When you become successful enough as a freelance writer, you’ll need to consider when and how to hire people so that you can become even more successful and make even more money.
When Should You Hire Help?
Here’s the simple Hiring-Outside-Help Maxim:
Assuming you can get as much work as you want at your preferred hourly rate, you should hire others to do all the tasks in your life—those related to writing and those that involve all the other tasks people typically need to take care of—whenever the total cost of hiring someone is significantly less on an hourly basis than your true hourly wage.
Important: you must determine your true hourly wage. I wrote a whole post about this recently, but here’s the gist:
Your true hourly wage is simply the total amount of money you make in a year, or a month, divided by the total time you spend on actual paying projects and all work-related activities such as marketing, improving your skills, buying supplies, and the like. Note that your true hourly wage will almost always be substantially less than the hourly rate you charge your clients for the time you spend on their projects.
Let’s delve deeper. Here are 15 tasks related to freelance writing that you can have others do:
- Copy editing
- Subcontracted writing
- Formatting documents for publication
- Internet research
- Library research
- Website and blog design
- Website and blog maintenance
- Computer software installation, upgrades, and maintenance
- Computer hardware installation and maintenance
And here are 10 non-writing-related tasks:
- House cleaning
- Lawn and yard care
- Basic house maintenance
- Home-improvement projects
- Car washing
- Car maintenance
- Food shopping
- Child care
- Pet care
And now the 4 factors that determine the total cost of hiring someone:
- The total out-of-pocket expense
- The value of the time you spend hiring and managing someone
- The value of the time you spend double-checking work to make sure it was done properly
- The value of the time you spend dealing with any problems
One factor that’s not easy to put a monetary amount on is how much you like or dislike doing a certain task. For example, I enjoy working in the yard. It’s good exercise and it helps clear my brain, so I do it myself. I don’t much enjoy working on cars, so I usually hire someone to do that.
Other Important Considerations
Where are you in your writing career? If you’re just starting, you may not have the money to hire people to do these tasks, so you’ll need to do them yourself. You may also have very few paying assignments now, so you have the time. If you learn certain skills early on, like website design, you can save a lot of hassle and money later on in your career, even when you’re busier.
How to Hire and Manage Outside Help
Now let’s look at how you actually hire people and manage their work.
Employee vs. Subcontractor
In most cases, using subcontractors is far superior to hiring an employee:
- Subcontractors cost substantially less on a per-hour basis. You don’t have to pay unemployment insurance like you do for an employee, nor do you have to pay any other benefits, like medical insurance or sick days or vacation time.
- Accounting is far easier with subcontractors.
- Subcontractors typically have their own computers and software and other important equipment; you don’t have to provide them.
- It’s easy to get rid of a subcontractor who doesn’t work out.
But there are advantages to having an employee:
- The employee can quickly learn exactly how you want things done.
- The employee can potentially run aspects of your business while you are on vacation, or if you are sick.
- The employee can run small errands that are difficult to hire a subcontractor for.
You must be careful how you deal with subcontractors so that the IRS does not consider a subcontractor an employee. Ask your accountant and check with the IRS.
Local or Global?
There are many ways to hire people. A key first consideration is whether or not you need someone local or if you can hire someone at a remote location. You need a local person to clean your house, mow your lawn, fix your computer, and file papers, for example. For proofreading, Internet research, indexing, and website design, you can hire anyone anywhere in the world.
People You Know
When you hire people you know, you are already aware of many of their strengths and weaknesses, and you can evaluate better how well they will likely work out for you.
Caution: be careful hiring friends and family. Your relationship can be irreparably harmed if you are not satisfied with either the quality or timeliness of the work completed.
Recommendations from Others
Ask people you admire and trust who they recommend. This is standard word-of-mouth networking, and it can often work out well.
Look up typing services, secretarial services, writing and editing services, and temporary agencies in the yellow pages of your phone book, along with non-writing chores such as housecleaning and yard work.
Local newspapers, both the dailies and weeklies, have been the standard for Help Wanted and Work Wanted ads for over a century. Frequently ads are inexpensive and effective.
Craigslist (http://www.Craigslist.com) is currently the number-one website for hiring. Similar websites may pop up, and your city or region may have a geographically targeted website that gets a lot of traffic.
For editing and proofreading and website design, you can hire a qualified professional living anywhere in the world. Dozens of sites facilitate hiring people. Some big ones right now are Elance, Odesk, and Fiverr. (Just be aware that quality varies widely on these sites, and often you get what you pay for.) In addition, thousands of freelance editors and website designers have individual websites. You may also want to hire a virtual assistant to handle a wide variety of tasks.
Here’s what you need to know about potential hires:
- Do they have the necessary skills?
- Can they perform the tasks in a timely manner?
- Can they perform the tasks to your satisfaction?
- Are they easy to work with?
- Do they have good references?
Make sure you hire people who get a definite yes on all 5 of these criteria.
Cheaper is not necessarily better: sometimes you do get what you pay for. Your key concern is getting the quality level you need at a good price.
