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Edit: This happened Not to me, but to a close friend of mine. To avoid confusion, I'll be telling the story and answering questions in first person as if I was my friend, meaning, the software developer.

I am not an English native speaker, so please excuse if the wording is off in some places. If anyone needs clarification, please let me know in the comments:

The story

I'm a well seasoned software developer and I recently completed (quite successfully) a project for a US based client. I have an informal arrangement with someone I met at my previous workplace (not US), he's the point of contact for the Client and the one that got me the job.

Like I said, the project went great, and the company is happy with the work done, but now they have contacted me directly saying they have a new project on the way and want to work exclusively with me, leaving my partner out of the deal.

While I don't feel any type of "loyalty" towards a company, I do feel I owe this side job to my "agent" and my gut tells me leaving him out is completely wrong. I won't take the job.

These are my questions:

  1. What's the most polite/professional way to turn down this opportunity? I'm thinking something along the lines of: "I'm sorry, I've been working with my partner for quite some time now and we are a team. I'll have to decline your offer if it doesn't include him".

  2. Should I tell my partner about this, or stay silent and let the company figure this out?

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  • I'm not entirely sure, but are both of you friends and volunteering to work together, or under some sort of contract in between you two? (like a sub-contractor sort of thing)? – Sourav Ghosh Dec 31 '20 at 15:17
  • Great question. Me and my "handler" are working under a verbal agreement. It's relationship based on trust. – Arriel Dec 31 '20 at 15:19
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    What is the agreement you two have? Verbal but what is it's content? – Tymoteusz Paul Dec 31 '20 at 15:21
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    Then why do you want to decline the offer exactly? Accepted it and then if you feel like it pay your partner his share, simple. – Tymoteusz Paul Dec 31 '20 at 15:33
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    Never mess with the fixer. – mxyzplk Jan 5 at 14:42
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You don't. Consult the handler and follow his lead. Business is about relationships. If the handler cannot trust you then they won't give you work in the future. It takes a lot of work to find a constant stream of gigs/contracts on your own so don't underestimate how important that is. You tell the handler exactly what the company said to you and then follow their lead. They're not looking to cut you out of anything so there's no risk to you. Also they're going to be better at negotiating higher prices than you are so again there's no risk to you.

Personally, I believe reputation is more important than short term gain so I would never betray a business associate just to make money in the short term. This is the same reason why I also wouldn't defraud a client and I back up my work with a warranty (whether it's written or not) to fix any problems that are my fault.

Lastly, I worked with a middleman for many years who started out giving me tiny jobs but later on he gave me much larger jobs. Why? Because he knew he could trust me to do good work and to not complicate/end business relationships he had worked hard to get.

I should add, sometimes the "handler" will just give you a client and that is 100% your client from then on. But it's their call not yours.

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  • Thank you, Henry, for your response. Your second paragraph really resonates with me. The third one is the outcome I'm expecting. I didn't want to go behind his back for a single paycheck, potentially ruining our business relationship. – Arriel Jan 5 at 15:47
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Before answering the direct question "how to respond to client to reject the offer", let me add some other angle / viewpoint to this.

Given your situation, there are two possible scenarios:

  1. Scenario 1: You stick to the fact that you will work on a project / assignment only if your "handler" is also included.

    • This has it's upside: You'll exhibit gratitude and trust to your handler, which can go long way in making that relationship strong. They are also more likely to bring you more work.

    • The downside:

      • You may lose on multiple opportunities and limited to offers only that can be brought by your handler.
      • You may lose on earning visibility / credibility from other assignments.
      • There may be cases where your skillset is needed but not that of your handler / or budget for only one people - you'll miss on those cases. Also, if your handler is only acting as a contracting agency, their involvement might not be needed anymore altogether when the offer you directly.
      • Last, (but not the least), you both don't have an agreement, so for whatever reason tomorrow if your handler is not happy/ wants out of this working relationship, you'll be without jobs and without contacts for getting a new one for yourself. You basically need to start from scratch. I'm not saying that's what going to happen, but that might happen.
  2. Scenario 2: You can talk to your "handler" and handle this in a different way. You can have an understanding (I do not say agreement, only understanding) that if you receive an immediate next offer/opportunity, or contract extension directly, resulting from a contact , and there is a case/opening where the other person can fit in, you'll given them the referral and first preference. It's good when it works out but in case it does not work, you both are free to work on individual assignments., you'll share a token amount from the earning as a gratitude payment.

    • The upside is that, you will have lot more opportunities for both of you.
    • The downside is: your handler may not understand this arrangement and may be unhappy.

I personally would recommend second one, and with careful thinking and proper explanation, I believe this would be a good arrangement, given that you both don't hold a signed contract for any work assignment, just a verbal one.

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  • You really opened my mind with scenario 2. I never thought about it that way. Thank you – Arriel Jan 5 at 15:49

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