Congrats, you’ve been able to take on a few steady freelancing clients of your own!
But now you might be wondering at what point it makes sense to try and scale? After all, we each only have those same 24 hours each day to work with.
As I see it, you can scale in a few different ways:
- Start an agency
- Hire help (i.e. a virtual assistant)
- Subcontract out work
I’ve never really been interested in the agency model, but I do have a lot of experience with both number two and number three. And in some respects hiring help and subcontracting overlap one another.
Today we’re going to chat about the what, why, when and how of subcontracting. And as we do so, I’d like you to keep in mind my definition of subcontracting: Paying someone to help you with part or all of an assignment.
What Should You Subcontract?
Although you can subcontract in numerous freelance industries, we’re going to use freelance writing as our primary example today.
So what in the realm of freelance writing can you sub out? Here are a few examples to get you started:
- Writing a first draft
Let’s take a look at each in turn.
Let’s face it, generally the higher paying freelance writing gigs take a bit more time and a bit more effort than writing for your own blog or a personal essay, for example.
You might need to come up with some stats, interview industry leaders or learn more about a topic that you can’t currently claim expert status in. And maybe this isn’t your favorite part of writing. Or it isn’t the most profitable for you, because you’re not that great at or overly efficient when doing research.
Outlining can also be time intensive. Maybe your strengths lie in getting to business and cranking out content.
If this is the case, then subbing out the outlining part of writing can save you a bunch of time and make your work more enjoyable. And it might make you a heck of a lot more efficient too!
Writing a First Draft
Or maybe you really like the researching, outlining and/or editing parts of writing.
Maybe you rock at prospecting and have no problem getting clients. But doing too much writing burns you out. Subbing out the first draft might work great for you.
When I sub out writing work, it’s either the above (research, outlining or writing of the first draft) and then I’ll go in and edit the piece for readability, flow, grammar and to suit my or the client’s voice (depending on if it’s ghostwritten or if it’s my byline).
Other times, I’ll sub out the editing part. I’ll do the writing, but then have someone else edit for the above, add related links, stats or direct quotes from sources. It all depends on my current client load, what I’m enjoying doing (or not enjoying) at the moment, etc.
Yes, you can totally sub out prospecting if that’s not your strong suit.
I’m a geek and kinda love pitching, so it’s not something I’ve really done in the past, but there’s nothing to say that you can’t give it a shot. You could sub out researching prospects to pitch, the actual pitching, follow-up or the whole process.
Just make sure that the person is representing you correctly if you let them own the entire process!
Why Should You Subcontract?
I see three main reasons why you might want to subcontract:
- Make more money
- Diversify your business
- Prepare for the unexpected
Make More Money
This one is probably pretty obvious.
The main reason that people sub out work is to scale and make more money. My rule of thumb is paying someone 50% of the fee if I’m subbing out the whole project and just doing the final copy editing myself.
As a freelancer, work isn’t guaranteed. You never know when a client might move on from you or vice versa. Taking on additional clients and subbing out some or all of the work is a great way to diversify that particular risk.
Diversify Your Business
One of the benefits of subcontracting is that people are all different.
We all have different backgrounds, experience, skill sets and more. So leveraging a sub with different skills or expertise than you is a great way to break into new industries, niches, etc.
And maybe you’re doing the editing, so in reading their work you’re learning more about personal finance or the healthcare industry. Or maybe you’re doing the writing and they’re doing the outlining, research or editing. They can ensure your work is up to par before you hand it in to the client.
Or maybe it allows you to free up some time to work on personal projects, like building and launching a course or to break into different freelance industries.
Prepare for the Unexpected
As a freelance writer if you’re not writing, you’re not getting paid.
Almost a year ago I had an emergency appendectomy. The whole thing was surreal (it happened so fast) and completely unexpected.
Lucky for me, I had worked ahead that month (I usually try to) and didn’t have any eminent deadlines looming. But I could have.
Having subcontractors is a great way to prepare for the unexpected. If you have people you know and trust and something comes up, you can hopefully just shift the work over to them.
Or maybe you’re planning a vacation and really don’t want to work while away. Consider subbing out any work left undone, instead of taking it along with you on your trip.
When Should You Subcontract?
Again, maybe a no-brainer, but it only makes sense to subcontract when you have enough work to support yourself.
If you’re not earning enough to pay the bills and don’t have a full client roster, then it’s probably not the time to subcontract. There may be exceptions mind you, but I would concentrate on learning the freelance writing ropes first, fill your own calendar with work and then start subbing it out when you have almost enough or more than you can handle yourself.
How Do You Go about Subcontracting?
The first thing that you should do when starting to subcontract, is to find dependable people that have the same definition of quality as you.
And you want to be able to pay out at a decent rate. Why? Because we all deserve to get paid well and you get what you pay for. I.e. if you’re looking to make the biggest profit and want to pay out pennies on the dollar, you might get a similar effort in return. Just sayin!
When I’m looking for a sub, I concentrate on finding someone that has the same or more expertise in the niche or topic than I do. Or someone that I know has mad research skills.
There has to be some degree of trust involved, because if you’re going to slap your name on their article, it has to be legit info, you know?
This means that it might be a little front-loaded in the beginning. I.e. you’ll need to train that person in how you work or how you want things delivered. Start a SOP (standard operating procedures) doc, film a screencast of you doing it if it’s technical or at the bare minimum be prepared to take the time to give feedback.
I don’t do much in the way of subcontracting writing work anymore (in many cases I’ve passed the client onto the sub directly), but I do sub out a lot of other things (have you seen my expense reports?). Some examples include blog management (formatting and scheduling blog posts), marketing outreach (identifying and pitching podcast appearances), technology, etc.
Again, my definition of subcontracting is basically trading pay for work. And if you think about it, that’s also kind of the definition of freelancing in general.
You get to decide what it looks like in your business. If you’re fine being a solo-operator and doing it all on your own, cool. If you’d like to scale, earn more money and take on new challenges, cool. It’s up to you!
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Have you ever subcontracted out work before? How’d it go?