The Outsourcing Lifestyle for Writers: A Bad Thing?

http://www.freelancewritinggigs.com/2009/04/outsourcing-lifestyle/

I recently wrote a post challenging writers to ask themselves if they’re scared of spending money. If you read that post and the ensuing debate in the comment section, you’ll have noticed that Jennifer Mattern of AllFreelanceWriting was quite the champion and had strong opinions on the subject.

While well written (though a touch assumptive of my personal views) and also off topic from my original post (which was to spend on self- and business improvement, such as advertising or courses), Jennifer’s post discusses some dangerous presumptions that could be damaging to writers enjoying a better life.

I’d like to address them here:

Here’s the thought process behind outsourcing… Outsource as much as you can, so you have as many directly billable hours as possible to take on paying (or higher-paying) work.

Outsourcing as much as you can only to increase your billable hours makes income sense, but it doesn’t make financial or business sense. There are other factors involved in outsourcing and other reasons to accept it as a viable alternative that helps you have a better career. You should outsource when:

• Your skills are only passing fair and you won’t do the best possible job, potentially damaging your business image or reputation.
• The time it would take you to accomplish the task exceeds the time it would take a specialist to do the work
• The cost of hiring a professional to accomplish the task comes to less than the time and investment you’d have to make to do the work yourself
• The time involved in accomplishing the work could be better spent developing a business asset, taking care of your family or taking a much-needed break
• The partnership of working with someone else can increase the number of business services or the quality of work you provide to your clients

If you can accomplish a task quickly and to high quality, or you take pleasure in working on the task and it doesn’t affect the rest of your business, by all means, go for it. If undertaking the work takes anything away from your life beyond money, then outsource, hire staff or find a partner. It’s just not worth it.

Freelancing is not only a business. It’s first and foremost a lifestyle. Many folks get into freelancing because they want to work independently. They have no interest or desire to start playing the role of project manager, dealing with other contractors constantly…Freelancers aren’t looking to run formal businesses for the most part.

Well, that’s a grand thought, and more power to those who believe that roles such as project managers, dealing with other contractors, and running a formal business isn’t part of freelancing. That’s entirely false and a huge mistake in attitude to have.

When you freelance, you are self-employed. You are both boss and employee – and voila, you’ve just adopted two roles. You are also manager and you are technician. Two more. You are customer service and production. Two more. You are administration – that’s worth about four roles, if you ask me.

You will have taxes to prepare, accounts to collect, clients to invoice and bank accounts to balance. You’ll have to manage your schedule and organize your time, and there isn’t anyone around to tell you when to get to work or what to do next.

To think that freelancing is first and foremost a lifestyle choice is an erroneous belief. You are choosing to employ yourself in your own business, and this isn’t about a Tim Ferriss freedom where you’ll work 4 weeks a year. You are your own business. Make no mistake of that.

By that same logic of saying you should always strive for more billable hours, you could also say that you should work twice as many overall hours. Why? Just because they’re there, and you’re not monetizing them yet (but could). But getting out of the grind is often a goal of freelancers, and again–it’s about a lifestyle and not just making more money.

I’m puzzled by all this, and a little amused at the lack of critical thinking, warped arguments and false premises happening with these statements. But anyways…

If getting out of the grind is often a goal of freelancing, then why on earth would anyone want to scorn the potential of outsourcing, cross-sourcing and partnering with other colleagues in the industry? Doing so can substantially reduce the time you work in a day while maintaining the same level – or higher – of income stream.

So if the goal is very much to work less, earn more, and do what you love (a great lifestyle choice that I’ve written about in the book The Unlimited Freelancer), why would anyone turn their back on viable options that easily achieve those goals?

Also, striving for more billable hours as a single goal of freelancing and working twice the hours simply because they’re there is completely ridiculous. Who wants to do that? Not me. But I do want to maximize my potential for income during the hours that I do choose to work, and I’m sure every freelancer out there wants much the same – why work at all if you aren’t going to get much out of it?

If you only have 5 hours a week to work, make them count. If you choose to work 5 hours a week, make them count too. Do what you love. Do what meets your needs. Do what feels fulfilling. Don’t do the accounting or the design-work if that’s not what you really love to do and it doesn’t bring in money.

