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I'm a freelancer in machine learning and I've lately been getting overwhelmed with work. I've considered "subcontracting" but I have some doubts which I'd like to get help with:

  1. Why should I take on more work and subcontract? Isn't society better off if I leave the work to someone else and cut myself out as a middle man? Under what circumstances is it the right thing to do?

  2. What can I offer to someone who I'm subcontracting to and why will they feel fine with the knowledge that I'm taking the difference? I've heard the argument "because I take the risk" or "because I speak to the client". Although I'm quite certain if someone tried to subcontract me on these bases, I'd probably just be thinking "fine, I can take the risk and talk to the client".

  3. Wouldn't clients feel like they are paying too much if they know I am subcontracting to someone and taking some difference? Maybe I can say "well I'm managing them". But the client might think "yeah... manage... you're just telling them what I told you"

I get the feeling that these are naive objections and I need to come up with a way to overcome them. I would appreciate high level answers, but also anecdotal answers that help me understand.

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  • Whenever I have so much work that the thought of subtracting enters my mind... I increase my rates. Projects will decrease a bit because some clients won't want to pay the rates. I, personally, would rather earn more with less work than deal with headaches subcontracting can bring. – Scott Feb 3 at 23:41
  • "Isn't society better off if I leave the work to someone else and cut myself out as a middle man?" Most jobs, and the reason for doing these jobs, do not prioritize society's benefit, they prioritize the means of the person doing the job. I'm not telling you how to prioritize your life, but keep in mind that most people won't cut their own income for society's good and their advice will likely reflect that. – Flater Feb 8 at 3:42
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Instead of focusing on being a parasitic middle-man, focus on having a role that both sides appreciate.

When you use sub-contractors, you are providing a service your client probably cannot do by themselves. If your client generally is satisfied, they will not mind paying.

You can much easier evaluate whether a sub-contractor knows what they are doing. You probably have a much larger network than they do and can therefore scale up much quicker than they would be able to.

Many programmers don't appreciate customer interaction and would be happily accept never meeting them.

I believe you are focusing too much on the financial aspect, instead of whether this is a role you even want. The client is yours; it seems your relationship is useful - and that is worth something. The risk is that you could end up managing the client rather than doing ‘actual’ work.

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  • This was a both kind of helpful and a bit accusatory... – Alexander Soare Feb 3 at 14:01
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    Accusatory? In which way? – morsor Feb 4 at 6:55
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As someone who has used internal and external resources to deliver ML enabled software to clients, there is a huge difference between those who "talk a good show" and those who really do it. They have the expertise to rapidly look at the problem, pick the right ML technique and split into cohorts for ensemble techniques when appropriate. If you are the highly skilled "doer" with a reputation, clients will gladly pay you - even if you have other resources grind out the data validation / cleaning, testing and validation.

If you are just handing off the client and not involved at all in cracking the problems, then indeed, your value add is only "matchmaking" in which case you should expect a smaller %. If you are directing the work... you should feel confident in charging the client for your valuable services.

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Why should I take on more work and subcontract? Isn't society better off if I leave the work to someone else and cut myself out as a middle man? Under what circumstances is it the right thing to do?

Middlemen provide a service like finding higher paying clients. Finding the best talented contractors. The best ones also maintain long term relationships. I don't know where you got the idea that middlemen are bad for society. That's not how it works in tech anyhow.

There are people who would tell you that society would be better off if you lived in a shelter and didn't own any personal belongings beyond your shoes and 1 pair of clothes. Why don't you listen to them? Because you have your own life GOALS that probably aren't compatible with their idealism. You need to ask yourself what your goals are and be convinced that your goals matter.

Also, you feel like you have more work than you can handle right now: great. And for all you know, 2 months from now all of your current clients could suddenly not want to hire/pay. Then you need to spend time finding more clients. That won't always be easy. You have to anticipate those lean times and not get content with what you have. I mean if you want to build a business. Having somebody else doing the work for you frees up your time to find more clients, for one thing.

What can I offer to someone who I'm subcontracting to and why will they feel fine with the knowledge that I'm taking the difference? I've heard the argument "because I take the risk" or "because I speak to the client". Although I'm quite certain if someone tried to subcontract me on these bases, I'd probably just be thinking "fine, I can take the risk and talk to the client".

When you work your own business long enough you see that a lot of time goes to just finding new clients. Getting connections to good clients and becoming their trusted provider isn't easy. The more you build your reputation & connections it becomes easier. The point is that not everyone is capable of or wants to take the time & energy to build that good client list. They just want to get paid. You can provide them with cash. I assure you that there's lots of people with skills who appreciate getting paid and not having to worry about finding clients, maintaining long term client relationships, networking and so on.

Wouldn't clients feel like they are paying too much if they know I am subcontracting to someone and taking some difference? Maybe I can say "well I'm managing them". But the client might think "yeah... manage... you're just telling them what I told you"

If you have bad ethics and/or poor customer relationship skills then yes. If you have good ethics you value your reputation so highly that 1.) you make sure your subcontractor is very good, 2.) if your side ever drops the ball you eat the costs, 3.) customer satisfaction is a high priority. And you wouldn't hire an unknown person to work with an important client. You'd hire someone vouched for by someone you know and trust or you would test the new person out on a small project and over time you give them bigger projects to build your confidence in them.

So that's the gist.

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