Never work with friends?
April 6, 2009 3:45 PM   Subscribe

Tips on sub-contracting to friends?

I'm sub-contracting some freelance writing work to a friend. This is causing me incredible social anxiety. On the one hand, I want to be pushy in order to keep my project moving and my costs down. On the other hand, I want to be a good friend.

What tips/tricks/principles do you have to help keep things smooth, prevent future problems, ease myself, and leave us both feeling good about things afterwards?
posted by pauldonato to Work & Money (11 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
"Hey brah, I gotta get a first draft of this thing done by x, if it's too much for you don't sweat it, I can hand it off to somebody else. Or maybe we should grab some [beverages of choice] on [mutually convenient day] and crank it out together?"
posted by turgid dahlia at 3:52 PM on April 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

Keep it professional. Pay as much as you usually would, expect the service you usually would, and make sure everyone understands up-front that this is how it's going to go down.
posted by No-sword at 4:04 PM on April 6, 2009

I'm on the subcontracting side of things with friends, and so far it's worked out very well because 1) they're professional, and 2) I'm professional. We both recognize that there's work to be done, and that friendship earns no special favours either way.

If you can't be confident that will be the case beforehand, then be very sceptical of adding a business relationship to a friendship, unless your friendship has a history of good communication on difficult issues. If you can say to your friend "look, I need this by this date, and you're hurting my relationship with my client by blowing the deadline", then you'll probably be safe. But if your friendship would be hurt by saying that, then find another subcontractor.
posted by fatbird at 4:04 PM on April 6, 2009

Oh yeah, to echo No-sword: don't expect your friends to work cheap, just like they shouldn't expect you to pay generously. Lowballing your friends will hurt the relationship just as much as if they expect you to pad the bill for them.
posted by fatbird at 4:05 PM on April 6, 2009

Nthing the Keep it Professional tip. I've tossed contracting work to friends twice. The first time I tried to keep it casual to protect the friendship; deadlines were missed, paperwork was late, early morning meetings were missed, and I tried to keep things chill with my friend. It sucked.

The second time I did it, with a different friend, I made it clear from the outset that this was business. We can be cool and have drinks after work, but if I am paying you money to do professional stuff, I expect you to be professional. Once we got that clear, the whole engagement was much smoother. Be a good friend: treat your professional friends as professionals.
posted by bluejayway at 4:12 PM on April 6, 2009

This is what I did when I subcontracted a writing project to a former coworker/acquaintance:
• In an email, outlined the expectations (this is due by X date), I will pay you Y dollars by such as such a date.
• I sent a sample/version that the client likes and told the person to use it as a model

I don’t see why more than that would be necessary, as I am sure you sign contracts (with deadlines and pay listed) and agree to deadlines with your own clients, wouldn’t another freelancer do the same?

Problems I have experienced in the other direction (from a friend that hired me as the writer)

• A friend who hired me is now asking me to speed up the deadline. If you state “done by day X”, don’t start emailing a week early and ask to get it now – if you wanted it a week earlier, make the deadline for that day. I accepted other projects based on the original deadline. Just because I am your friend.... it is a business, act in a professional manner (not saying this to you, OP, but just something I recently experienced).

Good luck.
posted by Wolfster at 4:29 PM on April 6, 2009

Work hard to make sure that you are on top of things when it comes to explaining the project. The more your friend knows what is expected with the project, deadlines, etc., the better. Let your friend know who to contact if there are questions. Put your friend in touch with the people driving the requirements, if possible.

I've taken on programming work from a friend, and it was painful because I wasn't in direct contact with the clients, and nobody was supposed to know that I existed. I'd ask questions of my friend, he'd give me his best answer, and the next day the clients would tell him something that contradicted my instructions, and it'd take another day for him to relay this information to me. Repeat over the course of 6 weeks. Blarg.
posted by adamk at 4:45 PM on April 6, 2009

I've just hired a close friend a month ago and it's working out great.
Here's what I did at the outset to make sure it went smoothly:
-I told her the rate, the dates, and the hours that she'd be working up front and asked her if she could fully commit to the project (backing out is not an option).
-I told her I would have a slightly different professional personality and warned her not to take my colder tone about work stuff personally.
-I email her about work stuff from a separate address and refuse to talk about it over gchat or my personal email, keeping those two relationships completely separate.
-I seated her in a different office so we wouldn't be too buddy-buddy (don't know if this is an issue with you).

The day to day stuff is easier than setting up all the terms and conditions of employment, but I still keep a distance and try to keep the relationships separate:
-I ask her to do the same things as the other freelancers like fill in a daily timesheet etc even though I secretly totally trust her.
-I try not to leave with her or go out right after work for drinks so there is even more of a separation of the zone of friendship and the zone of jobs.
-I have other coworkers help train her and answer questions so she's more integrated in the whole system and isn't just my helper.
-I keep it polite but keep myself too busy to gossip or chat.
-I make the work I want each week clear on Monday and then ask about progress Wed and Fri to make sure everyone is on track (being organized is key to keeping it professional, I find).
posted by rmless at 5:18 PM on April 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

The general rules for subcontracting friends is:
1) Don't It will damage the friendship.
2) Don't You won't get the quality of work out of them you know they'd produce for someone else.
3) Oh well. In that case manage/document the hell out of it.

I've been on both sides of this many times over the years. And yes, I still do it, despite my rules 1 and 2 above.

I think the super casual "dude, can you like totally help me out, it'd be cool" approach is exactly the wrong one. Your friend will react to the project just as casually and you'll never get it done.

Spec, budget, schedule, and make a contract for it just as you would for anyone else. Be very specific about deliverables, invoicing, and payment. And then hold them to is just as you would anyone else.

And then make sure you separate Friend time with Work time. If you're going to go out and have a few beers with your friend, do not discuss or even mention work at all. If you need a work meeting, make damn sure it's a work meeting. Make an agenda and don't stray from it or your meetings will be a waste of time (as far as work goes) and you'll just have to do it again later. Be courteous but save the friendly for after work. Get right to the point and when you get to the end of your agenda make sure that all your business is wrapped up before you ask them how their weekend went. When you call them about the work, talk to them just like you would any other contractor, call with a specific reason and get to the point. If you want to make chat-time hang up and call them back in 10 minutes specifically just to chat.

This is your business. Make sure your friend knows that. The only friends I'll contract any more are the full-time freelancers, not the part-time ones. The full-timers understand the weight of running a business and don't give me shit for cracking down on them (or them busting me for missing dates on deliverables, etc). In deference to my rule #1, I've often come out of the project respecting them more after working closely with them.

However the part-timers and weekenders... well they figure they always have the friendship as an escape hatch. With these folks I've always regretted it and it's always damaged the friendship and reduced the amount of respect I have for them and their work.

Never hire friends to keep your costs down. Pay your friends what they're worth! Or even more! Friends aren't resources to exploit, but to appreciate.
posted by Ookseer at 8:14 PM on April 6, 2009

At some point or another, I've been on both sides of this scenario, and I'll just echo what almost everyone else said: keep it professional. Be explicit about expectations. If you have doubts about your friend's ability to be professional, or are concerned that your friend will be inclined to pull they "hey, I thought we were friends!" routine, don't do it. But in my (limited) experience, that's rare.
posted by adamrice at 9:51 PM on April 6, 2009

Response by poster: Right on, this has been very helpful. I think it confirms what I always suspected. Only accept working with people who are already professionals. I've tried to turn friends who had a specific skill or were good at work, into self-starters who could deliver on deadline, and it always turned out poorly.
posted by pauldonato at 11:36 PM on April 6, 2009

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