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I am a client who posted on Linkedin a request if somebody would be interested in designing a thesis cover for me. I had a few responses and decided to go with a person who offered me the following (after some discussion).

A concept within 24 hours, unlimited revisions and payment at the end before receiving the final files. We agreed I would determine whether to accept this offer based on the concept. I'm not tied to any agreement so far.

Now I learned that that person listed my request and all the requirements that I gave on a freelance website. Where everybody can submit a proposal and the winner receives the listed reward. The reward (payment) for the winning concept would be 1/10th of what I would pay him.

I am not sure what to make of this. I "hired" him based on his portfolio but he delegates my work to others without telling me. And the fact he only offers 1/10th of what he would earn, though this is for a concept and not the final work I suppose. And there is no formal agreement, we agreed I would accept his offer based on the concept he would give me. So I can still say no and he would've lost the money he paid the freelancer.

What am I to make of this situation?

Edit: I don't mind work being delegated. But I do expect that person to have a network of professionals he/she works with. Asking random freelancers on a website to do the work is something I could have done myself.

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  • Can you ask him to assure you in writing that the design work will be done by the same person who produced the portfolio? – Dawood ibn Kareem Apr 7 at 8:01
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    I asked him if the portfolio was made by him personally and why he wasn't transparent on the work being delegated. I have been left on "read" so far, with not a single response so far. – Rien Apr 7 at 10:52
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    A lack of response, to me, would indicate an uneasiness about telling you it's not all his personal work --since most would expect a "yes it's my work" response. – Scott Apr 7 at 21:51
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    What's wrong with this? What do you think happens when you contact a company to do some work? Almost always they delegate it to some people ("staff") who they pay (less!) to do that work in turn. I concede this particular method seems a bit sketchy (and the answers give some good reasons that this particular vendor may not be worth engaging) but, in general, if you get the goods, and everybody gets paid what they agreed, who cares? I don't think the notion of subcontracting is the problem here. – Asteroids With Wings Apr 8 at 12:55
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    @AsteroidsWithWings except that these delegates are specific people that the contracted company employs and for whom the company is willing to vouch. This guy is just hiring random freelancers. May as well just post on Craigslist looking for someone to do it at that point. – Doktor J Apr 9 at 2:09
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This sounds exactly like the person you don't want to work with.


A concept within 24 hours, unlimited revisions and payment at the end before receiving the final files.

Red flag already. That's an incredibly small window, a promise of unlimited revisions for the final product is plain stupid, and no payment upfront are all signs that point to the person you'd potentially be working with being either a) not a designer or b) being a really cheap designer. Additionally, the lack of mention of a signed contract is another sign because contracts are vital. I've heard countless stories of designers (and developers) getting burned due to the lack of a contract.

Do you really trust a cheap or non-designer to make your brand's identity?


Now I learned that that person listed my request and all the requirements that I gave on a freelance website. Where everybody can submit a proposal and the winner receives the listed reward. The reward (payment) for the winning concept would be 1/10th of what I would pay him.

These contests are terrible for designers (1, 2, 3). The person you'd potentially be working with likely knows this and is just trying to get quick money by being a middle man. Again, not a person I'd want to work with.


I "hired" him based on his portfolio

If I had to guess, their portfolio was created the same way - either hiring others to make it or just using other people's work.


What am I to make of this situation?

enter image description here

But seriously, use someone else. You don't want to work with this person or use the work that the contest brings most likely.

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    Thank you for the response and the citations. I had guessed some of the same concern but its good to get a confirmation to indeed run away. I'll leave the question open for now in case somebody wants to add something and accept this as answer later. – Rien Apr 6 at 14:53
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I am going to hate every word of this as I type it, but type it I must. Statement - I do not sub-contract my own work!

Subcontracting exists in all areas of business

I think it's more complicated than a simply knee-jerk reaction. The fact is all this guy has done is subcontract the work. Subcontracting is not new, not nefarious, and not necessarily detrimental to the end product when employed with some diligence.

Designers are notoriously defensive about subcontracting, which is kind of odd.

What stings is when you find out the subcontractor is paid so little. I might expect desserts in a restaurant to be bought-in, but I wouldn't expect there to be a 1000% markup.

