Outsourcing: Friend or Foe?

Outsourcing can be both a friend and a foe to freelancers. When it’s done right, it’s a real time saver; when it’s not, it’s a thorn in your side, if you’ll forgive the cliché. I know what I’m talking about because I’ve been on both sides of the equation, taking outsourced work from other people and outsourcing work of my own. There are lots of lessons I’ve learned on how to do it right.

Outsourcing Writing Jobs: Friend or Foe?

Outsourcing might be the answer to avoid writing all night.

Taking Outsourced Writing Jobs

When you’re taking outsourced work, it’s important to:

  • get full details of the brief (not what the person you’re dealing with understands as the brief but, if possible, the original client brief) so you know exactly what you have to deliver.
  • be clear on the deadline.
  • make sure that your fee is worth your time. Someone who’s outsourcing will take a cut – is what’s left enough for you to do the job?

Issues with Outsourced Writing Jobs

Problems I’ve faced with people who don’t outsource very well include:

  • not being clear about job parameters and deadlines, resulting in unnecessary revisions and time wasting. If this goes on too long, you could end up out of pocket.
  • the outsourcer wanting so big a slice of the pie that the job wasn’t worth it for me. I was able to check up on what the original bid for the job had been so I knew exactly how much the person was making.

Lessons from Outsourced Writing Jobs

What I learned from the process of taking outsourced work was to be very clear about how much work I would have to do, whether it was worth it and whether the job as a whole passed the hassle test. I still occasionally take outsourced work from other professional writers who deliver clear briefs, communicate regularly and pay on time.

Outsourcing Writing Work

But what about when you are outsourcing to others? That’s not always simple either. If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you’ll know that back in about 2007-2008 I ran a writing team on behalf of a copywriting agency I worked for. At its biggest, I was working with about 15 people. To work effectively I had to

  • set deadlines and remind writers at regular intervals.
  • form a briefing document for the basic info they needed (which included the client’s original instructions).
  • be on hand to answer questions and provide feedback.
  • liaise with the main client and act as a go-between.

Issues with Outsourcing Writing Jobs

I was pretty good at it, but I really didn’t like it because even with systems in place I came across:

  • people who couldn’t meet deadlines
  • people whose writing skills didn’t live up to their promise
  • plagiarists – ugh!!!

All of those resulted in more work, more stress and less pay for me. Eventually I stopped running the team and concentrated on more lucrative personal writing gigs.

It wasn’t all bad, though. Out of that process, I built lasting relationships with two writers with whom I still work today. That’s because:

  • they have the same work ethic as I do.
  • they are excellent writers.
  • they meet deadlines.
  • they are creative and have ideas for improving processes.
  • we respect each others’ time and skills.

Lessons from Outsourcing Writing Jobs

What I learned from outsourcing work is that you have to put in time at the start to identify and create processes and educate other writers about what you need. Get that right and outsourcing can be a real timesaver for the busy writer.

What experiences have you had with outsourcing writing work or taking outsourced work? Would you do it again?

This post is part of the April 2012 Word Carnival — a monthly group blogging event specifically for small business owners started by Tea Silvestre, the Word Chef. (It’s the most fun you’ll have all month!) Check out the rest of this month’s lineup here.

Image credit: striatic/Flickr

About Sharon Hurley Hall

Sharon Hurley Hall has been mentoring writers here at Get Paid To Write Online since 2005 to help them improve and build sustainable and successful writing careers. Check me out on sharonhh.com. Feel free to connect with me online on Google+.


  1. Love that you included both perspectives! Gave me some insight in how the other half lives 😉

  2. Interesting read, Sharon. I was approached for the 1st time by someone wanting to outsource to me. My fee didn’t make much sense for them to do it. At this stage, I can’t see me taking on something like that.

    As for the other side, I had my fill of supervising in my corporate days, and, like you, while I felt I did a good job, the stress isn’t something I’d like to repeat.

    Thanks for sharing both sides. It will be helpful if I ever want to consider outsourcing writing projects.

