Photography: The Joy of the Mundane
In theory, it should be the solution to the ultimate challenge for the one-person freelance business. How can you take on more work when you only have one pair of hands and 24 hours in a day?
Sure, you can start earlier and work later. You can give up our weekends and dream of retiring early. And you can raise your rates until your lower-paying clients squeak and disappear.
But working longer hours can lead to burn-out, and saying “no” to work as a freelancer can hurt as much as carpal tunnel syndrome. Worse, it effectively means that you’re never going to grow. After all, if you ‘re not expanding when you have more clients than you can handle, when are you going to do it?
The Two Ways to Earn More
There are only way two ways to earn more income as a freelancer: charge more money; and take on more work. Ideally, we should all be doing both of them, and the best way to do that is to look for help.
Outsourcing projects to other freelancers is a common practice, and one not often discussed with clients who might like to that the person they’re speaking to is the person who will be completing the project. But many freelancers have a half-secret list of helpers that they know they can turn to during crunch times, and when it works, it can be very rewarding. Instead of sweating for your salary, you get to see someone else sweat while you take home a tidy commission for relatively little effort.
Find someone good, in fact, and it can become addictive. Gradually, you can shift from being a hands-on freelancer to being a freelance agency in which work is passed along for a fee. That’s fine if that’s the way you want to go. It’s still work though; it’s just a very different kind of work.
If you want to do both – to accept freelance projects that you do yourself while outsourcing work that you can’t or don’t want to do – it’s important to know which work to pass along and which you should never share.
Projects provided by your best clients, for example, you should always do yourself. The 20 percent of your clients who provide 80 percent of your income need to be well looked after. They form the bedrock of your business and the only way to be absolutely sure that they’re getting exactly what they need is to do it yourself. If your helper decides to move on and do find another job – which, of course, they can do at any time — you don’t want to be in the position of having to scrabble around to find and train someone new, and risk losing the biggest source of your income.
What’s your Signature Worth?
The same is true when you’re hired to produce your signature work. Designers, writers and other creative freelancers might all offer similar services but we’re all unique, with specializations and styles that are often the reason we’re hired. Some clients will want talent rather than style – they’ll be pleased with the help of any capable freelancer. Others though, will want what you bring to the table. Chuck Anderson, for example, is a graphic designer known for his psychedelic style. When he’s hired by clients like Coca Cola and Nike to produce that style in their ads, it’s unlikely that he outsources. He might do that though if he’s asked to produce work that anyone could do.
Those two conditions depend on the type of projects you’re asked to produce and the people who are asking you to produce them. But who you’re giving them to is important as well. It’s a mistake to believe that outsourcing your work is entirely effort-free. One of the biggest advantages of bringing in help is that the work gets a second look before it’s passed on to the client. You get to check the quality, tidy up any typos or mistakes and give the client work that’s truly finished. That takes time, and it’s time that has to be paid for.
If you’re finding that the time you spend editing and correcting pays less than the amount you would normally have earned, then your outsourcing isn’t working and you should probably be doing the work yourself – or turn it down.
And finally, and perhaps most importantly, you shouldn’t outsource your work when you don’t completely trust the person who’s supplying it. It might take time to build that trust — and that’s always a tricky period – but even when you do have it, you have to understand what sort of work you can trust them with, and you have to know you can depend on them to deliver on time, time after time.
Outsourcing your freelance work can be an ideal way to grow from a one-desk enterprise into a small business. But it has to be done carefully, and with the right judgments about what to keep and what to share.