How can I hire myself, anonymously, for overflow freelance work?
December 2, 2016 11:06 PM   Subscribe

I am in charge of communications for a medium-size department in a much larger institution. I've been mandated to expand our communications channels over the past few years, which I have done, but am having trouble populating them with quality content -- and content creation is not actually among my formal responsibilities. It's impossible to find local people in my small city that can support me as freelance writers at the speed, frequency and price point I need, and remote hiring has not been a great success in the past. I'm capable of doing the writing work quickly, efficiently and well, but can't do it during my regular hours. Is there any way I can hire myself as a freelance writer, working on my own time, without my bosses knowing I'm hiring myself? [Canada]

My employers have been very clear that I have latitude, and a budget, for hiring out writers, but they absolutely will not hire permanent staff (and the annual budget allocated to this is much less than what it would cost the company for a permanent hire).

I am most definitely a better service provider than any freelance writer where I live, and given existing knowledge of the subjects I'm working with, and the communication styles and needs of the department, feel that I would provide a better product, more cheaply, and faster, than if I tried to arrange for writing at a distance. In short -- ethically, I'm fine with this.

Self-hiring, however, is not allowed in the organization. Is it possible to set up a system where I can claim to be hiring a third party, at a distance, and work for myself under a pseudonym or corporate name?

Things I'm not sure about:
- If I register a business or incorporate under a business name, will my identity as "owner" of the business be public?
- Would there be some sort of flow-through of my social insurance number or other identifying information through the billing or invoicing process?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (24 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Self-hiring is not allowed. You are violating your employers regulations. You already know that this is unethical but may have practical implications - if they find out they will certainly fire you for cause. No idea but you should at least talk to a lawyer to find out if you are opening yourself for a fraud charges that could have financial, career and possibly even worse implications.
posted by metahawk at 11:22 PM on December 2, 2016 [25 favorites]

This sounds an awfully lot like embezzlement; you'd be covertly directing company money towards yourself.
posted by FallowKing at 11:25 PM on December 2, 2016 [37 favorites]

You are not ethically fine with this. You state, "Self-hiring, however, is not allowed in the organization." There are good reasons for this. You can't critique your own work in an impartial manner. Even if you do provide cheaper services than other people, you'll have created the appearance of corruption. That can be hell for an organization and cause other people who work for you to lose trust in the organization.

If you want to do this, ask your bosses for an exemption to the rule and submit a bid for the work and be prepared to have other people manage the work you create. However, I doubt you'll get the exemption.

If you decide to create a business and your bosses find out about your conflict of interest and skirting of your responsibilities (because it's your responsibility to follow the company's guidelines), be ready to be fired.
posted by bswinburn at 11:25 PM on December 2, 2016 [11 favorites]

Your ethics are broken. The rule wasn't meant to protect your company from something else and you just happen to be caught in a technicality. It is to protect them, from you, in this exact situation.

There is no way you can do this legally, much less ethically.
posted by danny the boy at 11:30 PM on December 2, 2016 [36 favorites]

You might be fine with it, but your employer isn't - and imagine if this news came out? You referred to working at an "institution" - maybe you're at a university, or a big non-profit? So maybe funding is coming from public stakeholders, like the government or donors? (Or if you're not at a place like that - private stakeholders...) How would your institution look to everyone else, having employees hiring themselves as freelancers, if some reporter felt like poking around and sharing this information? (Really, think about this. It's odd to me that you're not seeing an issue here. Imagine if Kathleen Wynne hired herself as a consultant. People would be frothing in outrage.)

You might be the absolute best person to do this job, and maybe it's easy enough for you to do quickly, but I highly doubt you couldn't acclimate someone else to the job, soon enough. There's no reason they'd have to work off-site all the time, either. And once trained and paid, they would probably want to continue receiving payment, even as a contractor. I just have a difficult time believing there are no skilled writers in Canada who can learn to do this job and need money.

This would be totally trackable, and no you shouldn't do it.
posted by cotton dress sock at 11:39 PM on December 2, 2016 [3 favorites]

Do it above board.

Tell your employer you're willing to it in your spare time, but would only do it for a bonus.
posted by Kwadeng at 12:06 AM on December 3, 2016 [24 favorites]

You could probably get the job, and get paid for it, if you don't represent it to your bosses as hiring you for a different role in addition to your current one, but as an expansion of your current job.

Figure out the financial argument for why it would be better for them to let you do it if they expand your hours and pay you overtime, and present that to them clearly, logically, and in an 'it will save x amount of money and time for us to do this thing' way. (If you're salaried, explain that you would be delighted to make it a habit to work longer hours for a small percentage raise.)

If it would not be in their interests to pay you overtime/give you a small raise, uh, that would in fact be the problem and why people above are mentioning the concept of embezzlement.

Basically, either they're fine with this money going to you, or they're not. It's worth checking to see if they are.

I'm in the U.S., not Canada, but when I've needed to pay international parties, yes, we wind up getting a lot of personal information about the people we pay, and yes, there is usually a paper trail as to exactly where the money is going. In-country, I don't think we'd cut a check without having the Social Security number associated with the person we're paying, and this is for a magazine which pays people low triple digits. It only gets more thorough the more money there is involved.
posted by Rush-That-Speaks at 12:39 AM on December 3, 2016 [10 favorites]

Is there any way I can hire myself as a freelance writer, working on my own time, without my bosses knowing I'm hiring myself?

Yes, probably, but doing so would be inherently unethical, and probably illegal, and will definitely get you fired.

You need to either work out approval, or give up on this idea and move on.

Sorry :/
posted by teatime at 1:46 AM on December 3, 2016 [1 favorite]

No because for HST/GST reasons your employer will either need your SIN or your business number.

