Subcontracting Basics

subcontractThe decision to outsource work can be a huge milestone for anyone who has been working solo for a while. And it’s usually not a decision made lightly. It may be the point where you transform from a freelancer to a business owner, or it could be something you do very sporadically, on an as-needed basis. Either way, subcontracting brings with it a lot to consider.

The Decision to Outsource

Usually, you’ll have an inkling that outsourcing may be in your future long before you take the step. Here are three general reasons why you may decide to outsource:

1. You have more work than you can do on your own.

If you work around the clock and still find it difficult to catch up, this is probably a sign that you need to cut back or outsource. Truth is, you can only keep up this kind of workload for a while before you face burning out. Outsourcing allows you to maintain an income from the work you are subbing, keep current clients on your roster, and ensure they get the service they are used to, while freeing up some of your time.

2. You don’t have the skills to do a specific job but don’t want to turn the work away.

This can be particularly true if an existing client or a very desirable client wants you to take on a project you don’t have the experience to handle. Subcontracting keeps you in the loop while ensuring the project gets completed by someone who knows how to do it well.

3. You want to expand your business and do something new, but keep your existing work going.

As your business evolves, you may consider starting a new business, creating a spin-off or focusing on a very specific niche. If the new venture isn’t really aligned with the services you are currently providing, outsourcing allows you to maintain that work and those clients, without being held back from your new endeavor.

Why You Shouldn’t Outsource

Outsourcing is not for everyone. Some reasons outsourcing may not be for you include:

  • You don’t want to oversee the work of someone else.
  • You prefer to keep everything in-house.
  • The services you provide are very particular and not easily outsourced.
  • The time it would take to get a subcontractor up to speed wouldn’t be worth it in the end.
  • There are confidentiality issues with the clients you work with and the work you do.
  • Your rates aren’t high enough to be able to subcontract and still make money.

How to Find Subcontractors

The best place to find a subcontractor is by searching your own group of professional colleagues and acquaintances. As in any working relationship, collaborating with someone you know and trust can be easier, quicker and more productive. If you don’t know someone personally, ask a colleague for a referral.

Another place to look is on forums and discussion groups you participate in. Assuming they are related to the work you need to outsource, you can find out a lot about someone’s background, their expertise and some of their personality traits by watching their interaction in a forum.

A professional organization, networking groups and freelance job board sites may also be good places to search for a subcontractor. Regardless of where you find a subcontractor, though, you’ll want to make sure you verify their skills, view past work, ask for references, and spend the necessary time to make sure you can work together.

Are you ready to subcontract? You may want to read this follow-up post providing tips for working with subcontractors.

Image credit: Rodolfo Clix

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  • mark@diwebdesign

    I outsourced a very big contract for a e-commerce site. Things started well and was feeling very good about how things were going.
    A couple of weeks in they just stopped all contact. They wouldn’t answer phone calls or emails. We found out that they had gone behind our back and contacted the company we were doing the work for directly. They had arranged to cut me out of the loop and just deal with each other.
    Four months later their site is online but broken and barely works. Although I think the outsource was very capable of coding well they obviously needed management and a bridge of communication between them. Obviously the outsource did not do gather all the clients requirements properly.

    I now try to do most work in-house and only outsource to recommended companies based here in the UK.

    A word of advice, make sure you get things signed off properly and don’t pay until project delivery. Luckily I did not lose out much money, only some man hours.