As more people begin to explore the gig economy as a means of supplementing or replacing their traditional jobs, issues of scale will become a common challenge. As your freelance cash flow stabilizes, you may find yourself handling too much work.
It’s a good problem to have, but a problem nonetheless. Committing all your time and energy to your current clients will tie you up. You can’t take on new projects that are potentially more lucrative, And you’ll have fewer opportunities to learn new skills or expand your network through new collaboration.
Subcontracting is a good solution to this problem. You can create a delegation, and another freelancer can bring their skills to execute some tasks more effectively. Startups do this all the time to scale at great effect. A medical service provider can collaborate with healthcare marketing consulting firms to leverage their expertise in related, but different domains.
But whenever you subcontract, you’ll want to get it right. Here are some challenges you’ll have to overcome when taking this route to scale your freelance work.
The most obvious concern about subcontracting is whether a given freelancer can get the job done. Obviously, this uncertainty makes it preferable to draw on your network for referrals, but that’s not always possible.
If you want to assess ability, you’ll have to think like an employer or hiring manager, which is not something most freelancers often do. Start by looking beyond the resume. Do they have an online portfolio or social media presence? What are the projects they’ve listed under work experience? Do your research, and you can get a better idea of what sort of person will share your workspace.
In this age of remote work, you can also schedule a video call with the candidate. This will give you a taste of what it will be like to communicate with them regularly. You may also be able to glean more insight into their personality, habits, and work environment.
Quality and adaptability
Of course, the ability isn’t the only determinant of success in the freelance industry. Being in a position to hire another freelancer, you’ll know that well enough; a good freelancer must be able to adapt quickly and deliver within client specifications.
As an established freelancer, your clients likely expect a certain standard of quality and style based on your reputation. In this context, however, you’re the client. And it would be best if you found someone whose work matches your own as closely as possible.
If you can’t approximate that from their existing portfolio, then you have to orient them towards the results you need. Create a style guide or a manual for a specific client or project. Get them up to speed, and use your online platforms to provide timely feedback on their work.
Talent won’t get you very far as a freelancer if you don’t make deadlines consistently. Maybe you learned this the hard way, or perhaps you made a point of never failing to deliver from the outset. But remember that although the industry has improved, not all freelancers are wired this way.
To ensure accountability, treat it like a process. Start with a proper set of expectations when you agree to the terms of the contract. The deliverables must be as clear as the payment terms. But they aren’t self-enforcing.
You’ll have to manage the relationship as you go along. Check them periodically, and especially in the beginning. When you don’t know each other that well, you can extend some trust, but verify the results all the same. If they live up to your expectations, you can give them free rein. But if something’s not to your liking, take steps to coach them and correct it quickly.
Zoom back out, and remember that the overall success of subcontracting will still be determined by you and your relationship with your client. From this perspective, there are some things you can’t neglect.
How are you getting paid, and how are you paying your subcontractors? You’ll need to structure payment on both sides so that you don’t end up paying out of pocket. Or even worse, paying for work on a project that gets canceled.
Who takes over the work if your client asks for a revision? If your subcontractor is off the hook after their deliverables are completed, then you may end up doing double duty, or paying more for them to revise their output.
Finally, how much does your client know about the subcontracting arrangement? It’s advisable to keep them informed, but if you’re ever put on the spot for work you can’t answer for, it won’t leave a good impression.
For these broader considerations, there’s no single answer. But preparing for them along with the other potential issues will help you succeed in scaling your freelance work.