June 07, 2019
How to Make Outsourcing Work for You, Six Tips
David Leonhardt runs The Happy Marketing, helping to write and promote online content, as well as writing books, screenplays, and speeches. His team also develops and maintains websites and provides SEO services. Thanks, David for writing about outsourcing successfully, as you’ve deep experience and provide first-hand examples
By David Leonhardt
You run a small business. You can’t do it all yourself. You can’t bring every skillset you need onto your team. At some point or another, you need to outsource. Design, marketing, writing, translation, technology, consulting of all types…possibly, even HR and accounting.
The benefit of outsourcing is getting the exact expertise you need right now, without having to hire, train or maintain a full-time employee.
Outsourcing has the disadvantage of having to juggle people who might not know your business, your processes or your expectations.
The difference between the benefits and disadvantages of outsourcing is in how you outsource.
Here are seven ways to make outsourcing work for your business and avoid the mistakes that other businesses make.
1. Be clear in your vision
Possibly the most frequent mistake that I have seen would-be clients make is to come to us uncertain of what they want.
No vision for the final product.
No road map to get there.
I’d like to think that our writing team is pretty amazing, but they can’t read minds (We’re working on that). Even if they could, it wouldn’t help if the mind doesn’t have the information they need.
If you know that you want cost reductions in your supply chain or an app or a redesign of your retail space or a book written, first set your vision. If you need help with that, hire someone to help.
Every few months, we are approached with a book manuscript that “needs to be upgraded and improved.” The client (usually an individual, not a business) doesn’t know how. He knows only that it’s just not good enough.
That’s when we propose a “high-level review,” complete with recommendations to get from where it is now, to where it needs to be for publishing. The client can pick which recommendations to follow and implement them herself or hire us to do it. The key takeaway is that before doing anything, your supplier needs to know your vision…and you can hire your supplier to help clarify that.
2. Hire an expert with the skills you need
In every field, there are people who have a wide skillset and people who have a narrow skillset. For instance, not every writer can write fiction; not every writer understands what makes a news release effective and not every writer is good at plain language.
When you look for a supplier, make sure that they are not just good, but good at the specific task you need them for. That is one of the reasons we have a team of writers – so that we can cover a wide variety of needs. Even so, we don’t write everything. We’ve been asked to write business plans and résumés, but our team doesn’t have the skills for those specialty niches.
3. Make it clear what you want
You might know what you want, and the supplier you hire might be just the right person to do it, but you still have to communicate your expectations.
This is critical. The contractor delivers a beautiful website that dazzles, with a shopping cart that makes buying easy. But that’s of little use if your goal is not to sell, but to collect phone leads.
We’ve worked with clients who can’t be bothered or don’t have the time to fully communicate their needs. In the end, the client isn’t happy, and neither are we. So make sure you can communicate your needs and expectations to your supplier.
4. Use a contract…or don’t
There are times to use a contract. Those times are generally when work is very custom or very large or very complex.
It takes work to arrange a contract. Generally, it’s not worth the effort for a small job. For instance, we work with simple invoicing for articles, blog posts, press releases and even reports. The invoice states what we are doing and usually quantifies it somehow. For a job under $1,000, that’s generally enough.
For anything that comes as a standard package, that’s generally enough.
For anything that is pretty straightforward, such as paying by the hour for a consultant’s time, that’s generally enough.
We typically use contracts only for book manuscripts and screenplays. The main reason is that there are copyright protections needed. The contract puts it on the record that the client, not the writer, owns the copyright. A secondary reason is to establish a payment schedule, although that can be done by invoice, too.
5. Protect your information
You might or might not care about privacy, but chances are you will be sharing some confidential information when you outsource. In the case of creative work, the supplier might even want to take credit.
As ghostwriters, our team is highly sensitive to this. Any book cover or review we post on our website is with the express permission of the client. Many clients do not permit us to identify their works.
I have known suppliers to post lists of clients without their permission. To me, this is simply wrong. But it does illustrate the importance of putting in writing any restrictions that you require.
6. Agree on the work process
It never ceases to amaze me how many times somebody comes to me with the same story: “Another writer was working on it, but it wasn’t progressing.”
There are three quantifiable aspects to ghostwriting or business writing: volume, cost and timeline. This is the case with suppliers in most niches. Make sure to agree on all three. There should be a timeline for payments and a timeline for deliverables.
If timing is critical to other aspects of your operations, such as a product launch, create a schedule of milestones for both payments and the work. Have your supplier agree explicitly to the timeline. Pay on time; nothing motivates a supplier to put another client’s work ahead of yours more than a tardy payment from you. If there might be revisions needed, including those in the timeline.
Outsourcing can be good business when you do it right
I had a long-time client for whom I managed the website. I did the content. I did the SEO. They paid regularly. Sounds like a dream client, right?
But the client couldn’t be reached. They wouldn’t answer emails or return calls. The client wanted me to take care of everything in the background without having to think about their website.
So I had no “feedstock” for really good content that showed off what they could do. And there is only so much SEO one can do without good, fresh content and a technically up-to-date website.
Eventually, the search engines noticed that the site wasn’t loading as fast as modern sites do and that it was not even mobile-friendly. As its ranks slowly slipped, the client eventually called me!
He wanted to know what I had been doing while he had been ignoring me, and he wanted it fixed right away. So I walked him through the need for a new website and the price.
Would he pay? No way! That was the last I heard from him.
Sadly, the website he once called his “secret weapon” is still languishing. And I lost a not-so-good client.
Follow these points to get the benefits of outsourcing. Don’t make the same mistakes that so many other entrepreneurs make.
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