In the previous article, Outsourcing 101: Why?, I explained the pros and cons of outsourcing but now it is important to consider the ‘how’ and the process to take to ensure it is done effectively.
The first point is not to confuse outsourcing with offshoring. When I worked in the corporate world, a lot of roles were contracted to people overseas as part of cost-saving exercises but I won’t be addressing offshoring as part of this article.
Within the context of this article, I will explain the benefits of effective outsourcing and the strategic steps to take to ensure it is a success, you gain business growth and increase profits.
What ‘should’ you outsource?
Good question and there isn’t a ‘one size’ answer to fit all!
If you are taking the time to read this blog, I would take a guess that you fall into at least one of the following 3 categories:
a. you are intrigued by the answer
b. you are someone who has work outsourced to you
c. you have been thinking about it and you’d like to understand more about it
If you fall into category ‘c’, my first suggestion would be to look at what your goals/objectives are and to consider what is holding you back from achieving them.
Fast forward to the next 6-12 months and what are you looking to achieve, are you hoping to offer new products/services, perhaps your business has evolved and as part of it you would like to rebrand your business, it might be as simple as reducing your hours to have more downtime.
It is important to consider these points and to be reflective because it will help you to get into the right headspace for thinking about what is possible and of course, making it a reality rather than a dream!
Identify the tasks
There are different ways to do this but whenever I have a chat with a prospective client or as part of a brainstorming session, I recommend setting some time aside to either create a mind map or a list of everything you currently do and the time you take to complete each task. Ideally, this will be created over a couple of weeks.
Why is this important? It often leads to some surprises, such as the time something has taken you or tasks you complete on autopilot but shouldn’t be doing.
Now review the list and think about your goals/objectives for the next 6-12 months and to make a note of what is workable based on your current time, knowledge, skill-set and experience.
Yes, there are tasks that you could conceivably continue or start to do but how is your time best spent and financially, is it cost-effective for you to do it. Could it be completed by a specialist in less time and at a cost that would be lower than your own rates or those that you would pass on to your clients/customers?
Excellent, tasks have been identified but this is the tricky part. What is your budget?
Everyone works differently with different payment terms and of course, rates!
Some businesses will work on a pay-as-you-go basis whilst others require you to sign up to a retainer. Some charge an hourly rate, others will charge based on a project or day rate. Some opt for the transparency route and will either state their rates on their website or at least provide an indication of a ‘from…’ rate.
Be careful of any hidden costs, some businesses track their time for tasks but will then round up (sometimes down) the time based on the nearest 15/30 minutes.
Some businesses will charge extra for work requiring an urgent turnaround, then there are those businesses who require you to sign up for a minimum of 3/6/12 months.
Lots to consider!
What level of service do you require?
Again, this is another tricky question and there are lots of pros and cons to consider, for example, do you opt for a one-person business, someone who has a team, an official agency or an SME. It all depends on your requirements and of course, your budget.
Are you looking for someone who offers a multitude of services because you know you trust their expertise or is it a wiser move to use different people/businesses? But by default, you then have to project manage everything to make sure deadlines are met, what is the most cost-effective route?
Does location matter?
Ask yourself these questions:
- Do you want/need to meet with the business you want to outsource to?
- Will video and telephone calls suffice?
- How important is it to the work you want to produce?
In your mind, whether or not it is subconscious, you will have a vague idea of how you want the partnership to work with the business you want to outsource to.
Depending on what you are looking to outsource, will depend on how you manage it but it is important to be clear on the process. How do you want the work to be presented to you? If the work involves, the business you are outsourcing to interact with customers/clients/suppliers, how do you want them to interact?
Do you have documented processes? What about brand guidelines, explaining colours, tone of voice etc.
All of this is important, even for something which might initially seem quite simple to you because you know it. But to an outsider, they need to be aware of your processes. Effective communication is critical!
Do you want to advertise to the outside world that you are using outside support within your business? You might want to do this to appear bigger than you actually are and possibly to appear more professional.
If you would like the business to interact with your customers/clients/suppliers on your behalf, consider whether it would be worth creating an email address for them as part of your domain name. As part of this, don’t forget to think about what their title should be – sometimes, it isn’t always obvious and it can come down to how you want them/you to be perceived.
Don’t forget, you might wish to include your new team member on your website, it is an excellent way to build trust and adds value from a transparency perspective.
From set GO, you need to think about timeframes, delivery methods, communications methods, setting a clear and detailed brief, checking the business you are outsourcing to clearly understands what you expect and when.
Don’t forget about contracts, data processing agreements (if applicable), NDA (if not part of your contract), insurances, system access, etc.
Be clear about what you expect and when.
Consider an action plan for if agreements and/or they do not meet timescales, what would be the implications and how will you manage the situation.
Remember, you are effectively managing another business in terms of whom you are partnering up with. Even if you are working collaboratively with them, remember to have respect and to think about whether you are open to their ideas and suggestions or whether you are only interested in the result.
Something I often tell my own clients is that I am quite outspoken but only if I think my opinion could make a difference. I will be honest and I back up my comments with context gained through my knowledge and experience. I always add that I don’t mind if they don’t listen, but at least I have given a different perspective. Not everyone will want that but be clear on whether you want to hear their ideas.
Outsourcing can be difficult, especially if you are a control freak like me (with an added level of perfectionism) but if you take the time to think about the detail, it will save you time, pain and money in the long run.