About six months after I started freelance writing full-time, I faced a “good” problem. I had several regular and repeat clients, and at times, way more work than I could handle on my own. Because I understood that freelance work can have its peaks and valleys, I didn’t want to turn away any of my clients. At the same time, it was summer in Minnesota, a preciously short time of fun in the sun. I didn’t want to work non-stop while everyone else was out enjoying themselves on the lakes. I needed a solution that would keep my clients happy.
Most of my writing at that time was blog writing for online marketing companies. I supplied them with blog articles for their many different clients in a variety of industries. Some clients provided me with weekly assignments; others were once a month or once every six weeks.
They were used to receiving high-quality content, delivered promptly. I started reaching out to other writers in my network of writing friends, looking for someone I could trust to help me with my big load of blogs for the month of June.
Subcontractors: You help me, I help you
As I began sending out feelers among my online writing friends, someone suggested I contact Ron, a writer highly respected for his poetry and creative writing skills. Ron was not a copywriter, but he was unemployed at the time and in need of some extra income, so he agreed to take on some of my blog writing assignments to help me out.
It was a win-win situation. I had a top-notch writer providing content for me, so I could keep my clients happy. At the same time, he was earning some extra income that he really needed at the time. Since Ron did not have to spend the time looking for the work, he was willing to take a lower rate of pay for the blogs, which meant I was still keeping a percentage of the revenue for myself.
More work, more subcontractors
Having seen the work available in copywriting, my friend Ron started seeking freelance work for himself, while still remaining my go-to person when I needed an extra hand. Now that I knew I had reliable help available to assist me with the writing, I continued to prospect for new clients without hesitation.
Others within my network of writers around the globe began asking about my freelance writing and how to get started. As my workload increased, I continued to hire other writers to help with my load and to provide them with online writing experience. Today, I have one writer earning a full-time income and four to five other writers who write for me on a part-time basis.
Pros and cons of subcontracting
Over the course of time, I’ve learned that there can be some negative aspects to these writer-hiring-writer relationships. Dependability to deliver on time and the quality of the writing are the two big issues that can derail these relationships. I learned to always give my subcontractors a deadline that was far ahead of my actual deadline, just in case they didn’t come through, and I needed to do the work myself. I also learned that I often had to educate my subcontractors on the unique requirements of online writing versus print.
Regardless of how good your writers are, you are still the one ultimately responsible for the work that is turned into your client. That means you still need to budget time for reviewing the articles your subcontractors submit to you. You also will have
additional bookkeeping time to handle the payments to your subcontractors.
One of the situations that you need to be particularly mindful of is the hiring of friends and relatives to write for you. Occasionally, you will have someone writing for you that does not provide consistent quality or reliable delivery. If you choose to hire someone you know to write for you, be sure you have decided ahead of time how you will handle this situation when and if it arises.
Finding the right balance
Currently, about one-third on my freelance income comes from my commissions off of my subcontractors. I had to calculate a percentage that brings in enough revenue for me to cover the hassle of dealing with the extra client load and my review time on subcontracted articles. It is a lot more bookkeeping on my end, including having to send out 1099’s at the end of the year.
Could they make more on their assignments if they contracted directly with clients? Certainly. However, by not having to prospect for the work themselves, they do not have to cover that extra overhead time, like I do. For many of my subcontractors, working underneath me provides them time to build their confidence to the point where they feel comfortable seeking out their own clients. For others, it’s just some part-time income for a stay-at-home mom (or dad) or for someone who is retired and enjoys writing.
Three critical ingredients to make it all work
1. Work for hire
The primary ingredient necessary to make this business model work is “work-for-hire” copywriting. Writing where neither your name nor your subcontractors name is attached to the writing. In work-for-hire, generally the writer transfers all rights to the copy to the client. This can be business blogs, landing page copy, website copy, or even short e-books and white papers.
The other necessity is some good organization to make sure you don’t miss deadlines and that your subcontractors have all the information they need to meet the criteria for each client. I’ve used the Backpack service through 37Signals.com to track my projects and contractors, but there are plenty of other applications to choose from.
Good communication between you and your subcontractors is essential. Misunderstandings on specs can mean work submitted that has to be rewritten at the last minute. You need to provide clear and specific expectations, just like you want from your clients. Your subcontractors also have to be forthright in letting you know if they might miss their deadlines for some
With the right mix of work and the right writers, you can be continually adding to your client base. I now work less hours to meet my income target each month and can take time off while still bringing in income off my subcontractor base. It won’t work for everyone, but it is a business model worth considering.
About the author:
Capturing the stories of individuals and organizations in a creative and memorable way is Kathleen’s specialty as a full time freelance writer. You will find her writing in literary journals, as well as several print and online periodicals. Her copywriting skills are displayed across a broad spectrum of websites and business blogs. But her intuitive, feelings-based personality is especially evident in her poetry, her first love when it comes to crafting with words. You can connect with her on her website kathleenkrueger.com or her blog www.living-listening-loving.blogspot.com.