Client is hiring in someone to do similar work - this is bad, right?
July 23, 2019 7:53 AM   Subscribe

I am a freelance copywriter. The CEO of my main client, who I don't normally deal with, arranged a call with me today, billed as a catch-up. In it, he basically said that they are hiring a copywriter in-house to cover a couple of projects that I thought were going to fall to me. Reason - cost efficiencies. On a scale of 'keep an eye on it' to 'panic immediately', what would you recommend?

Naively perhaps, I went into this phone call expecting to discuss the expansion of my freelance activities, as I have been helping them over the past year or so with copy for several pilot projects and new business areas, all of which look to be bearing fruit and which I was led to believe I would be working on longer term.

Instead, I came away feeling like I'd been given a heads-up. The CEO stated that the board had decided to recruit an in-house copywriter to cover the additional work created (two to three times as much as I currently handle), as this would be more cost efficient for them. He said that he wanted to let me know so that I wouldn't be surprised by coming across any recruitment ads, and he also wanted to make sure that I'd be happy to work closely with and support this new person during any "transition". He was unsure how easy it would be to find a person to fill this niche and said the recruitment process might take some time. (There are thousands of deeply overqualified people who would jump on this opportunity and they are based near a massive university city, so I'm not sure what his thinking is here.)

Towards the end of the call, he said that if he were me, he'd be worrying about what my options were based on this new information and he wanted to "set my mind at rest" that they would never simply "call up and say there's nothing for you next week", that the transition is based on them securing this new business, that they'll keep me posted over the next six months as things develop and that they've always seen me as an integral part of their team.

I am not feeling reassured, but I have had a tendency to bury my head in the sand about these situations before. It's bad, right? Can someone with a better insight into management speak help me parse this stuff?
posted by doornoise to Work & Money (7 answers total)
Sorry but picking from your choices I'd panic immediately. This call sounds like a "make sure you don't bolt immediately so you can train your replacement" call. There will be more work for sure but I'd read this as expect a major reduction in your workload diminishing to nil at some point in the near to middle future as employee gets up to any kind of speed.
posted by chasles at 8:01 AM on July 23, 2019 [8 favorites]

I read as he's trying to do the right thing & give you a heads up that the work will be tapering off soon as they get the new person onboard. Maybe also trying to keep you happy so you'll train the new person. It sucks but yes it's as bad as you think. Time to hustle up some new clients. You got this.
posted by wwax at 8:08 AM on July 23, 2019 [23 favorites]

Unless you are willing to drastically cut your prices (cost efficiencies) you're about to lose most of your future business with this firm, although not immediately. You might not need to panic about next month's light bill, but you should be seriously recruiting new clients.

He *might* (but might *not*) have also been trying to sound out whether you would be interested in the in-house position.
posted by jacquilynne at 8:26 AM on July 23, 2019 [9 favorites]

I feel like he's being pretty clear here. They are starting to recruit someone in house. They will pay you to help catch this person up to speed during the transitions but after that, your work is likely to taper off entirely or significantly reduce. They are willing to be transparent with you as they work on hiring and will inform you when your income stream is about to dry up, but it's going to dry up. I would ignore his 6-month timetable and assume something closer to 1 month to hire someone and x many weeks to get them onboarded on projects. He's also telling you not to turn down new work from others with the expectation that what you had previously discussed will land on your plate. But basically he's telling you:

-You're not getting the new work you talked about.
-There may come a point in the next few months where they wind down your income stream entirely, but a minimum it may reduce from what you currently have.
posted by edbles at 8:28 AM on July 23, 2019 [4 favorites]

It really does sound like he's trying to do the right thing by you... giving you time to pursue new clients before the workflow from this company drastically drops off.
I'd strongly suggest that you start flipping through your rolodex for a) potential new clients and b) someone you to refer for the position (ideally someone competent but a bit junior to you, so you could still fill a mentorship role and be their go-to for any overflow work).
If you do want the role for yourself... I'd proceed with caution. I'd expect that the CEO would have opened with that if they wanted you to apply?
posted by dotparker at 8:34 AM on July 23, 2019 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Yes, I think you're right dotparker, much as it pains my ego. He gave no indication that he would consider me for the in-house role. Looking at the staff they've recruited in recent times, I imagine they're looking for someone much cheaper... sorry, I mean... more junior. Not to blow my own trumpet, but it's the staffing equivalent of penny-wise, pound-foolish.

Also, as someone who once made the mistake of transitioning from freelance to an equivalent in-house role with a previous client, I would only do so again if it represented a GIANT promotion.
posted by doornoise at 8:57 AM on July 23, 2019 [2 favorites]

I'm a freelancer and I agree with what everyone is saying. It's actually a good reminder for all of us freelancers: we always need to be diversifying our income stream. Having a great client who provides a big percentage of your income is nice, but precarious. It can go away in a moment, for a million reasons. Good luck to you.
posted by BlahLaLa at 9:41 AM on July 23, 2019 [1 favorite]

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