I’ll agree with James on a fundamental level: if you’re looking to increase your income, and you find you’re spending a huge amount of time on non-income-generating activities, then outsourcing is probably a good bet.

She forgot to mention that if you want to free up your time, work less, work on other projects, or go play with your kids, outsourcing is a good bet too.

Many freelancers simply don’t have cash on-hand to outsource, even if they wanted to.

True. Absolutely, definitely true. This is another situation I address in the Unlimited Freelancer. I quote, “The problem is that many freelancers make the common mistake of focusing on the loss of profits and the cost of outsourcing without considering the bigger picture: the value of your personal time is much higher than the cost of outsourcing.”

Hiring someone else can help you earn more profits – and thus, you begin to build on the cash you do have, instead of focusing on what you don’t have.

Here’s an example. Let’s say you get an ebook project worth $1,000. Let’s say that outsourcing to another
writer for the same results would cost $500. That’s a loss of $500 on profits, right?

Not exactly. If it takes the writer 10 hours to produce that ebook, that’s 10 hours you can work on something else – say, another ebook of the same value. That means you created revenues of $1,500 by outsourcing instead of the $1,000 you’d receive if you did the work yourself.

You didn’t lose money. In fact, you increased your profits substantially.

Another point that Jennifer forgot to mention is that savvy freelancers don’t begin working without a deposit or retainer in hand. Deposits and retainers provide the cash on-hand to work with other people. No one loses, everyone wins.

I’ll agree that there are indeed some freelancers who are in a hand-to-mouth position so tight that the deposit gets spent before the work gets done. In these cases, you do what you can to get out of debt or financial pressure as fast as you can – and then you work to stay away from the situation, not continually live in it.

Living hand-to-mouth isn’t part of that freelancing lifestyle choice you should strive for.

If there’s something you’re incredibly fussy about, and you know up front you probably won’t be happy until you do it yourself, then just do it yourself.

Perfectionism is often spoken of as a quality – it’s in fact often considered an unhealthy psychological issue that people need to address. Get over yourself. You’re not that special, and you aren’t a god. Learn how to release control, delegate and trust others – which is the root of perfectionism: a strong lack of trust.

Oh, and remember – if you can’t be replaced, you can also never be promoted.

Four more myths of outsourcing that need to be dismantled:

If you outsource, you’ll need to educate, train and edit the work your peers did for you.

False – you should hire people who have the skills you require, who have the experience, and who have the knowledge. Outsourcing doesn’t mean taking on an apprentice. It means hiring a skilled professional – you know, just like you.

If you outsource, you become a project manager.

This isn’t technically a myth, but it is a faulty line of thought. As a freelancer, you’re already a project manager. You’re in charge of managing your clients’ projects and your own work already – nothing’s changed, here. You’re simply delegating some of that work to another skilled writer, who should be perfectly capable of managing his or her own schedule.

Clients only want your work.

False. Clients want good work that produces the results they desire. You are not so important that any other writer who produces the same results can’t replace you.

Clients do want reassurance that they’ll have quality work, good results and accomplish their goals to satisfaction. That’s all.

Outsourcing creates more paperwork and headaches.

If you don’t have a good system in place and you select poor candidates to work with, this is true. However, if you’ve established a clear system and guidelines of what you require and if you’ve selected professionals that you can trust do an excellent job, then the sky’s the limit.

You’re not creating more work for yourself. You’re freeing up your time to do the things you really want to do, and creating a better life for yourself that lets you reach the dreams and goals you wanted to reach.

And if those dreams and goals are to stay a solo? By all means. Outsourcing, cross-sourcing and partnering doesn’t mean that you can only benefit from it if you own a team business. Any solopreneur can enjoy the advantages of working with other people to reduce stress, work and create income.

Oh, and one last thought – take the Freelance Writing Gigs site, for example. If Deb Ng didn’t believe in working with other writers, no one here would be able to enjoy the growing blog network, job leads and content that she provides.

But all this is, of course, my opinion. What do you think?

Want to learn more ways to prepare yourself for a damned fine freelancing business? Get The Unlimited Freelancer and tap into secrets the successful freelancers use to get ahead.

