Building Your Business
Should You Consider Working as a Subcontractor?By Derick Okech April 26th, 2023
A few years ago, Deeksha Rawat, a freelance content writer for B2B SaaS and marketing brands, was trying to get clients, but all she heard from her pitches were crickets.
“It was really frustrating for me, so I just decided to network a lot with other freelancers and try to get information on how they landed their first client,” she told me. “Luckily, a freelancer requested my samples. She liked them and asked me to work for her. That’s how I came to know about the term subcontracting.”
Subcontracting is when experienced freelancers use external help for growth. Often, a freelancer will look for subcontractors when they’re experiencing a ‘feast’ freelance situation and want to fulfill the high influx of work. Subcontractors can help freelancers complete larger projects with tasks like developing an outline, research, editing, keyword suggestions and development, and SEO optimization.
I know of many freelancers working with subcontractors to scale their businesses, and I have taken on subcontracted work on two occasions. The first time, I was quite hesitant about it. Who would provide feedback? Who would pay me? The client or freelancer? Who would I report to? What rights will I relinquish? Fortunately, the trade-off for a byline was worth it.
Why choose subcontracting
The opportunity for a byline isn’t the only reason to consider subcontracted work. Perhaps your work pipeline is in a lull, or you have limited bandwidth and only want to take on smaller projects. Below are just a few more reasons freelancers are choosing to subcontract.
1. Gain practical experience
Working as a subcontractor helped me overcome imposter syndrome. When I worked for myself, I often felt lost and hesitant to share my work. However, working under the guidance of an experienced freelancer made a difference. She was like a personal trainer and mentor to me, providing invaluable advice, support, and feedback. This helped me overcome the stress and anxiety of working independently. Her feedback contributed significantly to my personal and professional growth.
Rawat acknowledged that being a subcontractor was an invaluable learning opportunity. “I did work for a couple of writers. All the writers I’ve worked with have helped me gather deep skills to make myself stand out in the industry,” she said.
2. Earn extra income
Sure, you won’t earn as much as a subcontractor, but if your income dips or work dries up, it’s an excellent way to add to your balance sheet and fight freelance famine.
Like all types of freelance work, fees fluctuate and depend on the type of work, subject matter expertise, deadline, etc. Using Contently’s Freelance Rate Database or The Menu of Rates as a reference guide, you can estimate what a portion of a project fee could be. If you’re writing a first draft, for example, you’ll earn more than if you’re doing research or writing an outline.
3. Manage fewer obligations
As a subcontractor, you have less responsibility, unlike the freelancer that hires you. If your scope of work is to create an outline or first draft, that is what you do. Subcontracting is ideal if you have schedule constraints, don’t want to be available for client communications, or work in a different time zone than clients.
Subcontracting is a great way for freelancers to gain client referrals. Working under an experienced freelancer allows you to build relationships and showcase your skills. If you do well, your mentor may refer clients or other freelancers to you in the future. This helps you build your reputation and grow your business.
Challenges to consider
Although subcontracted freelance work can provide many benefits, there are a few things to consider before you accept an assignment.
1. You won’t go home with the whole fee.
The reality of being a subcontractor is that you may have to trade your high rates for advice, support, and work experience. Even so, the earning potential is still good. I have come across cases where the subcontractor takes 20-50% of their project rate or the contractor and subcontractor split the fee equally.
2. It might not meet your professional goals.
The biggest problem I faced while working as a subcontractor was that I couldn’t grow my balance sheet as fast as I wanted. I had set a target of increasing my income by 10% every year, but since I could not take home the full fee and it was difficult to raise my rates, this goal was impossible. Additionally, I had less autonomy over most aspects of the projects or work. This sometimes resulted in low productivity and morale, as some ideas were overlooked.
3. You have two employers.
When you are a subcontractor, you have to satisfy two employers—the freelancer and their client, so your work must meet the requirements of both. If one party is unhappy with your work, you may spend additional time and resources making changes.
Where to find subcontracted work
When it comes to finding subcontracting work, social media is often the first place freelancers and content agencies turn to. Threads and posts like the one below are great ways to get your name out there.
But how do you stand out in a crowded inbox?
Emphasize how you can help a freelancer free up time and increase profitability. Craft a pitch highlighting your skills and experience. Below is a sample template you can use to start those conversations.
I read your [tweet/post] and see that you are expanding your team. You may be looking for ways to make your work more profitable while also freeing up your time.
Here are a few ways I could help:
- Summary of your experience
- Services provided
- Relevant samples
I can help you achieve your goals by providing high-quality, actionable content that satisfies your client’s needs and helps grow your business.
Please let me know how we can discuss this further.
Moving beyond subcontracting
Rawat said that working as a subcontractor has been very lucrative for her. “Subcontract writing gigs paid me really well! There was one time when I even needed to outsource my work to a subcontract writer,” she said.
However, subcontracting doesn’t have to be your final destination. To broaden your opportunities and take the next step in your freelance career, consider asking your network for client referrals or pitching unique story ideas to publications you want to work with.
Rawat also advises freelancers to network with people who work at large companies, either at events, on LinkedIn, or through their friend network. And when you’ve completed a project, be sure to save the clip and ask for a recommendation from the team you worked with.Image by Photo Credit: Nuthawut Somsuk