    • I’ve had that experience, too, Cathy – being clear about the financial benefits or perils is a key takeaway from the outsourcing experience, and it applies no matter which side you’re sitting on.

  3. We’ve got a lot in common here as freelance writers working from both sides of the outsourcing coin. I think it’s an awesome way to strike a workday balance to both be an outsourcer as well as use outsourcers to get the job done.

    Another excellent word carnival post.

  4. Great post and I totally agree with your take on both sides. Helping a writer with overflow is often worth a slightly lower rate (you don’t have the same ownership as the writer you’re writing for and you don’t have to deal with quotes, invoicing and so forth).

    Having people who can help you with your overflow is great, too. It means you don’t have to say No to a client and that you can keep a portion of the fee when you don’t have time to do the work.

    A few years ago I had a large team and used that business model to let me pick and choose what I wanted to write about. I mentored some junior writers and had a few trusted and experienced writers I could really count on. Sometimes things went horribly and cost me time, money, and frustration but it generally worked for me and was a good learning process for me. I also know I helped several freelance writers get their start (and we all earned money).

    Nowadays I’m like you and have a few people I go to on an as-needed basis. But I wouldn’t hesitate to build up a larger team again if I had high business volume. I’ve learned a lot about managing things, writing detailed briefs, setting milestone delivery schedules, and padding deadline to give myself room in case of emergency of flake-outs.

    • It was definitely a learning experience, Dana, and like you, I’ve taken away some lessons to apply if I ever worked with a large team again. I don’t know if I will, but I know what I’d do differently next time! 😉

  5. I’ve only experienced one side and the pay was so much lower than what I usually make that I felt it wasn’t worth my time. Nonetheless, I learned some things and the person I worked with/for was well-organized, efficient and made the job quite easy.

    Your post lays out the pros and cons very nicely… should I ever be asked or be fortunate enough to need to outsource myself I’ll refer to this. Thanks.

    • Thanks, Walker. In the example I alluded to in the post, the pay was very low but the outsourcer wanted in-depth research and analysis. In the end, the figures didn’t stack up.

  6. Clear communication and expectations does make outsourcing easier for both sides. Great thoughts Sharon.

  7. Nicely done, Sharon. I think your biggest point is: quality talent is hard to find. There are a LOT of mediocre folks out there who don’t know how — or don’t want to know how — to do things the right way.

    Maybe we need a post on how to find the right person!

    • I can smell a follow-up, Tea. 🙂 You’re right – you have to take as much care hiring other freelancers as you would if you were in an office hiring someone to do a job. That’s because it’s your rep on the line if things go wrong. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t hire someone inexperienced if they have the right knowledge base – you just have to invest the time to train them.

  8. As others have mentioned above, I appreciate seeing both points of view even though I’ve never been in a position to outsource my writing to others. It can be really hard to find good, reliable talent – through in a budget and it seems like a unicorn hunt! I appreciate you sharing your experiences, it will be something to keep in mind in the future.

  9. Sharon, I took an outsourced job from a friend… it turned into a nightmare even tho’ we both thought we were clear on all the details. The problem was voice, which is hard to spell out in a contract. What made it worse is we disagreed, which meant I had to do it her way.

    I think I’d try to do or get some sort of a sample next time. Also I didn’t enjoy it at all and neither did she. She hasn’t offered me more work even tho I met the deadlines, etc., and I haven’t asked. We’re still friends, but it was a near thing.

    • Yes, outsourcing to friends can be difficult, Anne. I had an issue with a friend who needed some extra work but didn’t fully understand the job requirements. In the end, we both agreed that we shouldn’t do it again for the sake of our friendship.

  10. So spot on! It’s so important to look at all aspects of the collaboration and what experience you want to get from it, because not all of them are worth it. I echo your sentiment that you need to be as clear as possible, and then walk away when there is too much of a mismatch on important points. And lastly, deadlines, although a very specific word, seems to mean very different things to different people. In my mind it means you get something done when you said you would, but others have a more liberal interpretation : )

    • Oh, I could do a whole other post on deadlines, Katrina. If you consider them sacred and others a movable feast then your outsourcing relationship is doomed from the start.