Comments

  1. Ouch James. For someone accusing me of being assumptive (when I at least once in that post clearly stated that I wasn’t assuming you got behind every example I was giving), you’re certainly doing a lot of that here yourself.

    But I’ll reserve my comments, because as I said in the closing of that post, that’s far from all I have to say on the subject, and other elements are going to be discussed next week. If you’d withheld a few bits of judgment here until then, you might have realized our views are a little less segregated than you’re assuming.

  2. It always makes me grin when people claim that running/working in their (freelance) “business” is so damned fulfilling that increasing their wealth/profits/income is but a trite ambition. Something off in the distance that they’ll get around to later if they have the time … or something.

    Mind you, I almost NEVER hear this sentiment from men in da biz. Or maybe that’s just a coincidence. When women stop being afraid to say “Show me the money” loud and clear, they’ll stop thinking about their (freelance) “business” as a hobby and start making more profits. If you can’t build something profitable, eventually your (freelance) business is going to die anyway. Unless you’re subsidizing your (freelance) business with another source of cash flow. And if you plan to do this indefinitely, well, yes, your (freelance) business isn’t a business. It’s a hobby.

    Fab post. Thank you for just saying what people don’t want to say.

    PS: You didn’t happen to read The Outsourcing Conspiracy before you wrote this, did ya?

    Cheers.

  3. Thank God somebody is finally talking the truth about freelancing. I have worked for myself since 1985 and I get so friggin sick of people talking about working for yourself as the Holy Grail of Everything. I love what you are doing.

  4. I’m disappointed to see more assumptions floating around. I’m the last person to say profits don’t matter, AND regularly talk about how to move from traditional freelancing to a more comprehensive business model (both areas I’m experienced in). James’ mistake is treating them as though they’re one and the same, which is simply not the case.

  5. @ Jenn – I find it curious that you say that you regularly talk about moving to a more comprehensive business model and yet the post that inspired this one and comments on the last tend to suggest otherwise.

    Most likely, we’re saying the same things in different words, though. But with a communication breakdown, it’s tough to figure that out. (I blame the French in me ;)

    @ Jennifer – Working for yourself is by far not at all a Holy Grail and I constantly counsel freelancers who are burned out, tapped out and tired out from doing everything themselves. That’s not how successful businesses nor solo careers are created. So, you’re very welcome!

    @ Karri – Hehe, we did the design, so that’s a document near and dear to our hearts.

    As for fulfilling, sure, I like to feel fulfilled. But I’m not working to walk around in my bunny slippers and feel happy someone publishes my work.

    This is serious. I have kids to put through college, a retirement to face, a recession to fight, and a life to live. Freelancing isn’t a game, and no one should treat it as such.

    Liberating? Yes. Freeing? Yes. Flexible? Yessir. But not just a flighty hobby. No way.

    @ Jen again – It wasn’t a personal attack, and I’m sorry you feel that way. Your opinions are strong, mine are just as strong, and it’s a rebuttal to your post which was a rebuttal to mine.

    Huh. Kind of as complex as a blended family, lol.

    Cheers!

  6. James – that’s precisely why I mentioned at the end of my post that there was more to come next week covering other aspects that specifically tie some of our points together, and why I said you may have jumped the gun on making it personal in any way at this point, which as we can see in the comments here does little but lead others to make even more premature assumptions and judgments. ;)

  7. (Forgive me if this is a duplicate – previous comment was hung up on submission.)

    James – that’s precisely why I mentioned at the end of my post that there was more to come next week covering other aspects that specifically tie some of our points together, and why I said you may have jumped the gun on making it personal in any way at this point, which as we can see in the comments here does little but lead others to make even more premature assumptions and judgments.

    Yes, my opinions are strong. If anything, I was a complete kitten in that post though. I’m actually more known as a hard-ass with a tough love approach – no coddling, no settling for less than what people are worth, and certainly no advocating for bunny slippers. Now you know. ;) Offense (even if not intended) aside, I’ll be nice next week – I stand by what I said in my post about reasonable people being able to disagree James. The fact that we have different approaches, doesn’t necessarily mean we don’t have similar end goals.

