I received an email this morning from another writer. In short, they were pitching me on their own writing services, asking me to outsource client projects to them. I let them know I don't do that. Do you? I think it's a topic worth discussing.
The Ethics of Subcontracting
First let me be clear: I don't think there is anything inherently "wrong" with subcontracting client work. In fact, that's your right as an independent contractor, and one of the things that sets us apart from traditional employees. As long as the job gets done, you can outsource the work.
However (and again this stems from my PR background), I do have ethical issues with it on a more personal level. Why? Because I'm a big believer in personal branding for freelancers and creative professionals. If I choose to market to clients based on my own experience and credentials, and those are things my rates are based on, then subcontracting to squeeze in more projects lacks enough transparency to make me uncomfortable. Even if I mentioned subcontractors before starting the work, I still would have wasted the time of prospective clients with somewhat deceptive marketing, and I'm not one to do that.
If I were marketing my writing services through a larger firm where it was clear up front that multiple writers are on board, I would have absolutely no problem with it. But that's not how I choose to operate, and that isn't likely to change.
Referrals: Another Option
Rather than outsourcing even when my own load is full (and it's often filled with projects from regulars, so I turn down plenty of new folks), I give them referrals to other writers I trust. I don't need to profit from it financially by subcontracting. I've found it highly effective to handle it the way that I do (for me - again, there's nothing necessarily wrong with going the subcontracting route either). Why?
When I send out referrals, it fosters better relationships with colleagues. I find that the people I refer most often do the same in return. For example, I don't write on parenting issues, but I'm periodically asked to do that. I refer that work to a colleague. When she's contacted about something like a press release, she sends them my way.
On top of giving referrals leading to getting more referrals of clients within my market and rate range, I've found that the clients I refer elsewhere very often come back. For example, I'm often contacted to write SEO Web content. I do offer that service, but only for specialized niches. There have been many cases where I've referred that work elsewhere, and the client was so impressed with the referral and my willingness to send them to someone more qualified in their subject matter that they've come back to me as soon as they had another project within my own specialty area (even if that means paying more). It's a trust thing, and I value that more than just about anything. It brings in and retains clients like nothing else.
So how do you feel about outsourcing client projects? Do you do it, or do you prefer to issue referrals instead? Do you think there are any ethical issues with marketing services on a personal level and then outsourcing to someone without the qualifications the client expects? Do you tell your clients before you outsource or do you feel that you editing the piece before delivery is enough to keep it ethical without disclosure? There aren't necessarily right or wrong answers. I'd just like to hear your thoughts.