At the beginning of your freelance blogging career, you worried about getting enough work. Now you have a better problem, but a problem nonetheless: you have more assignments than you can comfortably handle on your own.
This article will show you how to outsource some of your work to other writers while maintaining professional integrity with your client and subcontractor(s). Now, I know some of you are thinking “but I’m not at that point in my career yet. How do I get there?” While there are different ways to land more decent-paying freelance blogging gigs, the good news is it doesn’t necessarily take as long as you might assume.
Like many freelance bloggers, I started out writing for a content mill. After nearly a year of writing content in the evenings after my toddler was in bed, I was unhappy with the low pay and demanding deadlines. I knew there must be something better out there, but I wasn’t sure how to find it. Around that time, Sophie offered a new intensive mentoring program and I decided to enroll. Some people are good at putting themselves out there and forging their own path to freelance blogging success, but I’ve always benefited from personal mentoring and external accountability.
After two months of working with Sophie, I landed my first steady gigs as a freelance blogger. The first one came with a byline and the responsibility of writing a few articles a month for a personal finance website. I discovered it through a job ad and used Sophie’s pitch templates to send a winning application. The second gig involved ghostwriting blog posts and other content for a private client who filled out the contact form on my website. With Sophie’s help, I’d recently given my site a makeover to add a portfolio and focus on my freelance blogging services.
Both of these gigs expanded after a few months. My editor liked my work, so she assigned more articles. My client was starting a new marketing firm and as his customer base grew, so did my workload. After a year of freelance blogging on the side while working my “day job” as an adjunct English professor, I realized something had to give. I was overwhelmed and falling behind. If this continued, I would likely lose a writing client or receive bad evaluations from my students.
First, I scaled back my teaching load from three or four classes a semester to just one. Then I decided to share some of my blogging work with a few writer friends.
Here’s how I maintained my professional integrity in the outsourcing process so I could catch up, stay on track, and keep my clients happy.
Is outsourcing a better solution than the alternatives?
After all the effort you put into building your freelance blogging business, you may resist parting with any of your hard-won work. I felt this way, too. It’s difficult to let go of that “fasting or feasting” mentality many freelance bloggers have. To convince yourself that outsourcing is the best solution, you must first consider the alternatives.
Find more time in the day to work.
It could be you simply aren’t devoting enough hours to writing. If you can find time on the margins of your days, like early mornings or evenings, you might be able to catch up without outsourcing. I tried to do this, but with two small children at home, I couldn’t make it work.
Fire a good client.
Like good friends, good clients are worth holding on to. (But if you find yourself stuck with a crappy client, by all means break up with them.) I had positive relationships with my two long-standing clients. They paid well and on time, rarely criticized or asked for changes, and I enjoyed the work. I didn’t want to quit.
Go on hiatus.
Instead of firing a good client, why not just take a break? There’s a valid argument to be made for hiatuses in certain situations. For example, in retrospect it was ridiculous for me to finish a writing assignment while in labor with my second child, just because I was afraid of letting the client down by asking for time off. But a hiatus in my current situation didn’t seem like the best idea. For one thing, I wasn’t sure how long I’d need to take off. I would seem unreliable if I had to keep saying “I’m not ready yet, try me again in another week.” Plus, my client would have to find someone else in the meantime, and after going through the effort of hiring another writer, who’s to say they’d take me back when I was ready?
Suffer from burnout until you can’t help anyone, not even yourself.
This is the option I was facing before I decided to outsource, and as you can guess burnout isn’t a very productive state. If I continued to turn things in late or ask for deadline extensions, I could very well lose all my clients and have to start over again.
After I weighed my options, outsourcing seemed like the best compromise. Now I had to find a few interested writers whose work I could count on.
Where to find dependable, talented writers for outsourcing
There are plenty of writers in the world, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy to find one with the right combination of talent and reliability. My recommendation? Turn to your personal network first. If you don’t know other writers through real life or online friendships, you should join a local writer’s group or start hanging out on a freelance blogging forum. That way when you need to outsource, you’ll already have one or two people in mind.
Since I’ve been involved in various writing communities since college, I relied on my personal contacts to find writers for outsourcing. Of the three friends I asked first, two said yes and one said no. Since I’ve only needed help with two-three blog posts a month, two has been a perfect number. I always have a backup if one person is unavailable.
Of course, hiring friends can be tricky–it’s not the same as making a referral and relieving yourself of responsibility for the project. If you don’t have writer friends who can help, or you’d prefer to do business with strangers, your best bet is to ask for recommendations or post a free ad in a self-selecting community like The Freelance Writers Den. Spare yourself the time and energy drain of receiving hundreds of responses to a Craigslist ad.
Make sure you outsource the right work
If you have more than one client or writing gig, the next step in the outsourcing process is to figure out what you should delegate.
