I’ve enjoyed working as a freelancer for the past 8 years and have largely found that I can maintain a workload that matches what can be done by myself and Edie (the second person on my two-person team). Occasionally, however, the workload goes beyond what two people can do, and at those points I have to involve a sub-contractor. My general approach is that I don’t advertise my need for help, instead only asking trusted UX colleagues from my own UX network for assistance at those points.
Recently I went through the process of onboarding a colleague for some work that I needed help with. I realized that it would have been helpful to have a checklist ready to give my colleague an overview of the onboarding process. I was going to construct this list for my internal use only, but instead chose to make it public here, with explanations as to why my onboarding process is structured as it is.
Why onboard at all? We’re both just freelancers.
These onboarding processes stem from a combination of legal requirements, insurance requirements and client requirements. Just because we’re both freelancers doesn’t change any of this. In addition, even when you are both just freelancers who already trust each other and perhaps have even worked together in other contexts, it’s still useful and important to establish a framework for working together.
Note: The framework I describe here is geared for onboarding someone within the United States, although some of this can certainly be matched to similar global expectations as well.
General Liability Insurance
While I admittedly don’t believe that general liability coverage offers me much value personally, it is typical for client contracts to require that I have this coverage, so I do maintain a general liability policy. Whenever requested by clients, I can have my insurance company send them a “certificate of insurance” to keep them informed if I ever change this policy.
Periodically, my general liability provider will also audit me and ask me to document that any subcontractors that I’ve used also have a general liability policy equal to my own and have provided me with a certificate of insurance. So between being audited and making sure that I pass through my client requirements to have general liability insurance, I do ask subcontractors for a certificate of insurance as well.
The Form W-4 is a legal requirement, since I’ll be sending my subcontractors a 1099 at the end of the year. It lets me know whether they want to be paid as a business or as an individual and gives me the Tax ID Number to use.
Master Service Agreement (MSA)
I have an MSA with many of my repeat clients. Each MSA is a bit different, but they essentially frame the relationship that I have with my client. What’s important is that I legally frame my relationship with my subcontractor more or less the same way that it’s framed with my client. This includes how the work will generally be performed; how a period of performance begins and ends and how it can get changed; requirements for who can do the work; what happens when they are on client premises; how invoicing, payment and expense reimbursement works; whether there is anything on either side that can be considered intellectual property; confidentiality (if I can’t reveal client secrets then neither can the subcontractor); and non-solicitation (if I’m legally not allowed to hire the client staff then neither is the subcontractor); as well as a variety of other assorted terms and conditions to stay in sync with my client’s requirements.
Mutual Non-Disclosure Agreement (mNDA)
While the MSA may include a non-disclosure portion, my talks with the colleague usually begin before the MSA is signed. In these cases, I’ll supply a mutual NDA. While I could just give a one-way NDA (you keep my secrets, I have no such requirement), I will always give a mNDA (we’ll keep each other’s secrets) because it just seems more balanced and fair and can give the subcontractor a bit more comfort in talking about their business efforts and history. Truth be told, if a client gives me a one-way NDA, I’ll also let them know that I’d prefer a mNDA instead.
Statement of Work
The MSA includes the framework for working together, but the Statement of Work includes the specifics. Time allocations (if an hourly contract) or fixed price totals as well as subcontractor responsibilities. Often what I’ll do is take the exact SOW that I generated for, or received from, the client, remove those things that are completely irrelevant, and then insert some call-outs explaining specifically what the subcontractor will be doing towards this statement of work and what I’ll be doing.
While I don’t go out of my way to hide that the person is a subcontractor and not an employee (and a quick LinkedIn search by the client would reveal this anyhow), I do generally provide the subcontractor with a Lebsontech email address to provide a more professional frame to the client. And similarly, my Outlook client is loaded with client email addresses from UX and related companies that I in turn subcontract work from.
Is this billable time?
In general, my own approach with my clients is that onboarding is not something that I can bill for unless there is something excessive or unusual beyond the items above, and this is also how I treat the process of onboarding freelancers.
An extra bonus
As a long-time freelancer, I have my approach to doing things, and while flexibility is certainly part of the job of a consultant, I don’t necessarily have the same opportunities to learn from others as my colleagues who work with teams of UX-ers. As I get the opportunity to onboard my colleagues, I also look forward to the opportunity to learn from them: Whenever possible, I like to avoid telling them how they have to do things, instead asking them how they would get to the end products that we need. I then get to learn other styles and perhaps diversify my own approaches as well.
Image of hand and checklist: arka38 / Shutterstock