Should You Outsource Your Client Writing?

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.

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Jennifer Mattern is a professional blogger, freelance business writer, consultant, and indie author. She runs numerous websites & blogs including All Freelance Writing, Freelance Writing Pros, NakedPR, and Kiss My Biz.

Jenn has 25 years' experience as a professional writer and editor and over 20 years' experience in marketing and PR (working heavily in digital PR, online marketing, social media, SEO, new media, and thought leadership publication). She also has 19 years' professional blogging and web publishing experience (including web development) and around 18 years of experience as an indie author / publisher.

Jenn also writes fiction under multiple pen names and is an Active member of the Horror Writers Association.

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5 thoughts on “Should You Outsource Your Client Writing?”

  1. Jenn, On rare occasions, I have outsourced some small aspect of a project. For example, I’ve had someone else create the index in a nonfiction book, and once in a while, I have another editor proofread a manuscript I’ve edited. I get the client’s permission and explain that after I’ve worked with them on their manuscript for months, another editor may find things I’ve missed or give a different perspective. Other than that, I do the work that clients hire me for. I recently referred a doctoral dissertation to another editor. I have decided not to do any more academic work—why should I spend my time doing something I really don’t like? So when a client/prospective client needs academic work, I tell them about someone who is good at it and enjoys it. If the client is expecting you to do the work, I think you should do it. If they use an agency that has a number of writers, that’s a different story.

  2. Jenn, I’ve tried outsourcing before and it didn’t go well. The quality was poor and the time it took me to rewrite the material plus meet all of my other deadlines was just too much. i followed the same screening procedures as others seem to (requesting samples of work, etc.) but it just didn’t work out well for me. I like the idea of referrals though. That’s worth considering.

  3. Hi Jenn,

    I outsourced one time and it worked out great, but your post has made me realize why that was. I’ll try to give you the short version: A long time ago I was a manager in a research industry. One of my employees was especially good at our job but didn’t really like managing or leading. After our branch closed and we all got laid off, I turned to freelancing while he looked for another full time job. When I found a freelancing job in our area of expertise that would have been far too complicated for me to handle on my own in a short period of time, I got permission from the client to bring this former employee in as a subcontractor. I hadn’t really considered it before, but now I realize it was because he and I were accustomed to the employer/employee relationship that we pulled the project off so well. I had always project managed him, he had always listened to me and let me take care of the larger details, and we just clicked.

    I suppose the moral of this story is that my former employee and I functioned more like an agency, with a manager and an employee, than like two freelancer writers working together, and that would likely be the only way I could bring myself to subcontract again. What that says about me and my controlling tendencies, I don’t even want to think about.

    Thanks for the post and for helping me gain an insight.

  4. I think like everyone else that commented I tried outsouring once or twice and failed miserably. The time that was spent re-writing just wasn’t worth it. Like you I based my rates on my own personal experience and therefore cannot quote for someone else to do the work. If I am approached to do something that is not in my area I have a number of colleagues that I will refer the client to and they do the same for me. I do know a number of freelance writers who outsource all their work but they have built a team of writers. They of course do reap the benefits because they pull in the work at a certain rate and then pass it on to their writers at half the price meaning they get paid while others write. I guess everyone to their own but in regards to subcontracting, I think it is definitely something I and my reputation can do without.

  5. Some people do take on the team management approach successfully, and there’s nothing wrong with that. When that becomes their job as in the case you mentioned though, they really aren’t freelance writers anymore – they own and manage a more traditional business. And hopefully in the process they’re being honest in the marketing and / or advertising about what they’re offering instead of trying to pull in clients on their own writing credentials, leading them to believe they’re doing the work.


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