First, disqualify any assignments with a byline. Passing off someone else’s work as your own is not a hallmark of professional integrity. Plus, no matter how awesome another writer is, I only want to put my name on something I created from scratch. How else will future clients know I’m the right writer for them if I didn’t actually write all of my portfolio clips?
Next, consider the different pay rates you receive (if applicable). It makes more sense to outsource lower paying work and save longer assignments for yourself. But if there’s something you just don’t want to do, go ahead and outsource it.
Speaking of pay, what’s the right amount of compensation?
An important aspect of professional integrity is how you treat others, including clients and subcontractors. I’m sure you could find new writers willing to accept content mill-rates, but exploiting others definitely compromises your integrity. Plus if you pay crap you can’t be surprised to get crap in return. And if you end up needing to rewrite the work you outsourced, you haven’t saved yourself any time.
Treat your subcontractors as you wish to be treated. I decided to pay my friends the same rate I charge my client, but it would also be fair to take a little off the top since you will still spend time on small tasks like proofreading. Consider what you could keep for yourself while still paying a fair rate to your subcontractor. For example, if you charge $60 for a 500-word article, you could pay another writer $50 and keep $10 for yourself.
Here are a few other etiquette tips for treating your subcontractor with professional integrity:
- Set reasonable deadlines.
- Provide feedback on what they did well and any areas for improvement.
- Send payment within 30 days of your receipt of the work.
Ensure consistent quality for your client
Outsourcing when you have more work than you can handle helps your career by allowing you to keep good clients. However, if you turn in error-ridden or plagiarized work, or try to conceal the fact that you’re outsourcing, you could end up losing your client anyway. That’s why it’s crucial to maintain professional integrity with your client during the outsourcing process.
- Check your contract if you have one. Every freelancer automatically has the legal right to outsource as they see fit–clients pay for the deliverable, not the writer, unless you’ve signed a contract specifically saying you’ll personally do all the work.
- Regardless, it’s still an act of courtesy and professional integrity to discuss your outsourcing plan with your client. You can frame it as part of the excellent service you’re providing. When you outsource, the client is spared the time and effort of hiring another writer themselves. Assure them that all the work still gets reviewed by you, so the same standards will be maintained without a disruption in service.
- Proofread everything before sending it to the client (This is a no-brainer, right?).
- It’s a good idea to run your own work, and especially anything you outsource, through a free plagiarism scanner. You’re not accusing anyone of deliberate cheating. It’s easy to make a mistake and inadvertently copy a sentence here or there when you use sources. Getting the all-clear from a plagiarism scan gives you peace of mind.
- Make edits as needed. Hopefully you won’t need to change much, or you’re not reaping the full benefits of outsourcing, but in order to maintain your professional integrity with the client, it’s always good practice to make revisions as needed to reflect the client’s voice or make sure subcontracted pieces blend in with your own writing style.
Now you know how to outsource like a pro without sacrificing your professional integrity. Has outsourcing gotten you out of a jam in the past? Share your stories and tips in the comments.
Stefan Alexander says
Hi, Elizabeth! This has been a great read, and it eased my mind. I am now in a situation where I have to outsource, and I needed to know whether it is the right thing to do. I did find a friend who can deliver good pieces, though I always have to edit them out to fit exactly what the client expects. I keep $5 for me and pay the rest without even questioning it. This even has led to thinking of a starting a writing agency (not a content mill), real writers, always high-quality, and high-pay rate. It’s an idea I’ve been entertaining for a short while now.
Elizabeth Spencer says
Hi Stefan, thanks for your comment! You are right that one usually has to do some editing for voice and style in order to match the client’s needs. So keeping $5 or even more for yourself is totally fair. I’ve also considered trying to expand my business to the point of starting an agency, but I don’t think it’s a step I want to take right now. Good luck with your endeavors–you’ll have to write an article about it if you do start a writing agency!
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Moshe Chayon says
I’m glad someone else understands that sometimes firing a client is the best thing to do. I used a grading system for my clients, from A to F. I hope it helps you too.
Elizabeth Spencer says
Thanks for the tip, Moshe!
Olumide Samuel says
A lovely post. At this stage of my freelance writing career, I don’t really have a need to outsource to other writers as I’m still actively looking for more clients.
However, this is a needed guideline if there’s a need for it.
Great job Elizabeth.
Elizabeth Spencer says
Thanks for reading, Olumide (and apologies for my delayed response–your comment just showed up in my inbox today). I hope you soon find yourself busy enough to outsource!
I enjoyed reading about your journey from freelancer to outsourcer. Were you really finishing off a blog post while in labour? 😮
Elizabeth Spencer says
Thanks for reading, Sandra! It’s a journey that is always ebbing and flowing, as my main go-to writer for outsourcing is now tied up with her own projects.
And yes, I was crazy (or stupid) enough to work through the early stages of labor (I definitely wasn’t typing away while at the birth center!). 😉
Md Arif Hossain Khan says
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