Now - being devil's advocate (and really I am, because of course design competition sites are the work of Beelzebub) here are some edge cases where this might not be absolutely despicable:

1) Perhaps this guys fee was extremely low. Let's say it was €50 (!) Then if he pays €5 to the end designer, perhaps his fee is justified because you've paid him for his "eye"... his "taste" in picking a worthy winner.

2) Perhaps he posted on that site for inspiration, intending to carry out the final work himself

3) Perhaps he is willing to reject all the offerings if none of them are up to his personal standard.

In the end you paid for a professional to deliver you a design that works. Works for you, and more importantly works for your public... just how the guy does it is more or less irrelevant? And if they guy was paid very little (hey, I don't know) the way he works becomes even less relevant.

If he told you he was going to personally hand-craft, this work, and charged top-dollar...it becomes much less defensible, but it sounds to me like he did not promise that.

He was however terminally clumsy in allowing you to find out, perhaps he should lose the contract for that alone!

PS - I upvoted Zach Saucier's answer, since I believe it more than my own ;)

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  • Very true, i dont necessarily mind the work being subcontracted / delegated. But the lack of transparency bothers me too. Especially considering he showed me "his" portfolio, and then delivers work from somebody else. And the pay difference. – Rien Apr 6 at 18:15
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    I was about to post an answer exactly like yours. Indeed it's just a subcontract, as long as the quality is as expected, no harm. @Rien as for the portfolio, what if you hired an agency, the portfolio would be the agency's not the individual designer right? Same idea. – Luciano Apr 7 at 14:03
  • Using subs can create liabilities and concerns, such as unlicensed re-use of assets, for example. The client has the right to know that they are not just trusting the contractor, but also trusting whoever the contractor trusts. – barbecue Apr 8 at 23:44
  • This is completely wrong. "subcontracting" and "scam 'freelancers'" are totally different issues. – Fattie Apr 9 at 18:00
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Taking an honest look at things.... Implying there's some sense of "wrongdoing" would be inappropriate in most instances. Although I can see how the perceived lack of transparency might cause some piqued eyebrows.


Suppose you hire him and he has a "design assistant" and it's his assistant that does the actual work. Would that be a problem?

It's the exact same workflow without the crowd-sourcing aspect. He's not directly doing the work, he's charging more than he'll actually pay for the work, since presumably he pays his assistant less than he earns himself and you get the same thing.

This is how many businesses operate. It's not uncommon for the owner/operator to not actually be doing the work.

With design it can be a bit more tricky since portfolios could be seen as misleading to a degree. If all I see in a portfolio is work by DesignerX, only to then find out DesignerX has no relation to my project, that can get sticky. But if the portfolio includes work from all workers, then there's nothing unusual there.


Does it really matter where or how the work is done if you are happy with it??

Face it, if he delivers a whiz-bang concept you are absolutely thrilled with. You're happy. No matter where that concept came from.

You agreed upon a price you were happy with, or at least willing to accept, didn't you?

Again, you agreed to the pricing. So, there's nothing nefarious taking place. No one is changing the pricing or increasing it. Yes, you may have buyer's remorse realizing you could get something cheaper. Nonetheless, that's capitalism.

So.... all in all, he's not doing anything wrong. You want work, he's agreed to get that work done for a price you agreed upon. Where's the (real) problem? Subcontracting is quite normal in many situations.

How the work is done is not for you to say. That's the point of hiring independent contractors who specialize in a field. They are expected to complete work how they feel is the best manner to complete it.


Now.... all that being posted. Yes I would be uneasy if someone merely posted my project on a crowd-sourcing site and was subcontracting that way. I wouldn't like it one bit if it was a "contest" format crowd-sourcing site. I'd be offended and upset. But, again, he's not doing anything wrong.

If I visit "Bob's auto repair" should I be offended if Bob himself isn't doing my repairs? Of course not. I merely want quality work for the price agreed upon.

He's merely operating his business in a manner you're not happy with. To that end, find someone else to work with and cancel the project with him. Especially since, worse case is you could create your own "contest" if that's an option (contents suck, I'm not promoting them).

