10 Steps To Outsourcing Success That Will Save You Time, Money and Frustration
If you’re a small business that’s interested in growing your business, you know you need to outsource to cover the skills you lack or are weak in or simply to get rid of time-wasting routine tasks.
Businesses of all shapes and sizes outsource various tasks in order to cut costs and streamline their operations. And you can too! If you want to outsource and avoid the mistakes inherent in delegating, here are the ten steps to outsourcing success that will save you time, money, and frustration.
1. Define Your Goals
The first step is to define the overall goals of your outsourcing. Businesses outsource for a number of reasons. They may want to get rid of everyday tasks, or they may want to supplement their capabilities with skills and expertise from outside the company.
You may want to review your overall business goals, and then consider how your outsourcing fits into the overall picture. The goal of many businesses is simply to save money by delegating easy tasks to outside help. The more clearly you state your goal, the better you’ll be able to determine which tasks to outsource.
The best goals are measurable and specific. It’s better to state your goal as “to free up 10 hours a week in my work schedule” than to be vague and say, “to free up more time.” Once you start outsourcing, you can actually calculate how much free time you’ve earned yourself. You may not be able to judge this accurately by judging by your feelings. You need hard data.
Remember also that goals need to be realistic. Outsourcing one small task is probably not going to double your ROI. Make a realistic estimation of how outsourcing will affect your business.
2. Identify Tasks to Outsource
You can outsource virtually any of your business operations, but some are better than others. Tasks that can be outsourced include everyday routine tasks like posting content, cleaning out your inbox or data entry; they could be tasks that require skill and expertise like content writing, image creation or programming; companies also hire consultants and highly skilled experts to help them create their business strategy or make important decisions.
Start by making a list of things you think you’d like to outsource. If a few tasks spring to mind instantly, these are good places to start. List every task you do regularly, as well as tasks requiring special skills such as building your website or creating an app.
Try to make a list of everything that could be outsourced and then prioritize this list. Put the items you want to outsource first. You should also consider the ease of outsourcing each task and costs. These are all factors that you should use to decide which to outsource.
3. Consider Risks
Once you have a task chosen, it’s time to consider risks. Outsourcing anything carries with it some potential risks. Even though it may be small, you’re giving out some part of your business and allowing access to it to someone outside. This always presents some level of risk.
Of course, there are some ways you can minimize risk. If you need to give an outsourcer access to your website or database, give them their own admin access in such a way that you can change it later. One way to do this is with a temporary password. If your writer needs to understand your SEO strategy in order to optimize the content, tell them what they need to know but don’t share your entire marketing strategy or your secrets with them. You can minimize risk by giving outsourcers all that they need to know to perform their specific job and nothing more.
For each item on the list you created, assess how risky it is for you. You may come to the conclusion that a task isn’t worth the risk you need to take in order to outsource it. There are certain tasks that are better left inside the company. If this is the case, cross if off of your list and move it to the next one.
4. Make a Budget
Next, you need to decide on a budget. How much are you willing to spend to get the item off of your to-do list? Consider how much each item is going to save you money or time and put a price on it.
If you’re clueless on how much to offer, try looking around at job postings, forums or freelance service provider websites. This will give you an idea of the going rate for the services you’re considering.
You should also decide whether or not you’re open to negotiation. You may find someone especially good for you but not at the price you wanted. It may be worth it to you to pay a little more. Also, if they charge more than what you want to pay, you can ask them if they can offer other services as well and get more for your money.
5. Set up the Job
To set up the job, create a document that puts everything in writing. It should include how the job fits into your overall business, the actual steps in the process, guidelines and samples.
For example, let’s imagine that you’re hiring a writer to write your blog. The purpose of the job is to populate your site’s blog page with content on a regular basis in order to attract readers and search engines. The writer is to create two original posts per month based loosely around keywords you give them. They should choose a few keywords, email you with a topic idea and, once approved, write an original post. Posts should be 1,000 words long and interesting and engaging (here you could provide samples). Posts must be published by the 10th and 20th of the month. The writer should send their invoice by the end of the month and payment will be made through PayPal by the 10th of the next month.
You can see how specific the above sample is. This document answers nearly all of the questions the writer has. With everything clearly stated, they know exactly what to do. If they don’t follow the document, it’s not because of any miscommunication on your part.
If there is any confusion or if the writer has other questions, you can update the document to include the additional information. As you hire more outsourcers, you’ll add more of these documents until you have a library of them to give out to future service providers.
6. Find the Right Outsourcer for the Job
There are many places to find outsourcers using the internet. You have the entire world’s workforce at your fingertips. The next step is to locate someone who can do the job.
Start by making a list of possible candidates and gradually narrow it down to a few that you’ll contact. If the job is something simple that nearly anyone with any skill set can do, the process of finding a good outsourcer is fairly simple. You need to find someone reliable and easy to work with. Skills are not a major concern.
If you’re looking for an outsourcer for more skilled work, you need to look at their expertise and experience. Check out samples of their work. See if they’ve worked for a company such as yours before. Find out what areas of expertise they have within their field. For example, if you need a programmer for an app you’re designing, see how much specifically app designing experience they have.
7. Make Contact
The next step is to narrow your list of candidates down to a few that you can contact. Email them and tell them the basics of the job and what you’re looking for. There’s no need to send your spec sheet at this stage. With your initial email, you’re checking their availability and whether or not they can handle the job.
Once this is confirmed, you can go into more detail on the job, its timeframe and the payment details. This is where you can negotiate with the service provider if you’re willing to. Aside from discussing the details of the job, this initial contact also gives you an idea of how well they communicate and a taste of what it will be like to work with them.
