One of the single biggest issues that I believe consulting medical writers face isn’t a technical issue. Rather, it’s the cash flow issue that comes with the territory as a contractor. And I kid you not, it is a big issue. Here’s why:
For a variety of reasons, clients sometimes cancel projects–before or during their execution. By the time you find the next really good gig and do the phone interview, execute a confidentiality agreement, and possibly do face-to-face interview(s), weeks or months may have passed. Even after all this is done, you must work for a month and then wait for payment, usually for another month.
This is particularly true for medical writers who handle large projects that consume a full-time effort, such as writing eCTD submissions. Regulatory medical writing requires the writer’s undivided attention, usually to the complete exclusion of other projects. Thus, if the client postpones or cancels the project, the writer is left with no income until the next project is in its second or third month. Yikes!
This reality affects all independent medical writers to greater or lesser degrees. Managing that period with little or no income is critical to having a successful independent medical writing practice. A financial buffer–savings or another source of income–is usually needed to smooth the zero-cash-flow transition period between projects. If you’re considering a career in medical writing, especially as a contractor, think carefully about your financial situation before you make your decision.
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I agree completely. I have chosen the strategy of choosing more smaller projects over fewer larger ones until I build up enough reserve to tackle large ones. Realistically though that may mean I’ll never do large ones that occupy my entire attention over extended periods of time. The reason is that by the time I have the reserve to absorb the financial risk of large projects, I’ll may have developed a client base that keeps me supplied with smaller projects to the extent that I’ll be unable to take large ones.
Now quite possibly the market forces can take over from there. Having a relatively secure income off smaller projects will enable us to price the risk inherent in large projects and to negotiate payment for it. After all, clients can afford to behave erratically if erratic behavior doesn’t carry any cost. However, if we negotiate for things like substantial kill fees that keep us funded through the zero cash flow periods, the picture changes. Food for thought!