  11. Great post Sharon, especially as you have raised both sides of the equation. Hadn’t considered that on occasion we are the outsourcers. The problem is as you have identified there not being enough margin. Especially when it’s not an apples and apples comparison, such as asking someone to match a quote for a specific task from an outsourcer in Asia, which has happened a lot to me recently. Apart from a disparity in the hourly rates, it doesn’t take into account the value add which we can bring professionally to a solution. I always politely decline these approaches.

    • Now that you mention it, Sandy, I’ve had approaches from people who say: “I can get it for a quarter of the price from x” in which case I point out that x doesn’t have my experience or turn the gig down. Competing on price with outsourcers from different economies is a mug’s game. Thanks for bringing this up. 🙂

  12. I’ve run into a good deal of plagiarism when outsourcing writing projects. I figure if I try enough different people, I’ll eventually build up a network of writers that are worth it and outsourcing won’t be as difficult… Still waiting for that to happen!

  13. Great post Sharon. Like you I’ve done it from both sides, nowadays I tend to work with a few long term clients and pick up other work when things get a bit slow.

  14. Sharon,

    You’ve hit on a majority of issues of why I can’t outsource some of my social media work – the work ethic is a mismatch, the voicing is a mismatch, or the style is a mismatch.

    Not to mention, there are some times when you absolutely have to get a post in between 10-11AM and if the person is one minute late, you’ve missed your core demographic.

    It’s good to know it CAN be done, now the problem is taking the time to figure out who the good people are and vetting ’em – or finding a firm that can do that for you.


    • Outsourcing the outsourcing – I like it, Nick! 🙂 I don’t like it when other people put deadlines in jeopardy – for me that’s the second worst thing (next to plagiarism!)

  15. Hey Sharon — super post!

    I guess we can conclude there’s a silver lining in every cloud. 😉

    Kudos for flipping the proverbial coin over and showing both heads and tails.

    Don’t you wish sometimes there were more “definitives” in outsourcing and other small business building challenges? For instance, more concrete parameters to bid within as well as seek bids on projects? It seems to me the one theme song that keeps playing over and over is that off-key tune that goes, “I don’t get paid what I’m worth when I’m outsourced.” Not cool. A few folks here have alluded to the el cheapo bidders from Lower Sklabovia or Transylvania … not really certain where these nincompoops hail from. I believe they’re a huge part of the problem … and NO part of the solution. 🙁

    In my estimation, those two very old adages apply to outsourcing …
    “Buyers beware” and “You get what you pay for”

    Another wonderful Carnival post!

    • Sharon Hurley Hall says:

      Great adages for outsourcing, Melanie, whichever side of the coin you’re on. And it’s not all bad – some people outsource to the people they think will do the best job at their usual rate and include that in their quote to the client – it’s just a question of finding those gigs. 🙂

  16. It was very interesting reading this post. I always believed that to be as objective as possible need to experience both sides. So, was outsourcing can be challenging but the truth is that from the clients side, it is a great opportunity to save time and have a professional to do your work. Just like every other cooperation the expectations and requirements (money,time, deadlines, etc) of the job have to be clear and agreed in the begining.

  17. I think outsourcing is great for a lot of reasons. Businesses that are expanding can grow even bigger by outsourcing and it affords people the opportunity to earn income. I am eternally grateful to everyone who outsources work to my wife and I as it has kept us afloat for many years.

  18. Saharon,

    I’ve not experience outsourcing freelance work. I would love to connect with writers who use them. Do you have a resource or some forums where people hang out? I’d love to connect and build relationships with other writers, as I’m ramping up my freelance efforts more these days. Thanks.

    • I know some people use the WAHM.com forums to outsource to people they have connected with there, Janet. I have a couple of trusted freelancers I go to, but would also check out places like Spike Wyatt’s Half Hog forum and Anne and Lori’s Five Buck Forum to hook up with other freelancers.

  19. When time becomes very valuable, outsourcing is worthy. It is also gains the same worth, when there’s an equivalent result of good performance.