated the amount of work to be done. In either case, your contacts at that company are likely to be quite willing to help you find additional work, either within that company or through contacts elsewhere. Be sure to take advantage of this. You can also implement these strategies anytime you’re leaving a client, not just when a project has ended early.
In the first two articles in this series, I discussed what you can do when a project is ending earlier than you expected and you’re compensated either on an hourly basis or with a per-project fee. This week, I’ll offer methods you can use to uncover additional work at that company, plus suggestions for taking advantage of networking opportunities when you’re leaving a client.
Look for other opportunities with the company
If your client is a company of any size, you should always look for additional work there. First, look within the department you’re already in, asking managers if they have any upcoming projects. If necessary, remind them of skills you have that are in addition to those you’re using on your current project. For example, if you’re creating a database for the client but you’re also proficient in HTML and Java, be sure people know that.

Move outside that department as well. Throughout your project, you should have been keeping track of everyone you met at that company, especially those in departments that may need your help.

When it comes time to look for projects from those people, try to avoid making contact by phone or e-mail. Instead, stop by a manager’s office in person. After all, you’re already there. Introduce yourself, if necessary, and provide a brief explanation of what you’re doing at the company now and how you might be able to help this manager by pitching in on an urgent project.

Pinpoint the need and how you can fill it
Whenever possible, approach a manager with a solution to a problem instead of dropping by to ask for work. You can locate managers with staffing needs by watching internal e-mail and using company resources such as an intranet (on your own time, of course) to get answers to the following:

  • Are other departments working on projects for which you have applicable skills?
  • How are those projects progressing? Are they falling behind, or does the staff seem overworked? If so, that’s a clear sign to offer your assistance.
  • Who is the appropriate contact person for that department? If possible, introduce yourself to that person before you show up at his or her door to ask for work. Be on the lookout for chance encounters in the kitchen, in a meeting, or just when walking down the hall.

You can also ask the managers and even employees you work with on your current project if they know of any departments that are short on help. In the IT industry these days, it’s very likely that lots of departments are overworked and understaffed. With the varied skills of a contractor, you may be able to easily move beyond your current project. Once you know of a manager with a need, you can approach him or her to offer a solution.

Find the personnel gaps
Another way to locate more work at your current client is to look at who has left the company recently. If a highly skilled employee has just departed, the company will have some difficulty both with replacing that person immediately and doing without him or her. Approach the ex-employee’s manager and offer to fill in until they find a new hire, and possibly even to train that person. Although you should constantly work on meeting key people within a company throughout your project, don’t overtly seek work with them until both you and everyone involved in your current project know that the end of that project is imminent. You don’t want anyone to get the impression that you’re willing to slight your current project for future work.

Let your contacts there lead you to your next project
Just as you should utilize your current company contacts to look for more work within that company, you should also network with those contacts to find work outside the company. In today’s market, many people in IT have worked at a number of companies over the past few years and thus have an extensive contact list.

If your project is ending early through no fault of your own, your client may be quite willing to help you find further work. You’ll always get more from asking specific questions rather than making a general inquiry about possibilities, so ask for a few minutes of your contact’s time—not just a hurried hallway conference—and do the following:

  • Briefly recap the key points of the current project and your skills. Then ask your contact if he or she knows of companies that are undertaking similar projects. If so, ask who would be the primary contact for that project.
  • If you have skills that your current client may not be aware of, summarize those and ask if your contact knows of companies that have a need for those skills on a contract basis.
  • Ask if he or she knows of any companies in the industry that regularly use contractors in your field. If so, get the name of the department managers who often use such services.
  • For companies the client can refer you to, ask if he or she knows where you can find more information about that company or that project. Your client may offer you additional information on his or her own.
  • Keep asking the client if he or she can think of anyone else you should contact. All names should be the name of the key contact for any project, not a personnel department contact. If in doubt, ask if the contact is directly involved with the project in question. Also, make sure that you can use this person’s name as a reference when you get in touch with a potential client.
  • Finally, don’t forget to ask your contact about other potential projects within that company and if he or she foresees needing you in the future. If there’s a project on the horizon, get as much information about it as you can. If it isn’t yet time to sign a contract for it, ask when would be a good time to get back in touch with the client about getting started.

If you work through all possible client contacts and then follow up on every lead, it’s quite likely that your next project will turn up quickly, and then it won’t matter that your current project ended earlier than you anticipated. Even if these people don’t have any work for you right now, if they seemed receptive to your inquiry, keep their names on your contact list for future opportunities.

Meredith Little has worn many hats as a self-employed writer, including technical writer, documentation specialist, trainer, business analyst, photographer, and travel writer.

What do you do when the work has dried up? Do you immediately hit the streets to look for your next project or try to find other jobs with the same client? To share your thoughts, post a comment below or send us a note.