Agreed that your ethics are really off here. There are a lot of reasons for this kind of rule. I actually used to work for an employee that allowed internal editors to hire each other for freelance work and it was problematic. Take your budget and find good writers.
posted by warriorqueen at 2:54 AM on December 3, 2016 [1 favorite]

I would focus on the vey unlikely claim that it is "impossible" to hire legit freelance writers in your "medium sized city." Not in any medium sized city I ever visited.

Otherwise I agree with the consensus that you're asking how to break explicit rules and get away with it.
posted by spitbull at 3:54 AM on December 3, 2016 [4 favorites]

Could you outsource some other part of your current job, and do the writing during regular working hours?

Alternatively: if you can figure out how to find/train/recruit/manage the kind of writers you want, you'll have a very valuable toolset going forward.
posted by amtho at 4:40 AM on December 3, 2016 [2 favorites]

I know someone who did just this. He got found out and his ass got booted. He was a very sketchy character in all sorts of ways, and the reputation that attached itself to him as a result of this and other things did him a lot of harm subsequently. (He did things like get his wife to 'write' the content, which he was actually doing, and invoice in her name.)

Basic rule when you're considering whether something is ethical or not in this line of work - if the people paying you find out, will they be upset? But if you're asking yourself this, you probably already know the answer.

As for finding people to turn around commercial content quickly - phone up a local journalist. There are lots of us out there. We need the work. We know how to do content. We're good at it, and the day job - if we have one - is lousy. And if we can't do it, we know ten people who can, because we worked with them before they were laid off.

You have budget. Hire. And if you can't manage content creators (we are a challenging bunch sometimes), hire someone who can - a freelance editor, an agency, whoever - and get on with higher level stuff.
posted by Devonian at 6:13 AM on December 3, 2016 [10 favorites]

Consider the least charitable way your employers would describe this were they to find out.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 6:39 AM on December 3, 2016 [4 favorites]

Granted I have no idea how your organization works, but when there's extra work to do, and my employees are the best people to do that work, I offer up paid overtime. You're probably salaried yourself so exempt from OT, but maybe you could see if there's a way to get paid for these extra hours under that guideline regardless?
posted by cgg at 7:00 AM on December 3, 2016 [1 favorite]

The companies I've worked for would probably consider this embezzlement and at least fire you for cause.
posted by jedrek at 7:40 AM on December 3, 2016

Freelance business writer here. I saw this happen once and it didn't end well. As I recall there was no specific prohibition, but more the usual ban on conflicts of interest. And when it came out, virtually everyone in the company said yep: CONFLICT.
It's like anything else: If you're hiring the freelancer, and presumably can drop them, and are paying them, and are 'judging' the quality of the work -- where's the control?
Good luck.
posted by LonnieK at 7:50 AM on December 3, 2016 [2 favorites]

I work in content management, and totally understand the insane conditions that can lead to this sort of thinking. What has helped me is taking time to learn more about content strategy.* This book and website provided a really good start.

*Not 'content marketing'...unfortunately, they get muddled sometimes.
posted by gnomeloaf at 8:02 AM on December 3, 2016 [1 favorite]

There are many excellent writers on this very site. Perhaps you should advertise the work over in Jobs.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 8:49 AM on December 3, 2016 [6 favorites]

If this is such a great idea you should quit your job (for the obvious reasons stated here already) and pursue it. You found a problem people are willing to pay money for that has no good supply or solution in your market. Sounds like a good business opportunity to me. Why bother being their employee if you can make them your client?

If your employer has this problem then so do other similar organizations, and since you worked in the position that would hire this service you would know better than anyone how to market & deliver it.
posted by bradbane at 10:19 AM on December 3, 2016

I came back to suggest, too, that the issue might be in your ability to write an assignment letter/brief, or at least that might help take some of the pressure off. Hope that's useful!
posted by warriorqueen at 12:00 PM on December 3, 2016

Oops here is the link.
posted by warriorqueen at 12:06 PM on December 3, 2016

I doubt very much that there are no available writers in your city capable of doing these jobs. What's most likely happening is that your employer wants speedy work at the drop of a hat and isn't prepared to pay what it's worth. If the assignments are that frequent, they really should consider putting someone on at least part time or freeing up your schedule so you can do it. (During work hours, not as an after hours gig.)

If they're not prepared to do that, I would find a writer whose work you like and tell them that you have a lot of briefs you'd like to give one reliable person and if they're prepared to adjust their rate to $X, and be available for frequent turnaround, they'll get the bulk of it. Regular clients are the dream for freelance writers. You should have people lining up.

Either way, I would not even entertain the thought of doing this yourself behind your employer's back. That's a fast track to getting fired.
posted by Jubey at 1:30 PM on December 3, 2016 [8 favorites]

The answers to your two questions will be not necessarily and no, but the issue will be when someone at your work decides to question why you appointed a random company associated to no one real with no credentials and no business presence to write your content.

How will you answer that question and every other question and situation that inevitably follows it?
posted by ryanbryan at 4:44 PM on December 3, 2016 [1 favorite]

You said "It's impossible to find local people in my small city that can support me as freelance writers at the speed, frequency and price point I need" (emphasis mine).

Sounds like you need to find what the actual price point is for the service your organization wants. That's your reference point, $X. It sounds like a simple fact that your organization can't currently get this work done for less than $X, which is more than they're able to pay.

This is your opportunity. Can you do it for less than $X based on your unique skills and experience within your current org? If so, it might be a great idea for them to contract with you, at an agreed-upon rate of something less than $X but within their budget.

But you can't oversee your own work with this type of arrangement. You'd need someone with no conflict of interest to assess the value of your work and how long it should continue.
posted by reeddavid at 7:08 PM on December 3, 2016 [2 favorites]

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