However, the Internet has made it very easy to find qualified service providers, and many of these service providers compete with each other on price, so you can frequently get high-quality work done at reasonable rates.
How to Manage Outside Help
You’ve found someone good. Here are 7 tips to ensure all goes well:
- Be absolutely clear on exactly what you want done.
- Set specific deadlines for when work will be done.
- Describe how much money will be paid for what work, when, and in what manner.
- Write a contract that you both sign that specifies all of the above, and also states that all work is “work for hire” and that the employee or subcontractor has no rights to anything they do or create. Consult an attorney if necessary.
- Be pleasant and easy to work for.
- Maintain good communication; make sure you’re available if your hire has questions.
- Follow through on what you say you will do.
When I Hire Help
I hire people for a lot of tech stuff, primarily website design and creating book covers and other graphics.
I also hire a housekeeper to do a thorough cleaning of my home about once every three months. My partner Stephanie and I do routine cleaning 2-4 times a month, but it doesn’t take long and I usually enjoy it.
We live in a condo now, so there’s no outside yard work. And as I said above, I don’t work on cars except for very basic stuff like changing headlamp bulbs and checking fluid levels.
Questions and Suggestions
1. What are the work and non-work tasks you least like to do, or that you could really use some qualified help with?
2. Many people hesitate in hiring outside help because they fear losing control, or they want to be sure everything is done exactly the way they want it. If you are one of these people, try to let go of that and focus on how much easier your life will be, and how much more productive and happy you’ll be, when you have qualified people helping you.
3. Ask other writers, either those you know personally or those you find online, about their experiences with hiring help. Also ask them for specific recommendations.
4. When you are considering hiring someone, see how your gut feels. Even though someone may seem like the best fit from an analytical perspective, your instinct may tell you to say no.
When and how do you hire outside help? Have you been happy with the process overall? Any good advice to share, or stories, good or bad?
Cathy Miller says
Excellent, comprehensive guide, John. So far, my hiring has been for graphics (like you)-logos-book covers and editing. I hope to hire out for taxes in the future. Right now I use online tax software.
John Soares says
Cathy, I know many writers and other self-employed people who hire people to do their taxes. I’ve always done my own taxes and I learned what I needed over the years, so I can do my taxes correctly and efficiently.
And like you, I use software, Turbotax to be specific. The whole process takes me about 3 hours, including state.
Cathy Miller says
This is one of those don’t like to do it tasks for me, John. 😉
John Soares says
I also don’t like doing my taxes, but I feel it’s easier to do it myself than to go to the hassle of finding someone, organizing all my records, and then hoping they don’t mess up.
Cheryl Bryan says
Right now, I’m not at a point where my workload is heavy enough. But I’ll certainly keep your guidelines in mind when the time comes. I appreciate your wisdom and experience.
John Soares says
It is important to know when we should and shouldn’t hire help. There are also some things I actually prefer to do, like yard work. Back when I lived in a house, I never hired anyone to prune or weed or mow.
Anne Wayman says
I’m looking forward to having someone but me clean the house.
Suspect the most important thing is checking references… which is something many skip.
John Soares says
For me great references are essential, especially for important tasks like web design.
Jake Poinier says
When I have enough time before a deadline, particularly feature profiles, I am a huge fan of having someone else transcribe long interviews. I’m a painfully slow typist and have to turn my digital recorder to 60% speed if someone talks quickly. Sometimes 50%…
Sure, it cuts into my fee, but it’s a better way of spending my time.
John Soares says
Jake, transcribing interview recordings is a smart move for freelance writers, even for those who type quickly. Transcriptionists typically charge far less per hour than we make per hour.
I would listen to the interview while reading the transcript just to make sure there were no significant errors.
Jennifer Mattern says
Great topic John!
I just contacted a server admin / security guy I’ve used in the past because I’ve been spending way too much time dealing with server issues lately. It’ll be money well-spent if / when he figures out the mystery. 🙂
Around the house we hire contractors when we need to. I’m happy taking a sledgehammer to a wall. Hubby’s less enthusiastic about doing it (or “letting” me). 😉
I’ve never really thought about how much we outsource, but it’s quite a bit — landscape work and seasonal outdoor cleaning, pool maintenance, car maintenance, a general handyman for smaller projects, a family member who helps out occasionally with odds and ends (planting, weeding, housework before events — not as much now, but more when she was still in college), specialized contractors when there’s a bigger problem, etc.. We’d be lost without the help.
When we finally have kids our plan is to have someone come around four hours a day on my working days (so 16-ish hours a week) to give me a bit of a break to focus on projects and deadlines. I’ll still be here of course, but the extra hands would certainly help. I’m not sure how comfortable I’ll be with it when the time comes though. I suspect it’ll be a wait-and-see kind of thing — if it’s too much for me to juggle on my own, I’m certainly not afraid to ask for help.
John Soares says
Jenn, it sounds like you are very good about hiring others when you should. My niece is also a freelance writer. She’s fortunate that her parents and her in-laws are available several times a week for extended babysitting.
Sania Lali says
I havn’t hired help yet, but I’ve been thinking about it.
Anyway, great post.