Project management for freelancers

Managing Subcontractors as a Freelancer

By Brennan Dunn

My company became more than just me when I realized that I was losing money and future references by turning away work I couldn’t handle.

At first, I thought it would be smooth sailing and that it was the perfect arrangement. My contract with a contractor was simple: I’m landing the work, handling invoicing, and in charge of collecting. In exchange, I’d be taking a percentage of the hourly rate and giving the subcontractor the rest.

But what I didn’t realize was that I was ultimately liable. My reputation was riding on the abilities and, as more importantly, the integrity of each subcontractor I brought on.

Be upfront with your clients

Don’t make the mistake I made and try to whitelabel your subcontractors and pretend they either are employees of yours or, worse, are you. Because sooner or later, a client is going to ask you a question about their project and you aren’t going to be able to get in touch with your subcontractor. This happens.

If you’re straightforward and honestly let your clients know that you’ll be managing the deliverables of your subcontractors and trust them and their work, it’ll be a heck a lot easier to dig yourself out of a ditch if you need to.

Find reliable people

You can’t assume that you can throw keyboards at a project and guarantee a successful delivery. People are emotional, and they often times need prompting or slight nudges. As a primary contractor, it’s your job to find people who will dutifully represent your freelancing business, stick to schedules, work within budgetary constraints, and are utmost professionals.

It’s your reputation that’s at stake, not theirs. Vet your subcontractors, ideally know them before there’s a project on the table. Clearly communicate your expectations and how you expect them to work – don’t make the mistake I’ve made so often, thinking that everyone works just like you do.

Be fair

As a primary contractor, you’re balancing a relationship with your client, and a relation with your subcontractor(s). Clearly define the role of each involved party, and leave nothing to speculation.

Finally, the four points that follow should be clearly communicated with your clients when kicking off any new project:

  • That you’ll be doing daily reviews of all the work your subs produce
  • You will be involved in all major meetings
  • You’ve personally vetted the technical capacity and reliability of each of your subcontractors
  • That it’s your primary job to ensure that the project goes off without a hitch