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Marketers: Hiring Subcontractors? Here Are 7 Things You Need to Know

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In the marketing world, whether you work for an agency or for a company, hiring talented subcontractors to provide bench strength is common. This can provide valuable skills needed to pull off a project assignment. These skills on your team may be either lacking in strength or not there at all. Either way, subcontractors can provide a valuable talent infusion, which you don't have on staff. Hiring subcontractors can be also be used to get you through busy times when there are lots of projects due in short order.

Okay, we know some of the benefits. But, what are some of the hidden landmines? These can blow up in your face if you don't handle them correctly up front and are aware of the potential dangers. Here are a few landmines that come to mind I have experienced in my career. They have caused me to be extremely cautious when hiring subcontractors for my project initiatives.

All of these listed below must be disclosed in the project agreement before a subcontractor starts working for you.

Project Agreement

Define a project agreement that outlines the project term dates, fee schedule, exact deliverables and clear expectations. This is your legal document and statement of work for you to refer to during their project. Keep it close.

Project Term

Make sure you have a documented start date and end date for their project work. This will protect you (the company) with state and federal labor laws.

Do Not Let Subcontractors Work In Your Office Full-Time

This also is for the protection of your company against labor laws. My suggestion is to have them work off-site more than half of the time during the entire time of the project. They can come in to your office with their laptop and do the work to interact with other marketing team members if necessary. You can provide them with a "workspace," but do not provide them with a complete office set-up.

Fixed Project Fee

When negotiating with subcontractors, in your final agreement with them, it will be advantageous for you to have a fixed project fee. Do not pay by the hour. Project fees can benefit both the company and the subcontractor. A fixed project fee helps the company determine project costs up front much easier. Additionally, if subcontractors are fast workers, the project fee is better for them. On the other hand, if you pay subcontractors by the hour and they perform slowly, you will probably exceed your budget and also create other strains on your marketing project team.


Make sure to clearly list what the exact deliverables are in the project agreement. This includes what the subcontractor will be doing for you. Be very, very specific. If you have to spell out every single item and have 100 bullet points explaining their work, that's okay. When you do this, it will be very easy to see if they are doing their work or not. At the end of the project, if there are any discrepancies as to whether they did the job or not, you can always refer back to the project agreement.

There are a few things that are difficult to write into a project agreement that must be closely monitored by the marketing department. If you don't pay attention to the subcontractor, they could really come back to haunt you and sidetrack your project. Here are two of these hard-to-find items.

Representing The Company

Every time a subcontractor comes into your office and works with your team, they represent your company. They should be aware of the company guidelines for dress code, language, and office etiquette. When they do not fall in line with these, your employees will quickly see this and start imitating that same behavior -- not good. They may also feel slighted because the subcontractor gets to misbehave and they don't. As the marketing manager, you need to pay attention to this.

The bigger concern could be if you let the subcontractor attend meetings in which your client or bosses are present. If you decide this is important, pay very close attention to the subcontractor. You don't want them acting out of character and misrepresenting the department or company. I have seen this happen several times in front of clients and it gets ugly fast. Be very clear with them what the expectations are before they are involved in important meetings.

Not Showing Up For Work or Not Delivering On Time

If your subcontractor for some reason doesn't show up when they are supposed to, or doesn't deliver their work on time when they are supposed to, what do you do? Hmm... sounds like you have a problem. You can handle this a few ways. Talk with them sternly and let them know you really count on them to do this work, and this cannot happen again or you won't hire them. Another way to handle this is to write in the project agreement that if they do not show up on time or deliver their work when documented and expected, their project work will cease. I have had to handle subcontractors in both of these ways and trust me; it is painful regardless of how you do it. Make sure you look at the entire project situation before you make the final decision.

All seven of these guidelines are critical components to establishing a healthy and profitable working relationship with subcontractors. In my career I have experienced both the rewarding, positive side and the ugly, negative side of these. Trust me, the ugly side can get nasty very quickly. If you are not engaging in these guidelines and creating clear project agreements for your subcontractors, you may want to start soon, before it's too late.