Many companies approach outsourcing and subcontracting all wrong. Learn to avoid common mistakes and build successful subcontractor partnerships.
I’ve shared tips on how to successfully outsource work to subcontractors in the past. I love subcontractor relationships because, when done right, everyone wins:
- The client gets a quality end product
- The service provider can help more people and deliver on their promises
- The subcontractor gets regular work.
Hiring and working with subcontractors is a great way to expand your capacity and grow your freelance business if you’re not quite ready to hire someone or don’t have enough work to keep someone busy full-time.
The key is to treat them as valuable partners.
I’ve owned and operated Bourn Creative since July 2005, and I’ve both hired subcontractors and been a subcontractor for marketing, public relations, advertising, and other web design agencies. While most of my experiences have been positive, I’ve noticed a few problematic scenarios that seem to pop-up periodically with marketing, PR, and ad agencies who sell websites to their clients then outsource the work.
Mistakes That Sabotage Success
For many marketing, advertising, and public relations firms, their approach to working with digital agency partners and freelance designers and developers is all wrong.
Developing relationships with web agencies and freelance designers and developers can be a smooth, easy, and lucrative experience. Unfortunately, client service mistakes are often made that cause frustrating and profit-eroding experiences for all involved.
Here are the four most common mistakes being made:
1. Choosing A Partner Based On The Potential Sales Commission
Business is competitive and as a result, many businesses are willing to pay referral fees, sales commissions, and affiliate fees. When the need and the recommendation perfectly align, earning a commission for that referral makes sense.
The problem arises when a potential commission is put ahead of making the best recommendation or referral for a client.
Believe it or not, I’ve actually had some say to me, “You are the perfect fit for this project and exactly who my client needs. But if you don’t pay me $X for the referral, I’ll have to hire someone less qualified.”
I was so disgusted with their blatant lack of integrity that we never ended up doing business together. This should never happen. What’s best for the client should always come before a potential payday for you.
2. Choosing A Cheap Partner So You Can Tack On Big Markups
There is nothing wrong with wanting to make more money or with marking up services you are reselling. It’s normal to expect an agency markup of 10-30% on subcontracted services.
Problems arise, however, when a partner is chosen based on the mark-up potential rather than the quality and reliability of their work.
Many creative companies see website services as another income stream; a quick and easy way to make more money. They think that finding a cheap freelancer to do the work will equal larger profit margins but that is rarely the case. Instead, it results in frustrating experiences (think timeline delays and errors) and low-quality work being sold at high prices, which can damage your reputation and client relationships.
3. Keeping The Contractor Hidden From The Client
I get it. Fear sometimes rears its ugly head and introduces worry that a contractor or partner might steal your client or that your client might like them better.
This isn’t reality, it’s insecurity.
A partner or subcontractor with strong ethics and integrity will never do that. They will hold a strong boundary and work to support you and make you look amazing in the eyes of your client because they know that if you are happy, the client is happy, and the project is a success, they’re likely to receive more work from you in the future.
So you yourself a favor and don’t silo your design or development partner and keep them hidden from the client. Instead, invite them to the conversation as a part of your team. With this approach, you’ll avoid:
- Miscommunication and critical messages getting lost in translation.
- Those without expertise in the web provide consulting to clients about their website that may not be correct or aligned with current best practices.
- People selling services they don’t fully understand and either overpromising or undercharging.
4. Bringing The Contractor In Only For Implementation
I’ve seen it happen time and time again: A creative agency sells a website project to their client, the client signs the contract, the agency reaches out to freelance designers, developers, or web agencies to do the work, and things start to fall apart.
The problem is often that the people selling the website project don’t actually have any expertise in designing and building websites.
This results in scenarios such as the scope of work far exceeding the contracted budget, which makes it nearly impossible to find a qualified partner willing to do the work. In this case, you may be forced to settle for a less experienced partner, ask the client for more money, or eat the cost difference — and none of those options are good ones.
A better approach is to invite your contractor or partner to the sales meetings. Have them sit in and listen, ask questions, and gather information so you can collaborate on crafting an accurate proposal of work.
The Right Approach To Outsourcing Work To Design And Development Partners
A successful subcontractor relationship or partnership with a freelance designer, developer, or web agency is mutually beneficial for both parties:
- You get to bring in a partner you can rely on to produce great work while having your back at all times.
- They are included in the project from the very beginning and are paid a fair market rate.
- The client receives the best possible service and end product, working with two specialists who can collaborate and communicate effectively.
Building these relationships take time, trust, and a lot of clear communication. Working together may not be perfect at first, and that’s okay. It will take time to get to know the communication style, workflow, and preferences of each person you interact with and each company, which may mean doing a few projects together to iron out any kinks in your collaboration.
Here are some tips to make outsourcing website design or development work more effective and more profitable:
- Get your design/development partner involved as early as possible. This means inviting them to the conversation during discovery when you’re clarifying and finalizing the scope of work. By making them part of the sales process, you’ll gain accurate budget and timeline estimates and identify potential red flags.
- Listen and be open to suggestions. It’s likely that your design/development partner has created something similar in the past and has valuable experience and insights to share.
- Don’t devalue your partners with low-ball rates Trustworthy, reliable partners who deliver high-quality work on time aren’t cheap but they are worth every penny. Pay their rates happily and show them you value their services and they’ll make you look amazing.
- Focus on the relationship first and negotiate later. Only after you have established a positive ongoing relationship, should you negotiate a more desirable rate. Yes, there is value in the fact that you’re doing the marketing, sales, and project management and they don’t have to — but it’s not that big of a deal for one or two projects. In this case, economies of scale come into play.
- Introduce your partner to your clients and open a line of communication. Choose a partner you trust to attend client meetings and speak directly to your clients. Direct communication is needed to produce the best results with the least amount of revisions and challenges.
- Educate your partner about your client and the relationship. Share big picture goals, relationship nuances, the full scope of services the client has hired you for, and any additional services to upsell. Your partner can be your best ally in bolstering your relationship and talking up your services. They can also help you overcome any past challenges or sticky situations and reinforce your client messaging.
The Client Should Always Come First
In client services, the best interests of their client should always come first. For subcontractor relationships and strategic partnerships to be successful:
- Creative companies need to truly collaborate with subcontractors and partners, viewing them as a valuable resource and addition to their team, instead of merely a leveraged resource.
- Trust must be established through open, honest channels of communication, fair pricing, and consistent, high-quality work.
If designers and developers are brought into projects early enough, they can help ensure the scope of work is clear, the estimate is accurate, and that there is enough budget to be paid a fair market rate that aligns with their value. And, when everyone’s needs are met, it is much easier to put aside self-serving actions, to fully support each other, and to create an end product everyone can be proud of and feel good about.