It’s a good idea to save your list of candidates including the ones that didn’t work out for this job. Somewhere down the road, you may have need for one of them, either for the same type of work or for something else. Things may not work out with the outsourcer you’ve hired, and you may need alternatives to fall back on.
8. Get the Job Rolling
Once you’ve found a good person for the job, get the job started. Give the outsourcer whatever they need and let them do their work.
It’s good to keep in touch somehow during the course of the job. You want to be a good manager, which means being in touch, but don’t micromanage. Micromanaging is when a manager can’t give up control to let the outsourcer do their work. For the outsourcer, it feels like you’re breathing down their neck.
It can be difficult to strike a good balance between being in touch and micromanaging, but one way to do it is to schedule progress reports. This could be something as casual as having the outsourcer send you an email each Friday to let you know how things are going, to scheduling meetings over Skype to discuss in more detail. When you create the job, consider how you’d like to stay in touch. If you’d like regular meetings, you might consider putting this in the job specs. Whether you put it into the specs or not, make sure you communicate it clearly in the initial stages.
Keep in mind that there may be revisions or other issues that will push the job past its deadline. When setting up a job, take this into consideration and let there be some leeway.
9. Measure and Track Results
Once the job is finished, ask yourself whether it turned out as you’d liked or not. It’s not uncommon for a business to outsource a task once only to discover that it’s something best handled in house. Your first outsourcing task may be simply an experiment in outsourcing that ultimately failed.
On the other hand, you may find that it has made a very positive change in your business. You may find that you’ve achieved your initial goal of freeing up time, augmenting your company’s capabilities, or saving money.
Take some time to analyze the results, and then decide whether you’ll continue to outsource the task or not.
10. Grow Your Team
Most businesses that try outsourcing find it a huge help. Even a small business might have a giant virtual team that handles various aspects of its operations. You can start small, with a few outsourcers to help you with mundane tasks, and gradually add to your virtual workforce.
But this is something you should do slowly and gradually because there is a great deal to learn along the way. Managing a virtual team presents its own unique challenges which you’ll have to face.
Tips and Best Practices
Here are some tips and best practices to make your outsourcing experience easier and more efficient.
Swamped with Work
One good time to outsource is when you find yourself or some department in your company swamped with work. If anyone in your company has more work than they can handle, this is a natural task to outsource or at least hire virtual help for.
Your relationship with your outsourcers is very important. Even though you’re hiring them on a limited basis over the internet, you should still make sure they know you value the work you do for them. It’s easy to take this for granted since they’re not actually working side-by-side with you.
Cultivate the mindset that your outsourcers are your virtual partners. No matter how small the job they are doing for you, think of them as a valued partner who is supporting your business through their work. Let them know that you appreciate the work they do for you.
Pad Outsourcing Costs
When considering costs for outsourcing, always add a bit more to your estimate. For various reasons, outsourcing usually costs more than most businesses realize. If the work is not done properly, you may need to invest more money in getting it finished with another outsourcer. When looking for an outsourcer, you may have to join websites that charge fees. You may need to travel in order to have meetings with your new staff.
Pad your initial estimates and keep track of exactly how much things cost so that you can create a more accurate estimate the next time.
Don’t choose the first service provider you find who can do the job and offers reasonable rates. Consider each candidate very carefully, no matter how small the job. Check out their samples. Try to find reviews of their services or ask for references. If you’re using a freelance site, you can see reviews, ratings and other data about the freelancer from clients who have hired them before. This information is very useful in helping you decide whether to go with an outsourcer or not.
Who Owns the Work?
Make sure that it’s clear who will own the resulting work. This isn’t necessary for some types of jobs, but when you’re hiring someone to create something for you, it needs to be clear that you retain ownership of the work.
For example, if you hire a designer to create images for you, you need to make clear that the images will be owned exclusively by you. Clearly state that they are not to use the images for anything else or under their name.
The same goes for hiring a writer. Businesses often hire ghost writers, who write content but don’t get credit for it. Instead, the credit goes to your business. You need to let a writer know from the start whether or not they’ll be credited, and whether or not they can use the work as samples for future clients.
One Job at a Time
When you see how easy outsourcing is and the benefits it brings, you may be tempted to start getting rid of all of your regular business tasks. But it’s best to outsource one task at a time and hire one new team member at a time.
There are many challenges you’ll face outsourcing and it’s better to proceed cautiously so that you face one at a time. If you outsource too much at once, you may find you spending a great deal of time managing the projects, communicating with virtual workers, updating your spec sheets and other tasks related to outsourcing. It’s better to start small because there is a great deal to learn.
As you get started with outsourcing, it’s a good idea to document everything. This may sound arduous, but it doesn’t have to be exhaustive. Just jot down notes that will help you in the future. Remember that this is a learning experience.
Later, you can go over your notes and discover ideas to help you streamline the process. For example, you might find that there was one particular site that had a large number of good leads for outsourcers. This would be a good place to refer back to later, rather than just starting your next search cold.
Invest Your Time in Outsourcing
The whole idea behind outsourcing is that it removes tasks from your daily work so that you have time for more important things. But ironically, setting up jobs, hiring outsourcers, managing projects and all of the other work of outsourcing takes time!
Especially when you get started, you’ll need to make a time investment in outsourcing. But think of it as one of the “important things” that grows your business and pushes it to its eventual goals, not as something that’s wasting your time.
These are the ten steps to outsourcing success and useful tips to get you started. But this is really just the tip of the iceberg. I’ve created a full course that covers every detail of the process step-by-step. As you work your way through the course, you’ll set up your first job and when the course is finished, you’ve done all of the work you need to do in order to start outsourcing.