Subcontract - Complete 'How To' Guide - Pawel Kaczynski

Subcontract – Complete ‚How To’ Guide

There are plenty of things you can’t or shouldn’t do in-house. Mostly it takes too much time and resources to develop competences not directly connected to field in which we’re operating. In my case it is cheaper to outsource SEO, SEM, webdesign, PR than to employ specialists for each of those functions and further control effects of their work on a regular basis. That’s why I decided to look for subcontractors. Below are steps I follow to make sure choices I make will bring me profit.

Research of subcontractors

Internet offer massive opportunities of finding companies. The problem is how to find companies that are good for us …quickly.

  1. Company website. Google search is omnipotent – true. You can simply type in „SEO agency” or „SEO service” and tons of results will appear. I have two criteria that immediately disqualify result from my search. If company website:
    • looks like shit frozen still in the 90′. It is pretty strong sign their not up to date with what’s happening around them. How they can offer me top-notch service then?
    • is promising „Ultimate Problem Solution®”. Those kind of websites mostly have hundreds of testimonials, tons of text explaining why this product is „No-Strings-Attached-Must-Have”, lots of red and yellow underlining color. There is no such thing as easy, universal solution to hard problems. There is significant risk product offered on such site is a scam.
  2. LinkedIn. Advanced search offers filters such as ‚field of expertise’ or ‚location’ which allow you to find professionals in your area. They might be among your peers or belong to certain groups such as ‚SEO geeks’ for example. More info in LinkedIn help section
  3. Facebook. You probably know the rule that everyone in the world can be reached within 7 common connections. Looking for business partners may need just 2 or 3 of those. Ask your friends if they had similar need to yours, whom did they subcontract to. You may also use groups of interest. In may opinion they are lower quality than those from LinkedIn and rather limited to Social Media Marketing, but still – it doesn’t cost you to try.
  4. Review. You found potentially interesting subcontractor. Simply type in „<Subcontract Name> review”. If they are good they had customers before you. If customers were happy, probably some wrote it online. Looking through person’s LinkedIn profile and contacting his previous clients may give you idea about quality of service.
  5. ‚Hire Freelancer’ websites. It is good solution if you have mundane, abundant work that can be counted or measured somehow. This makes it easier for you to count return on investment and plan spending. Advantage of such services is eliminating ‚distrust’ out of equation. You have people who have done tons of project, have reviews, portfolios and expected salary presented. This way you don’t have to be afraid „what if the work I get will be low quality or overpriced?”. Most known sites are: oDesk, Elance, Guru. Examples of you may construct payment rules:
    • SEO services based on position your site has,
    • Graphic design based on hours,
    • Email scraping based on non-bouncing addresses.

Briefing subcontractor

You won’t get right answers if you don’t give the right questions. Same is with other people’s work. The better specification you give, the better results you may expect and less time wasted. It is also called ‚design brief’ or simply ‚brief

  1. Understand process. Before you will start writing elaborates, talk to your business partner. I had such experience when sewing products in my Black Monkey business. I had previously no bloody idea about the process. I wrote company what needs to be done and they replied me it cannot be done in that time, way or budget. I am not convincing you to become expert in stuff you are ordering – that would miss the point. Just understand how the dots are connected so you may know when job will be done, what to expect and what’s most important – how many zeros on the invoice from subcontractor you may expect.
  2. Write your contract expectations – always. Writing sharpens thinking.
  3. Structure. Use paragraphs. Divide text into smaller blocks due to topics mentioned. Use numerating to present chronological order. Use bullet points to make sure all components are mentioned. It will be also easier for the subcontractor to see and remind what you expect. Furthermore, structured email allow for better communication, responding and later summarizing effects of subcontractors work.
  4. Short and precise. Write as short as possible, but not shorter! Remember, you write specification only once. You can later copy-paste it to other subcontractors as well. Make sure it is well-written.
  5. Passion. It may sound kind of silly to write passionately about optimizing your website for example. However emotions is what drives us. Logic leads to thinking, emotions lead to action. I always write my briefs as ‚guy with unique idea that wants to conquer the world and is looking for allies to help him on his journey’, rather than ‚company looking for SEO service’. Even if it’d give only 5% increase in my subcontractors efficiency – still worth it.

Risk avoidance

There are certain actions you may take before starting cooperation. Those include:

  1. Goals and measurement. The most important part. Absolute must-have of every cooperation. Ask your subcontract partner how will you define goals of your cooperation, how will you both measure them (they must be somehow measurable!), date of delivery, what will happen if partner fails to meet them. Why ask about them? To avoid situation where you won’t be satisfied with result and you will hear ‚hey, I didn’t agree to your conditions’. You may obviously propose your perception of how effects should be determined as well, but it is important that subcontractor will be engaged in process and signs under terms you both negotiate. There are companies that avoid setting key performance indicators. It happened to me most often among PR agencies. ‚You can’t measure PR’ – standard response. If you won’t manage to set any quantitative goals, from my experience it is mostly better to withdraw from such partnership at the very beginning. No transparency = No business. Simple.
  2. Contract. I know people may appeal very trustworthy and so on, but as they say ‚contracts are for the bad days, not the good ones’. Additionally, awareness of any legal paper in play, makes people care more about quality of work they are delivering to you. It doesn’t even have to be super-proper written. Fact of it’s existence is often enough to achieve the effect.
  3. Payment management. Both for your safety and cash flow management. Avoid paying upfront to subcontractors you have never worked before. You may choose to pay all after or set crucial goals which completion will lead to payment. For example 1/2 money after half of project is completed and 1/2 after whole project is completed.

When shit hits the fan

Sometimes even most promising cooperation ends not the way we expected. Although first thing mostly comes to mind is to punish bastards for your time and money wasted, it is not what something I would publicly advise.

  1. Emotions aside. It is hard to remain calm, but being stone cold is often more effective.
  2. What and why it failed. Before announcing that subcontractor payment is off-discussion, try to analyze what went wrong. There are two reasons for this. First, you may avoid similar problems in future. Second, it may turn out our partner did best he could and it simply wasn’t his fault. He may be also willing to repay for the losses, if you talk to him properly. I had such situation with my clothes pattern designer. It turned out his employee failed, he had fired him. I was offered this service for free and I am still working with that company on good terms.
  3. Expect solution. Your business partner failed and it is his responsibility to propose way out of shit hole he got you into. Be firm and explain your rights in determined manner. When meeting denial use Broken Record Technique
  4. Head hunt. We’ve got to point where negotiations are no longer an option and you are not satisfied with solution proposed by subcontractor. Very hard and stressful situation with rarely happy ending. Someone will die, you know. Chances that you will work again are close to inheriting billion dollars after one of Somalian distant relatives that tend to spam your email inbox. You have contract signed, so it is not that bad. You have right? At this point you may try soft vindication. It means sending official letter, preferably with your lawyer stamp, requesting money returned. Most of us are afraid of lawyers, courts and things like that. We rather prefer to accede to bad terms and conditions then waste time on processes. That’s why soft vindication is highly effective.


From my experience setting proper goals is the most important. If you spend time to understand the process and write decent brief, you will save much more time and frustration in total. It is kind of silly to die of heart attack caused by work, so please avoid it.

Second force to be reckoned with are assertiveness techniques – pushing responsibility for solution onto subcontractor. Don’t know how to handle something? Be like Simon Cowell. You don’t have to be good at something to give score. Tell your business partner to solve it and judge his solution. Can be something more convenient?