Intermediaries are a fact of working life for many freelancers. The idea is, you potentially get more work although at a lower rate, given that the intermediary takes a cut for getting you the work. Is that all there is to consider? Probably not, if my own experience of the ups and downs of working with intermediaries is typical.
There are several useful upsides. First, you won’t be dealing direct with the end clients, some of whom can be tricky, and that includes negotiating rates. The intermediary will probably set a fixed rate although some will vary this for different types of work. They also (usually) pay on time and take any flack from clients. You will also be granted more opportunities than you might by your own marketing efforts and if you do a good job, this will improve even more. Developing a good relationship with intermediaries can give you regular work, or at least allow you to schedule without using a crystal ball all the time.
Of course, you can meet downsides. The intermediary is there to make money and is using you to leverage the service; it’s a common, cost-effective way to expand a small service business. The work will be from clients you are not ever going to be allowed to approach direct. You may not even be made aware of their name in the first place, as the intermediary will protect their clients like a tigress. So no going to their clients in the future to increase your rate, if you know who they are. You don’t even get bragging rights. If words gets around, which it will, you will be blacklisted with other intermediaries and possibly the end client as well.
Then there is the possibility of poor communication. Instructions provided by the ultimate client could be missed off your brief, or the wrong ones sent. You complete the job, then the intermediary sends you an email saying you should have worked to different instructions so the job needs to be reworked. Awkward.
Rates can be very poor with some intermediaries, but establish whether this is just for your first job, as a trial, after which it will improve. It might be worth it.
Do we need intermediaries?
Even if your client portfolio is healthy, it’s a good idea to include intermediaries if only because it’s a way of getting more work with little or no marketing effort. You may not make a fortune but the prospect of some more regular and varied work is attractive to many freelancers. Just make sure you establish a good working relationship at the start. Sort out all the work/money and housekeeping details clearly, and be happy with the quality and frequency of communications so if you do hit a snag, it can be resolved quickly.
Intermediaries love having reliable, competent contractors and if you have not used them before, perhaps it is an avenue worth exploring.
Wordhouse blog post by Gill Pavey
Gill is based in Ireland and has worked with intermediaries in Belgium, India, Italy, the Netherlands and the UK.
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