7 Tips for Successful Outsourcing

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Growth is an important part of a company’s success. And with expansion comes more clients and more work, making those who run successful companies some of the busiest people on the planet.

Assuming growth and success are included in your business plan, a diversified workload also has a place in your future. You might have jumped into the marketplace doing every little thing, but that approach to running a company usually proves unsustainable. Unfortunately, since so many of us small business owners have trouble letting go of control, lots of startups crash and burn simply because the CEO ran out of gas and chose to quit instead of reaching out for help.

While support is vital to your prosperity, good help can be hard to find. Even hard workers with the right intentions might not meet your company’s needs. Sometimes cash flow issues make outsourcing difficult, and other times you just don’t know how to find someone capable of doing the job. If you go the outsourcing route and it doesn’t pay off, you’ll be understandably hesitant to try again.

Just like you have a plan for your internal business matters, smart entrepreneurs have a plan for bringing in third-party workers to help lighten the load. Instead of heading straight to Indeed.com to hire a complete stranger as fast as possible, look over the following list and make sure you outsource strategically.  

1. Dig Into the Details

If you’ve ever been hired for a job that was short on specifics, you know that scenario doesn’t really set you up for success. You try to sidestep the large informational gaps, and that approach makes the work very general and you end up delivering a ho-hum product.

We can all agree this is a tough position to be in, and yet busy business owners do it to freelancers time and time again. Why work hard on a task someone else has to do anyway? The answer to that is pretty obvious: if you don’t put in the effort up front, you end up paying for a product you might not be able to use.

Any and every detail you can offer will only make the outsourcing go more smoothly. If it’s a web design project, offer any or all of the following:

● Examples from other sites

● A basic mockup

● Useful articles

● Color options

If you need something written, think about specific guidelines for the piece:

● Tone of voice

● Active language

● Keywords

It’s hard to provide too much information. If you overdo it, the person you hire can just ignore the redundancies. If you send five articles and only two get sourced, no skin off your back. Since the alternative is sending the work back to be redone or scrapping the project and cutting your losses, err on the side of excessive information.

Since you’re investing money in the outsourced work, make sure you invest a little time to get the worker’s best effort. Saving time with the hope that you’ll hire an affordable genius who gets everything right on the first try isn’t a very sound strategy.  

2. Know Who’s Doing the Work

Indeed, Upwork, Freelancer. You don’t have to look hard to find potential hiring sites, and a lot of good job candidates use these online resources. Nevertheless, you still need to ask questions and figure out exactly who you’re working with.

While it’s not particularly common for smaller jobs, be on the lookout for freelance workers outsource the work you’ve outsourced to them. You may think you have Bob Johnson putting in quality work on one website, but Bob secretly has an underpaid team of unqualified helpers handling different pages. While Bob builds a dishonest freelance empire, you receive underwhelming work for which you’ve already paid.

Of course, you can purposefully hire a team for your outsourced project. This is often the best way to get your projects finished in a timely manner. If the team is well structured and you trust your point person, the arrangement might work beautifully. Unfortunately, not all freelance companies have the right infrastructure, and you could end up dealing with administrative issues that don’t belong on your plate.

In my experience, individual freelancers deliver better results. They have their own routines, answer directly to their clients and understand the importance of doing good work.

3. Get Reviews or References

If you’re up against a strict deadline and need to outsource some editing or SEO work, you might go with whoever responds to the job posting first. This kind of hasty hire could be the exact reason why you don’t make that strict deadline.

If you don’t have time to at least check one reference or read some sample work, I have questions about your time management that should be answered before you get to start outsourcing. You can’t be so busy that you’re willing to accept subpar work from someone you don’t know. The internet has no shortage of people misrepresenting themselves, and you owe it to yourself and your company to get a good idea of who you’re hiring.

A personal reference goes a long way in my book. If you trust the person connecting you with the freelancer, you can feel confident that the work will at least get finished and you won’t get scammed. From there it’s just finding out whether or not it’s a good fit. You can make an announcement in group chats and Facebook communities and other social media outlets; people are usually happy to share information about workers they’ve hired and had positive interactions with.

Without a referral, you may want to do a little extra research when looking into a potential hire. If you’re hiring a writer, use one of the free plagiarism checkers to confirm work isn’t being duplicated. I’ll often pay a small fee for a trial assignment to see if someone can A) meet deadlines and, B) meet the standards of work I’m looking for.

Don’t make the mistake of assuming any freelancer will deliver prompt and impressive work. Follow whatever leads you can find and make sure you bring in a qualified candidate.    

4. Think About Location

Two reasons why a worker’s location matters:

● Language and style

● Time difference

These factors might seem inconsequential, and they definitely don’t factor into every hire. However, when you’ve outsourced a big project and find yourself running into issues with communication, it can be a hard problem to overcome.

This goes beyond your standard language barrier, which presents the most obvious hurdle. Even if you hire someone who’s fluent in the language of your choice, you need to be sure that person understands the style you’re going for. In some cases, you’ll find yourself with a worker who’s too verbose, or uses grammar that’s technically accurate but stylistically misses the mark. Even within the United States, we have very diverse manners of speaking and writing.

