When to Ride the Subcontracting Train and When to Get Off
I am of the mindset that subcontracting is not just an economic means to an end, but more of an opportunity to learn on the job, and contribute to a worthwhile project that you wouldn’t have otherwise gotten the opportunity to work on. So my philosophy is not subcontracting=side hustle/extra money. To me, subcontracting is more akin to a paid apprenticeship that you should use to bolster your career profile. The experience you gain from subcontracting should be leveraged to get the next job or project.
But sadly, I know many wildly capable public relations professionals who ride the subcontracting train for far too long. As I mentioned in How to Subcontract Your Way to Success, subcontracting is a great way to get your feet wet and gain experience in a new industry. But there is a time to do it. And there is also a time to quit.
Just like those unfortunate “consultants” who go out on their own way too early, there are also those who linger on the train way past their stop. Instead of jumping off, they hide behind the larger, more confident personalities of those who aren’t afraid to be number one. And these talented but fearful professionals seldom if ever get paid what they are worth.
Are you lingering in the second place spot unnecessarily? Are you capable of running the show, but holding yourself back out of fear? Ask yourself, “Can I learn more from this opportunity, or have I learned all that I can learn?” “Is this position contributing to my growth?
Who Should Work as a Subcontractor
1. You’re Inexperienced. You’re a new graduate or new in your career and need the experience to add to your resume or portfolio. You might even still be on the fence about whether PR is right for you. Get your feet wet by working under someone by helping them with copywriting, event planning logistics and event day on-site support.
2. You’re Transitioning. You’re changing from one public relations industry to another (i.e. Tech PR to Health PR) and want to slowly get your feet wet in the new industry. You have general experience but want more targeted contacts and skills. In this case you could help out with media pitching, interacting with clients and event planning.
3. You’re Not an Entrepreneur. You’re not interested in running a business, hunting down the work, managing it, sending invoices, arguing with cheapskate clients, etc. Being an entrepreneur is not for everyone. You may enjoy the consideraby lighter stress levels that comes with working under someone else. If that’s the case, carry on.
Who Should Stop Subcontracting
1. A Plateau. You’re not learning anymore and your role + pay has plateaued.
2. You’re Running the Show. The boss is handing you the entire account and you’re managing other subcontractors. If the contractor under whom you’re working has hardly any input, that means s/he fully trusts your capabilities work product. However, if you’re making executive decisions, you need to be getting the executive pay.
3. The Client Wants to Hire You. Your contractor’s clients consistently turn to you for their PR needs and they state the fact that they feel more comfortable with you than the main contractor. I.e. “Gee, if it weren’t for you being under contract with XYZ firm, we’d hire you today.”
4.You’ve Been on the Fence. Forever. If you just can’t come up with a reason why you shouldn’t go out on your own, it’s time to go out on your own. (“I’m afraid…” and “I’m not ready yet…” don’t count.)
1. Subcontracting = Impossible Networking. You’re offered a subcontracting role on a project that will put you in close proximity to people you’ve been dying to get close to, i.e. high profile people/celebrities, or people who can connect you to valuable contacts in a tough to crack industry.
2. Subcontracting = Too Much $$ to Refuse. You’re offered a subcontracting role on a huge contract that will end up paying you 5-6 figures or more. By all means do it. But don’t do it too many times.