  8. Well said, James.

    And another point that you alluded to, but don’t know if you wrote outright, is that there are only 168 hours in a week. If one doesn’t outsource some items, revenue is limited to hourly rate times number of hours worked. Outsourcing (as in your e-book example) enables one to leverage the working hours. Law firms, cpa firms, etc., all do this by charging one rate, but paying non-partners a lower rate. Partners share in the profit that comes from the difference.

  9. James,

    Much-needed, thank you. The truth: word ratio is off the charts here and it needed to be said.

  10. After posting a positive “NO!” to subbing on a similar Freelance Switch post and getting virtually bi– slapped by James (in the nicest, most caring way), I decided to rethink my methods and recently outsourced a personal project to a very talented writer. Turns out, when you choose a suitable person to outsource to, it works! I have had a VA for months, and actually never considered that outsourcing…but really it is. So again, good call. In all, I like outsourcing to a degree, but I do see what I understand to be Jenn’s point of view that it is sometimes easier to manage yourself than others. I think if you are lucky enough to find someone good and reliable to outsource to, that problem is solved.

  11. Yolander, you’ve made a very important point – outsourcing works “when you choose a suitable person to outsource to.” Unfortunately I learned that lesson the hard way and have been a bit skittish about outsourcing ever since.

    That’s not to say that I don’t think James’ business model doesn’t work – I know other writers who outsource regularly with great results. I have discussed possibly outsourcing some projects to other writers with one client (his suggestion), so I’ll probably try it again once more at some point. For now, however, I’m doing more of what Jen advises by writing for myself. Great discussion.

  12. Kimberly–I did the SAME thing. I hired a friend to help me write…big mistake–and it was totally my fault. After taking James’ advice, I hired a real-life writer who I would actually _want_ to write for me, and it worked. But there are things I would never outsource and I think that’s okay too. I guess it’s all about finding the mix that affords you your desired work/life balance and keeps you feeling fulfilled :)

  13. Elizabeth says:

    I completely agree that outsourcing is a wise business venture. I have been outsourcing for several years. As a result, I have increased my profits while reducing the number of hours I have to work. I will say, however, that it is important to clearly communicate your intentions to outsource with a client before you do it.

    Early in my freelance writing career, I outsourced a project without giving it much thought. As James said, I didn’t think the client would care as long as the project was done on time and to the quality standard he desired. But, when he “found out” I had outsourced several articles, he went berserk and severed our working relationship. I was dumbfounded because I honestly didn’t think it would be an issue. To make matters worse, I had other writers involved in the fiasco attempt to sabotage my reputation by trying to make me look like an inferior writer because I had outsourced my work.

    After that incident happened, I made sure to state clearly on my website that I do outsource work on occassion and I make certain to clear it with the client first. I have found that some clients really DO want only my work and do not want it to be outsourced, while others are glad that I have several other writers who I can call upon to help them complete large projects, to lend their expertise or simply to provide them with a variety of different writing styles on the articles we complete for them. In fact, having these contacts with dozens of other writers has helped me land some gigs I otherwise may not have won.

  14. James,

    As a newbie to the freelancer’s world (and by newbie I mean under two years), I really appreciate every bit of information that was shared. I am a sponge and love to soak up knowledge as much as possible, as often as possible so this post has really helped and even inspired me to look at my work a little different. Thank you once again.

  15. This was a great read, James. Well done. As someone that it involved with the Outsourcing industry, I must say that I obviously believe that outsourcing certain tasks is obviously very beneficial. But, you do have to be careful WHAT you outsource.

    Take the subject of writing, as you have in this post. If the quality of work done for you is not up to the level that you can produce yourself, or at least 90% close to it, so its easy for you to tweak, then I say that there is probably absolutely no reason to outsource the task to someone else.

    Outsourcing is a great way to help grow your business and engage yourself in the Virtual Lifestyle that so many entrepreneurs crave. But, honestly speaking, I see no reason at all why it should benefit you, financially or otherwise, if the reputation you work hard to build up is shot down due to poor work that has your name attached to it.

    Use Outsourcing wisely and you, generally, cant go wrong, but, also use common sense, too!

    Congratulations on a very relevant and worthwhile article.

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