Should You Freelance Through an Intermediary?

Finding new clients can be stressful and quite frankly, it is a lot of work.

It’s easy to understand the attraction of freelancing through an intermediary. An intermediary (also known as a go-between or middleman) is someone who matches freelancers with freelancing projects.

Freelancing through intermediaries is extremely popular and many freelancers get their start by working with a go-between.

In this post, we’ll explore the pros and cons of working through an intermediary. You’re also invited to share your own thoughts and experiences.

Types of Intermediaries

If you rely on a company, website, or individual to match your skills with available freelancing projects, you may already be freelancing through an intermediary.

Here are the most common types of intermediaries that freelancers encounter:

  • Creative agencies. Creative agencies often turn to freelancers to handle their overflow work. They may also seek out a freelancer in an unrelated field if a specific project calls for that type of expertise.
  • Job boards. Many job boards match freelancers with freelancing projects. Not all job boards are the same. However, if the board takes a percentage of your earnings, the job board probably functions as an intermediary.
  • Other freelancers. Occasionally freelancers hire other freelancers to work as subcontractors on large projects or to handle their own overflow work.
  • Contract agencies. Some agencies are set up specifically to fulfill contracts with larger organizations. If you work for a contract house, you may be an independent contractor or you may be an employee of the contracting agency.

Of course, there are both advantages and disadvantages to freelancing through a go-between.

Advantages to Working Through an Intermediary

The most obvious advantage of working through a third party is that you spend less time marketing your freelancing business and more time working on billable projects.

There can be other advantages, though. Here are just a few:

  • Simplifying the paperwork. Many go-betweens handle the financial paperwork for the end client. That means that you are paid through the intermediary and not through the end client. At tax time, you only need to worry about receiving 1099 forms from the middleman instead of a bunch of forms from the end client.
  • Problem resolution. If you are working directly with an end client, you have nowhere to turn if something goes wrong. However, if you are working with a reputable organization, they should take steps to resolve or prevent any problems with the project.
  • Collections. As a freelancer, you are responsible for getting payment. However, when you work through a third party, your payment is likely to come from that party rather than the end client. The task of collecting payment for the project falls to the go-between.
  • Access. A freelancing intermediary can give you access to more challenging projects and higher profile clients–opportunities that you might not have found on your own.

Even with the obvious advantages to working through a go-between, there can be problems.

Problems of Working Through an Intermediary

Things don’t always go smoothly when you freelance through an intermediary. Here are some of the things that can go wrong:

  • Communication issues. When you work through someone else, you may not have direct access to the end client. This can lead to communication problems. Project information as well as any questions and answers may be filtered through the go-between.
  • Who do you work for, really? If you accept work through a middleman, be sure to get an agreement about who is responsible for what so that there are no misunderstandings. It is particularly important to specify how you will get paid and who will pay you.
  • Non-compete clauses. Many freelancing intermediaries require you to sign a non-compete clause. Often, this means that if the end client approaches you directly after the project is completed, you cannot agree to work directly with him or her.
  • Lower pay. Nearly all freelancing intermediaries pay less than what you would receive if you worked directly for the end client. This is because they receive a percentage of what the end client pays for the work.
  • Putting all your eggs in one basket. It’s easy to become too dependent on others to find work for you. If you get all of your freelance work from just one or two sources, you will be severely impacted if those sources of work dry up.

Your Turn

Now that you’ve read some of the advantages and disadvantages, it’s time to make up your own mind.

Should you turn to others to find freelancing work for you? Do the advantages outweigh the disadvantages? Have you in the past or do you currently freelance through an intermediary?

Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below.