Back in 1999, a friend, Glen Whitbeck, and I who were working on a project together came up with the "3 Times Rule". It is a rule of thumb that even 12 years later has remained a pretty accurate rule of thumb.

Since it is a rule of thumb, it isn't always totally accurate, but surprisingly enough it has turned out to be quite close as an average for sure.

The 3 Times Rule basically states that the initial length of the contract you take will typically be extended and/or renewed such that you will be at that client for 3 times the original contract length. A 3 month contract will turn into 9, and a 6 month contract will turn into 18 and so on.

Glen and I have both continued to use this 3 Times Rule over the years and it has continued to result in a pretty accurate predictor of how long a given contract will last.

Since it is a rule of thumb, it can and does vary. Sometimes it is only a 2 times rule or less, but then other times it can be more than 3; sometimes significantly so.

I had a "quick-fix" project that was just 1 month in duration and it didn't end up being extended, but I knew going in to that project that would be the case. That same client did however call back 2 years later and that time I was on a 3 month project for almost 10 months, so just over the 3 times rule that time around. If you take into account the initial 1 month engagement, then I guess it was really more like a 10 times rule :-).

It can and does go the other way sometimes too and you end up having to look for a new project sooner than expected. I was on a 6 month contract where the client ran into some financial trouble and needed to downsize in a hurry, so ended up cutting the contract short at only 3 months and thus myself and 11 other contractors were all looking for a new gig with less than a weeks notice.

Of course, if you aren't conscientious in providing what the client is looking for, or don't have the skill set that the client needs, or are just poor at the job they brought you in to do, then those factors will obviously all skew the results you see as well. Most of those situations will end up as a non-renewal or even getting cut short, but those are the kinds of contracts that you want to avoid up front, so you don't get yourself into those kinds of situations.

Have you noticed anything like the 3 Times Rule in your contracting career?

Author's Bio: 

Paul Monax
Independent Contracting Resources

I am a Mentor for Independent Contractors to help them with the Business Side of their Business.
I have been a small business owner of a number of businesses over the past 11 years.
For the past 6+ years have been as the owner of a small Independent Contracting business specializing in custom software development for large enterprise systems.

Because Being Independent Doesn't Mean You Have To Do It All Alone!