To be clear, location can be as much of a positive as a detractor. You may want your project infused with some European or South American flair. As long as you and the person you hire are on the same page, cultural difference could add some unique appeal to the finished product.    

With that said, you may have to contend with time zone issues. If you like consistent communication, an Australian copy editor might not reply to your emails with the promptness you’re used to. Even working between the two coasts of the U.S., the three-hour time gap could mean your day is half done before the freelancer you hired wakes up.

Again, this is a non-issue for many jobs in the current economy, as lots of companies have built-in structures for accommodating workers all over the globe. But if you run a small operation and want to outsource one project, losing a day with every email correspondence might drive you completely nuts. Be sure not to underestimate the importance of where your outsourced work is heading.

5. Figure Out Your Timelines

We all have different standards when it comes to getting something completed. Some people feel like each project deserves a month, others think a two-day window is plenty of time. I’m certainly not going to tell you how long a project should take to complete, but you better be ready to tell the people you hire.

Establishing clear due dates makes everyone’s lives easier. It keeps you from twiddling your thumbs and wondering when you can move to the next item on your to-do list, and it keeps people from pushing off the work you hire them for indefinitely. Some freelancers won’t finish projects on time and you can decide how to react to that. It’s when you don’t establish a timeline that you undercut your ability to request expedited work.

It’s also important to build in your own buffers for outsourced projects. If you want a website to go live on August 5th, you don’t want to be sending conceptual edits to the designer on August 4th. Give yourself a nice window that allows for all the details to be ironed out before thinking about the end game. Nothing ruins a big launch like rushing to get things done and stumbling out of the gate.

Focusing on your timeline will also help you establish an order of operations. Before a webpage can go live, you need to have the copy that will live on that page. If you’ve outsourced both the design and the writing, set a deadline that allows you to give corresponding notes to each worker. If you need a prototype to show investors, ask to see some samples well before you have your investor meeting in the books.

Each aspect of your business is constantly reacting to the other moving pieces. When you outsource something, the matters dealt with in-house still rely on that missing piece for the machine to work as a whole. You need a dependable timeline in order for things to move smoothly, and that scheduling responsibility falls squarely on your shoulders. Don’t count on independent contractors to know how their work affects the rest of your business.

6. Deal With Money Early

Money doesn’t cause problems on its own. Only when we avoid talking dollars and cents because of the normal anxieties - will this bid be too low, will they request more for a second draft, is it a mistake to pay up front, etc. - do financial matters undo our best-laid plans. If you nip this issue in the bud, you’re going to run into far fewer problems down the road.

Whether it’s in the job posting or your initial conversation with a potential hire, get the financial stuff out of the way early. Establish your expectations and make it clear whether or not you feel like there’s wiggle room on your number. If there’s a discrepancy, you absolutely want to handle it in the early going. If you don’t get a solid agreement in place, you run the risk of someone taking up your time and then holding a final product as ransom until you pay more.

Some people like to outsource in hopes of getting quality work at a low cost. This tactic usually doesn’t hold up in day-to-day life, and it’s not a particularly sustainable model when it comes to running a business. You pay for what you get, and you should take pride in giving a good wage for good work. If you like the services a person provides, don’t you want to help them pay their electricity bill so the good work continues?

You also need to face facts: if you don’t have much capital and can’t offer competitive pay, you shouldn’t expect your job listing to get a ton of bites. On the off chance you do land a skilled freelancer who works for a paltry sum, that arrangement probably won’t last very long. Think about what you can realistically afford when it comes to outsourcing and expect to get what you pay for.

7. Outsource for the Right Reasons

I can’t pretend to know why you want to hire outside help, but I can definitely think of some reasons why you should and shouldn’t do it.

For whatever reason, business owners see hiring as an achievement; bringing in a part-time contractor stands as proof of success. If that’s the reason you’re looking to hire a graphic designer to make your company logo, you need a slight priority adjustment.

Outsourcing can’t just be used to take busy work off your plate, either. If maintaining spreadsheets drives you nuts, imagine how much hair you’ll tear out when you have to go through and fix a bunch of information that was entered improperly. Outsourcing menial tasks is usually either a waste of money, a waste of time or both.

You want to bring in people for their relevant skills, not just because you have a lot to do. Outsource work to make your company stronger, to drive up online exposure and streamline your processes. If you find yourself dipping into your own salary just to avoid busy work, it might be time to reevaluate how you delegate work.

I think outsourcing projects can work wonders for a small company. Without bringing on extra full-time staff or spreading yourself too thin, you cover more ground and increase customer engagement. Freelance workers often turn into full-time employees, allowing you to slowly piece together the perfect team.

If you need help, you should never be afraid to seek it out. As long as you aren’t outsourcing for outsourcing’s sake, you stand a good chance of ending up in a situation where everyone benefits.

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