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    But does "his" mean his personal work or "his" as in projects his business has completed??? "His" is rather ambiguous. "here's a portfolio of projects I've completed" could really mean either. I understand the feelings of, well, perhaps betrayal, but honestly it's how many business operate and there's nothing unscrupulous about it. – Scott Apr 6 at 21:24
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    To be frank, because you have this mindset that he's doing something "wrong" you won't be a receptive client for him and you will start to butt heads. No matter how good the work he completes may be, you won't be happy with it in all respects. You are going to feel "cheated" even though you may not be. Finding someone else would probably be beneficial to both of you given your mindset. Even if someone new operates in the exact same manner. Peeking behind the curtain, as it were, has tainted your perception and subsequent opinion about any work. You most likely won't overcome that. – Scott Apr 6 at 22:03
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    Yeah, this is the one I have to agree with. If he hits all of the deadlines and completes the work, what do you care? If you hired an agency and only dealt with an account executive, s/he would certainly not be on the production team. Should this person have been transparent? Eh, sure, maybe, not the point? – Dave Kanter Apr 6 at 22:56
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    @Scott Oh, definitely! Even so, in this situation, where it’s not an assistant in the business but one of those infernal, abusive ‘contest’ atrocities, I’d walk away in any case, just because I don’t want to even indirectly support those things. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Apr 6 at 23:25
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    Agreed :) I would never accept "contest" results from a "designer" for any reason. – Scott Apr 6 at 23:25
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I think the main problem is in the fact that the person is not honest about the fact that he delegating the work. If there's no trust anymore I would suggest to bail ;) With our company we work with a trusted pool of freelancers for apps and websites, but we are always clear about it. Also, the designers are in direct contact with the clients and get fair prices. I think that's a more fair approach.

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The field has gotten very competitive with the over-exposure of 10 steps to successful freelancing, how i quit my job, work from home, be your own boss stories in the media in recent years. The freelance bubble has inflated from a couple of nerds, to pretty much everybody wants a piece of this bubble now, then to this extreme situation of having contests for everything.

Yes, this creates a massive pool of freelancers from 3$ to 150$ or more per hour, giving some the opportunity to create an outsourcing workflow, where somebody else does the work in full or in sections, while the actual designer works as a middle-man, providing direction and delivering the work, without doing 100% of the actual work.

Now, looking at this from the client side, unless the work is confidential and there was an NDA signed, you should not really be bothered with this process, assuming the person originally hired does indeed deliver as agreed, on budget and on time.

I am a client who posted on Linkedin a request if somebody would be
interested in designing a thesis cover for me. I had a few responses
and decided to go with a person who offered me..

Just by posting this openly on Linkedin, you have directly exposed yourself and the job to people who may already be active in a freelancing pool, so you might aswell be open about it.

I'm not tied to any agreement so far.

So, you have full control of the money basically, while the provider has full control of the process. To have the money released, the provider needs to use his time and resources to deliver as briefed.

If you regret spending 500$ instead of 50$ (random numbers obviously), be advised it takes practice and patience to handle a less experienced designer. Less experienced designers will take longer to read between the lines in a briefing and unpuzzle a situation, then deliver in the quality that is expected. Less experienced designers can be hesitant, ask too many questions, take the wrong approach or produce delays, things some clients do not tolerate.

However, more experienced designers have this ability to understand what the client needs, point out what is not being briefed explicitly, provide alternatives, then delegate execution to less experienced designers. Yes, this is also part of the design process.

To sum it up:

  1. You probably do not want to work with that 50$ designer directly.
  2. If you get what you paid for, take it.
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Personally, I would not be upset at this situation. For one thing, when you contract with someone to do a job you normally have no say in how they do the work. This is a different situation from hiring someone as your employee.

Of course if they promised to do the work personally or explained the qualifications of the person who was supposedly going to do the job, you may have cause to complain. But normally, the contractor's only obligation is to do the job on time and at an acceptable quality level.

If you want to avoid having your work subcontracted, you have to get an agreement at the start.

Another important point is that just because the contractor is soliciting offers to do the work at a low price doesn't mean that anyone will agree to that actual price. People often make low-ball offers with the expectation that the person will request more than that and that they will pay. Basically he is just saying "tell me how much you want for for this job." and working from there.

I really recommend that you focus on what you want and whether the person delivers. Other details, like who helps him with the work, what they look like and all those other details are best ignored, because they don't make a difference in the results.

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The very simple answer ...

The person is one of a zillion scam 'freelancers'.

It's worth no more thought than a "Nigerian spam email".

Completely forget it and move on.

Be aware that serious, professional designers are not cheap.

Note: there is a lot of discussion on this page about "actual" subcontracting. That business issue is totally unrelated to everyday scam freelancers.

Completely forget it and move on.

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