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The beginner’s guide to outsourcing for business success

By Patrick Pulvermuller - March 21, 2014
Patrick Pulvermuller, CEO

Patrick Pulvermuller, CEO

Outsourcing – paying someone else to carry out a project or task you would normally do yourself – might sound like a costly and frightening process. You may view it as something only corporate giants do. In fact, outsourcing is something that can work well for a growing business of any size. The key is ensuring you go into things with a clear idea of what you want to achieve and how you will achieve it. Let’s have a look at why you might want to outsource and how to get things right when you decide to take the plunge.

Should I outsource?

Outsourcing can reduce costs, save time and help you expand. But it is by no means a silver bullet. To make the most of things, you will need to honestly and thoroughly assess the business processes you have in place and identify areas for improvement.

This flowchart will help you identify areas where outsourcing may be a wise move.

Outsourcing flowchart

Laying the groundwork

If outsourcing is right for you, the next step is preparation. Before you start looking at potential contractors, you need to establish a clear idea of what you want to achieve through outsourcing.

Although you should already have a broad overview of what your goals are, you need to ensure your ambitions are practical and achievable. Above all, your expectations need to be grounded in reality.

The biggest limitation on any outsourcing project is going to be your budget. Be honest with yourself about how much you are willing to spend, but also acknowledge that you have to pay a premium to access top quality services.

You also need to bear in mind that the best outsourced projects are managed strongly from within. You’ll still need to motivate the supplier, monitor their progress and make sure things are going as planned.

To ensure this happens, you need to develop a strong brief. The type of document you end up with will vary depending on your project. It might be a design brief if you’re looking to develop a new website. It could be something closer to a fully-fledged business plan if you’re looking to expand through outsourcing.

Whatever your aims, your outsourcing plan should include the following:

  • An overall goal 
  • A list of documents and tasks that form a vital part of the overall goal (deliverables) 
  • Milestones to measure progress along the way 
  • A reporting schedule 
  • Realistic timescales for each element of the project
  • An itemised budget

Identifying the right partner

Once you’ve drawn up as comprehensive a plan as you can, you can begin the process of finding someone to work on your project.

If you’re looking for digital services such as web design, online marketing or content creation then the web can be an excellent place to begin your search. If you’re on an extremely limited budget, you may want to consider services such as oDesk or Fiverr. Though bear in mind the money saved may prove to be a false economy if you end up with a low-quality result. Alternatively, a Google search can start you down the right road. Look for trust signals on a potential partner’s website such as testimonials, reviews and a strong portfolio. You can look for further trust signals on third-party review sites – this goes for “real world” services as well.

Review sites let you read about other people's experiences of a potential contractor

Review sites let you read about other people’s experiences of a potential contractor

Although the web is a good way to locate potential contractors, utilising the power of your network is often the best way to go. If you already have strong connections across your niche, you have a good chance of finding someone who has faced the same outsourcing problem as you. At the very least you’ll be able ask for advice on where to look.  But it’s also likely you’ll be able to get personal recommendations about companies and individuals you should consider working with. If you need to expand your network to achieve this, my guide to networking for business success can help you do this.

Once you have a list of potential contractors, you need to narrow things down to the candidate that is right for you. Here’s how to do it.

  1. Get a quote based on your brief. This will help you assess whether your expectations about what you can achieve with your budget are realistic.
  2. Talk to the contractors face to face if you can. Not only will this let you decide if the relationship will work on a personal level, the best contractors will help you understand what is achievable.
  3. Talk to previous and existing clients. Reputable contractors should be able to connect you with people they have worked with in the past. Ask for honest feedback on what it was like to work with the contractor.

You should also aim to educate yourself along the way. By speaking to potential suppliers you will learn about some of the terminology and tools they will be using while carrying out the task.

If you can communicate with potential contractors on their terms, you’ll get a clearer picture of what needs doing. If one web designer says you need responsive design and the next one says you don’t, try to understand why their opinions differ and whose solution is right for you.

These steps should allow you to establish a fruitful and mutually beneficial outsourcing agreement. However, any neglected relationship will sour and decay. It is important to communicate with your contractor. It might be something as simple as a regular phone call, an informal get together once a quarter, or it might be the provision of monthly reports. The important thing is to put as much effort into maintaining the relationship as you did into creating it. If you do that, your chances of success are much greater.