The viability of freelancing for different firms?
April 16, 2015 8:45 AM   Subscribe

I have a question about the ethics and viability of working for firms that might in some vague sense be competitors.

I work on a retainer with a small firm that does fundraising and marketing for nonprofits. It's a great gig. I work at home, get paid a set fee every month regardless of how much work I do, I enjoy the writing, and the money is good. The problem is that I’m one of several writers and there isn’t enough work to support me. I’ve asked repeatedly for more work, but it hasn’t materialized. For a long time, this was okay because I had another completely separate focus – I worked as an editor in educational publishing. But that work has gone south. Occasionally I get other freelance jobs, but I’d like to find something consistent. So I’m thinking about approaching other firms who do the same kind of work with non-profits. Is there any ethical conflict here? Would firms be leery of hiring me because I do work for the other firm? I won’t even have to tell them – they’ll know when they see my writing samples; it’s a small world, and every firm knows which organizations other firms are working with. And even geography doesn't make much difference anymore. (That is, a firm in North Carolina might have clients in NYC.) On the other hand, would the firm I work for have a beef with my picking up work at another firm? Yes, I’m a freelancer and not an employee and I can do whatever I want, but I don’t want to jeopardize the good situation I have. The one thing about the current firm that is less than ideal: the people there can be a bit prickly.

Your thoughts?
posted by swheatie to Work & Money (7 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
When I was freelancing writing marketing copy for various software firms and toy companies, I had no qualms about doing work for competitors and my clients didn't mind either. I didn't really discuss it with them as I pretty much felt it was none of their business. Of course, I never discussed one client's work with the other, but I did list all my clients on my website so they would know if they cared.
posted by agatha_magatha at 8:53 AM on April 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

If you are working for them on a freelance basis, I think they would expect you may have other clients. Some places will have rules about freelancing, i.e. "do not work for our direct competitors." But you should check whatever freelancing contract you signed and see it has any sort of clause for exclusivity or anything like that. Since this is behind-the-scenes work, I really doubt it's in there. There could maybe be conflicts of interest, but I guess only if both places were going after the exact same donors or pots of money. You should just ask your current firm if you value this job above any potential other jobs. Look for other jobs and then when you find one firm who could be interested, let them know: "Hey, this firm has reached out to me and I just want to make sure freelancing for them wouldn't jeopardy my relationship with you."
posted by AppleTurnover at 9:04 AM on April 16, 2015

Well, there are marketing firms that specialize in serving software companies, higher education, law firms, and so on. Can't you just think of yourself and present yourself as someone who specializes in the nonprofit sector? You wouldn't be doing anything different than these other companies are doing or what your main source of freelance work seems to be doing for that matter.
posted by Leontine at 9:06 AM on April 16, 2015

I don't see a conflict given the kind of work you're doing. Of course it's creative, but it's pretty much labor in a functional sense. You write copy. Other people lay bricks. If you lay bricks for one company, it does no harm to them if you lay bricks for another company on the weekend. Same with this.

Now if you were doing work that somehow put you in a position to use your knowledge of one company's doings to their disadvantage and the benefit of the other company, then there would be an issue. This sort of thing is a huge deal in silicon valley for example, where companies are endlessly trying to steal employees from competitors who will have knowledge of trade secrets, and suing each other for doing that, and making their employees sign hugely restrictive non-compete agreements. But in your situation, do your best work for whoever you're working for at the time, and I don't see an ethical concern for you.

When I was doing media journalism, if I hadn't been able to repurpose material into different forms for different markets, I would have starved.
posted by Naberius at 9:09 AM on April 16, 2015 [2 favorites]

I'm a career freelancer and my clients don't need to know who else I'm working for. I've worked on films that were submitting to festivals at the same time--I guess they could be in competition, but that's not really my problem. As long as I have time for each project, why would I turn down work?
Do you not have samples from previous completed campaigns or projects?
posted by Ideefixe at 11:39 AM on April 16, 2015

Response by poster: Thanks, everyone! A tidy little consensus here that this is not at all a problem. Great!
posted by swheatie at 11:54 AM on April 16, 2015

If you signed any agreements with the firm you're working for, check them for any non-compete and non-disclosure stipulations. And be aware that any firm that takes you on might also ask you to sign some non-compete and non-disclosure statements.
posted by slogger at 12:12 PM on April 16, 2015

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