Five things you should know before subcontracting your freelance project

Abidemi Sanusi
Dec 10, 2017 · 5 min read

I’m sure the subcontractor meant well.

Really, he did.

It’s just that he didn’t think the fact that the client wanted to present our project to their board of directors was important enough for him to email the final version of our work to the client.

That’s probably why he ignored my phone calls, voicemails, emails, text messages, Whatsapp messages, Skype calls/voicemails/messages. FOR THE NEXT FOUR DAYS.

Never mind that the client was one of the top two out-of-home advertising companies in the UK.

Like I said, I’m sure he meant well. He didn’t really mean to destroy my company’s reputation and cause me sleepness nights.

Really, he didn’t (and for those who have yet to get it, this is the infamous English humour at its absolute dryest).

And then, there was the time a subcontractor emailed me the day before we were meant to start working on a new project, saying she had second thoughts, and did I mind terribly if I took her off the project?

No problem, I said. Except there was a huge problem.

Two huge problems, actually:

  • She was a great editor, an expert in her genre, and editors like hers were very hard to come by, so they were in high demand
  • I had seven working hours to find her replacement, otherwise the project was toast (bearing in mind it took about two weeks to even find someone with her level of expertise, much less who was available when we needed them)

I survived those two experiences, as I did other experiences with subcontractors, because, in time, I learnt some valuable lessons which I share below.

Here are five things you should know before subcontracting your work to freelancers.

How to manage subcontractors
How to manage subcontractors

1.Get it locked and sealed in a contract

You need a contract, simple. It doesn’t matter if that person is your friend, sister, or grandmother’s sister’s cousin’s nephew. The moment they agreed to supply their services to you, they became a business partner.

And do you know what business partners do? They protect their interests with a contract.

I didn’t have a contract in place when it came to the two subcontractors I talked about earlier, because I trusted them. If we’d had a subcontractor agreement in the first place, they wouldn’t have left me high and dry.

And no, a verbal contract is not the same as a written one.

2.Have a Plan B

Okay, so now you have that contract locked in, you can breathe. Your project is safe. Your clients will not leave you. Your freelancing business will not derail. From here on, it’s just pure freelancing glory all the way to the bank #RainbowVibes

Well, that’s what you’d like to think.

But I would caution you to not be over-confident. I’m sure you’ve heard of the saying, Man plans and God laughs?

You’ve also heard the saying about the best laid plan going absolutely sideways?

Turns out that there’s a lot of truth in both sayings.

If you are a freelancer, back-up plans should be a staple of your business, especially if you tend to subcontract parts of your projects to other freelancers.

Don’t just have the one editor/writer/content creator/designer/video editor who co-signed the subcontracting agreement with you.

You should also have a back-up editor/writer/content creator/designer/video editor, in the event things go sideways with your first choice, the initial subcontractor.

Here’s how:

  1. I used to have a spreadsheet of freelancers that I grouped into A, B and C
  2. Group A were the stars, the ones I could rely on
  3. Group B were the ones that did good work, but didn’t quite make it to the A group
  4. And group C were the ones that were the absolute last resort. And I mean, Armageddon type of last resort

Before starting work on a project, I would scope out the availability of subcontractors in groups A and B, standbys, so to speak.

How to manage your freelance project
How to manage your freelance project

In the event a subcontractor had to pull out of my project, I more or less had someone ready and waiting to fill their shoes.

The moral of the story: By all means, have a contract. Just make sure that you also have a plan B.

3.Minimise their contact with the client

I’m sure this doesn’t need spelling out, but for those who have yet to get it, here’s why you need to minimise your subcontractor’s contact with your client.

To be fair, in my experience, usually, the client, not subcontractor is often the issue. If the client has the faintest whiff that you are not a ‘proper team’, that you subcontracted certain elements of their project, they will approach your subcontractor and offer to work with them directly, thereby cutting you out of your own project, and reducing their own costs.

How to subcontract your freelance project
How to subcontract your freelance project

You can prevent this happening by making it clear that you are the project manager, so all communications between you and the client come from you, and you only.

4. Give yourself enough lead time

This is sound common and business sense. If your project is due to be delivered to the client on the 28th, you give your subcontractor a deadline of 12th. I would even go back as far as the 10th. This will give you enough time to bottom out any unexpected issues that may arise.

5. Check in — constantly

Ultimately, it’s your name on that project, and your reputation that is at stake. Schedule in regular meetings with your subcontractor. Once a week is fine. Encourage them to share any issues, however minor, that might impact the project. Try not to micro-manage. And if things go wrong, keep it professional, and look at it as a learning. Find out what went wrong and how, and determine to do better next time.

My Business Success Collection makes it easy to subcontract your work to freelancers, without losing sleep. It’s a collection of 20+ email scripts, copywriting and subcontracting agreements, templates and hacks to help you run a profitable freelance business, from pitch to get paid.

Get yours here.

Over to you: got any stories to share about subcontractors?

Abidemi Sanusi

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Author. Nominated for Commonwealth Writers' Prize. Helps writers write better & make more. Write your first book:

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