When is it Okay to Outsource Writing Work

There is no physical possible way for me to write every article that my clients bring to me. It certainly isn’t a bad problem to have — and it took plenty of marketing to get to this point — but I can’t bring myself to turn down work, even as I’m looking for ways to cut back on my work. But that doesn’t mean that the only option is to drive myself a little bit crazier because I want the money that goes along with these projects. It doesn’t hurt that my clients are a lot happier if I can take care of all the work they can give me.

Bringing in another writer is just about the only way I have found to take on these projects without losing sleep. But there are some ethical concerns that go along with bringing in help that I think are crucial to consider. After all, if someone screws up on a project that is just for you, that’s one thing. If it is a project for a client, however, your reputation is on the line — not the person actually responsible.

Is Your Client Cool With It?

My clients, when they first come to me, are looking to pay Thursday Bram to write something for them — not any other writer. Not everyone is willing to pay me to edit something someone else has written or to manage a project without actually banging out a few words myself. That’s fine with me. I charge rates that make me comfortable doing all the work myself.

It’s only when I’ve got an okay from the client that I’m willing to bring in someone else. My client has to be fully aware of not only the fact that I’m not the one writing the material, but to have approved who I’m working with. The situation has to be fully transparent.

Are You Cool With Freelancers’ Rates?

When I started out as a freelance writer, I picked up several assignments that other writers were outsourcing. The pay was on the level that my experience was getting me elsewhere, but I know there was a significant difference between what I was getting and what the original contractor was getting.

As a result, I tend to price the work I outsource a little lower than my standard rates. I’m still paying a fair rate to the other writers involved, but I don’t feel right about adding much more of a margin than the actual time I’m spending on a given project. If I’m only going to spend 15 minutes editing or tweaking a blog post, I’m not about to charge my hourly rate for the whole project.

At the same time, I’m very worried about putting other writers in a bad place, financially speaking. I’m often on the other end of the paycheck and I don’t want anyone to think that I haven’t treated them fairly. As a result, I’ve been thinking about what I can offer the writers I work with to make projects more worth their while — especially since I’m looking for opportunities to bring in more work for them. So far, that’s included little things, like offering free hosting for a couple of great writers’ websites (I host a couple of my clients’ websites already). But I’d love to put together something that reaches a little farther. If you’ve got any suggestions on the support you’d want in a freelance job, I’m happy to hear it.

Are You Able to Handle the Logistics?

Outsourcing a project doesn’t entirely get things off your plate. You’ve still got to make sure that the project is going well, that everybody gets what they need and so forth. So far, I’ve been using Google Wave to manage everything, along with OmniFocus (the task management tool I use for my own work). But I can tell that this won’t last — OmniFocus isn’t exactly robust and Google Wave is effectively being discontinued.

So I’m on a hunt for a new approach to managing things. I have a pretty specific idea of what the end result needs to look like, but I’m definitely struggling with the best way of making the transition. This is certainly not a problem that a freelancer working on her own runs into.

When your team consists of more than just you, it becomes very clear very quickly that you need a simple approach. You need everyone to be able to check just one place to stay on the same page — and to be able to make the connection between your approach and they way they manage their own tasks. It’s a problem we often see from the other end: we have standard invoicing procedures but different clients require us to invoice in different ways, resulting in freelancers getting frustrated. The same problem shows up in asking freelancers to handle work in different ways.

An Informal Poll

I’d like to know if you’ve ever outsourced part or all of a writing project to another freelancer. What worked? What didn’t?

And if you haven’t, why not?

Image by Flickr user Mike Baird


  1. Susan Johnston   •  

    Very apropos post, as I’m in a similar boat. I’m reluctant to outsource the actual writing for many of the reasons you mention above (although I have ghostwriting agreements with several of my clients, I wouldn’t be comfortable having someone write something that would carry my byline), but I’m in the process of hiring an assistant to handle some of the administrative tasks I need to do. I may have him or her help with my own newsletter and proofread some of my own projects, so I decided to look for someone who’s a good writer in addition to being a solid multi-tasker. (I have one candidate in particular that I’m meeting with next week to finalize details.)

    With regards to the pay issue you mention, I decided that the thing I could offer an assistant (on top of an hourly rate) was mentoring. By proofing my writing, processing invoices, resizing photos, etc., the person will obviously get some insight into how my business works. But I plan to take that a step further by spending a little extra time to offer helpful resources, suggest markets for ideas the person might have, and critique their work if they ask. I always appreciate when an editor takes the time to be hands-on and explain they why do things a certain way instead of tweaking my work and then I see the changes in print.

    My question to you, Thursday, is what are the legal and tax implications of your outsourcing? Did you have a lawyer draw up a contractor’s agreement for your writers? Is there a clause stating that they can’t solicit your clients directly? Do you send them a 1099? This is the kind of stuff I’m still figuring out.

  2. thursday   •     Author

    @Susan, On the business side of things, I do have a contract I use for both writing and more administrative projects, along with a specific schedule of work for each client. I give tax info to my CPA at the end of the year and pay him to worry about issuing 1099s. I’ve based a lot of how I work with people off what I did and didn’t like about being on the receiving end.

    I have been outsourcing some stuff on the administrative side as well, and I’ve been concentrating on making it as painless as possible: I standardized all the paperwork I’m using, since I’m working with contractors. In the future, I’d love to be able to bring in more people and having a solid system in place now simply makes a lot more sense that doing things half-way.

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