To outsource, or not to outsource. That is - and should be - the question. You can outsource virtually every facet of your business today, and in many instances, it is the best and most cost-effective choice.
Just what could be outsourced? An incomplete list includes:
- Design - logos, promotional materials, website
- Writing and Editing - website copy, blog posts, email campaigns, newsletters
- Photography - for promotional materials and website
- Marketing - in all its forms
- Social Media Management - an effective social media strategy requires attention
- Human Resources - hiring, training, and everything else
- IT - both personnel and services
- Accounting, Bookkeeping, Payroll
- Virtual Assistant
Does that mean everything should be outsourced? Absolutely not. Your situation is different than the company next door, so there’s no universal rule that applies to everyone. You need to look at your company to decide what works for you.
What Should NOT be Outsourced?
Anything tied or directly related to your long-term objectives or core beliefs and strengths probably need to stay in-house. It’s a big risk to outsource your shipping, for example, if you promote your company as the fastest delivery time in your niche. You wouldn’t want to outsource your customer service (to an online service, or overseas call centre) if your customer service is ranked as your chief benefit over your competition. Carefully consider what you are known for, what you are trying to be known for, and what your long-term goals are before deciding on where to outsource. Keep everything directly related to those close to home.
Where to Look
While you could immediately hop online, it’s best to go the “real life” route first and foremost. Check and ask around. Speak to people in your network and industry about freelancers and outsource services that they have used. Ask their opinion on others. Speak to your local Chamber of Commerce (or equivalent), Better Business Bureau, and/or trade organizations. Do they have any recommendations? Do they advise to avoid certain individuals or providers?
Then you can take advantage of the web. Start with LinkedIn (always a good spot to search for professionals), consult your online network, and conduct a Google search. You may want to limit its geography for certain items (always nice to be able to speak or meet with freelancers in person, if necessary), while others can be opened up to include those living and working far away. If money is a big concern, overseas freelancers (India and the Philippines, for example) are typically much cheaper. Many of them are excellent, but many of them are not. Remember the old adage that you get what you pay for...
There are also many websites that connect businesses and freelancers for a wide variety of jobs. Two of the most popular are oDesk and eLance, but there are many others. Some are worldwide, while others are limited to a particular country. Check out the Top Six Outsourcing Websites for a few other suggestions.
If you decide to take a few bids for a particular job or contract, a good rule of thumb is to eliminate the lowest bid. These freelancers are often either inexperienced, lack confidence, or make up for their low bids by overbooking their time (which requires them to finish many tasks as fast as possible, rather than to the best of their abilities). It’s a good idea to “interview” a potential freelancer or company, if possible, and especially if you’re looking for something long term rather than a standalone project or task. By email is fine, but a face-to-face meeting is better. Get to know them. Ask questions. How do you feel about them after meeting them? Trust your instincts.
Once you decided on an individual or company for your outsourcing need, keep a few things in mind while moving forward:
- Test the waters. Hire for a short period of time, or single project, to start with. See how it goes. Is it a good working relationship? Were they reliable, reachable, and was the work up to the standard you require? If yes, maybe lock them in long(er) term. If not, cut them loose and go back to searching.
- Provide clear, specific, and concrete objectives for all tasks. Most newcomers to the outsource/freelance world often get into trouble early on because they didn’t provide enough or clear instructions.
- Get everything in writing. What are they going to provide, when, and for how long? What is the cost involved? What are their responsibilities? What are yours?
Sometimes, it’s trial and error to find a freelancer that you can trust and work with, but when you do, that can quickly evolve into a valuable professional relationship. A reliable and talented freelancer can save you time, money, and frustration. Look hard. And if you find yourself using freelancers and outsourcing more and more, it might be worthwhile to hire a full-time “wrangler”...someone in charge of keeping track of, motivating, and supervising all your outsourced branches.
Is outsourcing always the answer? No. But it can work for you in a very wide variety of situations.
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