Freelancng through a middleman - a good idea?

Is it a good idea for a freelance web designer to work through a middleman? I have a friend who has offered to handle the initial negotiation with my clients should I decide to start a freelance web design business, as well as help scouting out new clients (sort of like an account executive or a middleman). The way it would work is this:

  1. Clients would either find the business via our website or through him.

  2. They would contact us through the website. That message would go directly to my friend.

  3. My friend would go over the initial specifications for the project with the client and get the gist of what they are looking for.

  4. My friend then relays this info to me, I take a look at the details and can contact the client myself if I need to. If I agree to the project, I tell my friend. Contracts are written and signed. My friend handles this part.

  5. I build the site. My friend is the main one who talks directly to the client, sends them the mock-ups I do, invoices, etc, but again, I can talk to the client if I need to.

  6. Upon project completion, my friend gets a percentage of the final price. Probably 25%.

Do you think this is a good way to run a freelance business? I mean, I was getting ready to look for a regular 9-5 job when he proposed this to me today. I am wondering which direction to take and wanted to get some other opinions on it. My friend is not a web designer but he can articulate and sell in a way that I can’t. He is also willing to learn the web design/development lingo and trends as well and to work with my own pricing structure.

So yes, any opinions are welcome!

Well, seeing as your friend is going to be doing 75% of the work, that seems a bit mean! :wink:


If the middleman can close at higher percentages and negotiate higher fees, yes. Otherwise, no.

I tried that once, in my early years. I hired someone as my project manager because I had some clients who were out of control and I didn’t want the hassle of managing them.

He got 20% but it didn’t work out, not because it wasn’t a good idea, but because he turned out to be an incompetent and greedy project manager.

I think it’s a great idea if you can get someone who is looking out for your best interests, getting you the money you deserve and keeping the problem clients managed properly.

Its true. Your friend might get higher that you expected. hahaha…

I choose to be direct to a client when i am you.

If you are poor at selling, or not very good at communicating with clients, then it isnt a bad idea. There are reasons why companies hire salesmen rather than getting the programmers to do the selling.

At the same time, bear in mind that if you go direct to the client, you are saving yourself 25%. Also, what happens if your friend is winning lots of jobs, and suddenly decides he can hire someone else to do the programming at half the cost you do? He is suddenly making 50% or more.

Its always a good idea to concentrate on what you do best, in your case web design, while outsourcing the bits your not so good at. I would however suggest making sure there is a formal contract between the two of you. It might be worth establishing as a company, rather than both of you freelancing.

I agree this really depends. You describe two roles that the middleman would be doing:

  1. sales
  2. some project management, or administration (i.e invoicing, requirements, etc.)

If them middleman is fantastic at both of these things, it could work out very well. I had someone who would bring in good projects and help manage the client for only 25%, I’d like it.

If they aren’t fantastic at both of those things, you start to suffer and it quickly becomes low value.

Also, you mentioned that you’d be paying him 25% of gross. That might be fine, but you should consider if you want to come up with a more sensible payment scheme. If he brings in a 10k project and you work 1000 hours on the project, you made 10 bucks an hour. Your seller, however, still get’s his 2500 dollars. If he bring in a 100k project but it will require you to buy 99k of software, he makes 25k and you lose 24k and your time.

Have to agree with the others that this could work out for you if you’re better developing than selling and you’ve got a friend who can handle what you prefer not to.

You’ll certainly need a solid contract to spell out just what each of you will be responsible for…and know that sometimes working with friends can be hazardous to your friendship. :eek:


Going through a middleman effectively makes you an employee of the middleman rather than an independent contractor since all of your income then comes from the one source.

I do this and prefer it, but I think it’s called outsourcing more than a middle man. I think it’s a very smart idea because it’s exhausting doing everything yourself.