by Nigel Bartlett
01 May 2020
Four years ago, after many happy years freelancing for magazines and commercial websites, I went over to the dark side – I started working in government.
I was in my 50s and felt worried about my future in a world of media uncertainty. On the strength of my digital work – at places like Michelle Bridges 12 Week Body Transformation, the Big Brother website and Nine’s Homes to Love – I landed my first government contract.
I’ve now held a total of seven contracts. Most have been with Commonwealth bodies such as the Digital Transformation Agency, Services Australia and Austrade, while two have been with the NSW Departments of Environment and Industry.
Do I miss freelancing? Of course. I loved the variety of subject matter and seeing my name in print or online. Do I regret the move? Not at all. Let me explain why.
One of the things I love about my new life is that I’ve learnt a tonne of digital skills.
It’s hard to list (or remember!) them all, but these days I can switch easily between content management systems and happily use tools like Google Analytics, JIRA, MIRO, Treejack and Bugherd. I learnt all these on the job, not in my own time.
I help work out the best information architecture for a site, enjoy being part of Agile teams and feel comfortable presenting our work to a roomful of people and via video link to Canberra or other cities.
I’m employed as a contractor and get paid at either a daily or hourly rate. I don’t receive holiday or sick pay, but I do get super. I fill in a timesheet and the money pops into my account a few days later.
In my first role I earned about 1.5 times the amount I’d earned as a freelancer. I wasn’t wealthy, but I felt comfortable, and I didn’t have to hustle for it.
My income has gone up with every subsequent contract. My daily rate now easily covers my home loan, bills, retirement planning, holidays, dining out and other treats.
When my dad fell ill and died last year, I spent seven weeks with him and Mum in the UK, safe in the knowledge I had enough savings.
My contracts are usually for three or six months, with options to extend if the work continues. When one contract ends, I’ve either moved straight into another or I’ve taken time off to travel, do my own writing (I’m a published author) or write freelance pieces for magazines like Men’s Health.
For one or two contracts I’ve negotiated a four-day week or shorter days (finishing at 4pm), giving me time to work on my next book. For most, I’m happy to write at the weekends.
At 22, I entered journalism with lofty ideals to make a change in the world. In my government roles I feel I’m doing just that.
I’ve worked on a tool to help people navigate the aged care system, an easier way for people to access welfare payments and a site that helps businesses find overseas customers.
Having to dress smartly means enduring the Sunday night shirt-ironing ritual, and office strip lighting drains my energy.
Similarly, I don’t relish filling in spreadsheets or sitting through a day-long strategy meeting.
Job titles can overlap or mean different things in different organisations. Here are a few:
Most short-term government contracts are advertised on job sites like LinkedIn and SEEK, usually by recruitment agencies.
Here are some tips:
I’ve seen government content roles advertised for as little as $40-$50 an hour and some for more than $1000 a day. That’s over $125 an hour plus super. Where you fall in that band depends on your skills, experience and level of responsibility.
Often you’ll work a regular day and clock off at 5.30pm, but high day rates naturally mean extra responsibility, more pressure and the occasional late night.
Government work isn’t for everyone. It can involve office politics and extremely dry subject matters. For me, the change made sense, and I’m so pleased I took the leap.
It’s especially heartening to see government roles still being advertised. In these days of Covid-19 fear and uncertainty, that has to be a good thing.
Would you like to take on government contracts, and if so why? Or have you landed a few already?Share your experiences in the comments!