As a small business owner, there’s an excellent chance you are already outsourcing critical tasks in your business. Perhaps you make use of a bookkeeper to deal with your finances and accounts, for example. Or maybe you have an SEO expert who is working to make your website more visible on the search engines.
The truth is that outsourcing is incredibly common these days, and if you get it right, it can give you a multitude of benefits. It’s highly flexible, and you only pay for the services you receive. It’s cost-efficient, too, as it means you won’t have to gamble on hiring expensive employees. And, of course, you get to draw on professional people with high levels of expertise in their subject matter.
Well, that’s the theory, at least. Because for every company who would be a good fit for your business, there are likely to be another nine or ten that are not. And the trick is to ensure you find the right people to work with, or you could end up with an expensive mistake on your hands. With this in mind, let’s take a look at a few of things all small business owners should be on the lookout for when outsourcing to third parties.
Expertise and experience
First of all, you have to find a company that offers a mixture of know-how and experience. It’s important to understand that longevity is not enough, although it can help you weed out any time wasters or people that don’t have the experience to help you. So, it’s essential that you understand the area of your business that you want them to improve. You don’t need to be an expert, of course, but a little knowledge will help you understand who you are looking for, and how they can help.
Testimonials and happy customers
Make sure you’re checking up on testimonials and reviews of any company you are considering working with. And don’t rely on what you read online, either – many businesses will go to great lengths to hide negative reviews, even by posting their own, using anonymous names. Any company worth their salt will be happy to give you contact details of happy customers, so use them. Contact the client, and find out what they got in the way of service, and ask them to talk about results.
As a small business owner, you should have one keen eye on growing your company. So be aware that when you outsource to an IT consulting company or buy into something like a hosting package, the service has the capability to grow with you. Being stuck in a contract for a service you have grown out of is a waste of time and money, and can stifle your progress. So, scaling up should be at the top of your discussion list when assessing your needs, even at an early stage.
Be aware that outsourcing to another service can be a significant security risk. You will need to consider setting up nondisclosure agreements, or someone could steal your idea or technology and do something else with it. Anything to do with IT should be locked, down, too. When you bear in mind that many of the IT services you use will be based elsewhere, it is critical that you know what their security measures are, and how they deal with security breaches. Don’t forget, if a hacker steals your customer’s personal information, your clients won’t care who is responsible – they will blame you.
Who is on the team?
Another thing to remember is that many outsourced companies will send a salesperson or business owner to see you and attract your custom. But when it comes to the crunch, are they going to be working with you? In many cases, you will be assigned to one of their junior colleagues, or maybe an account manager. And that warm feeling the salesperson gave you might not be apparent when you are now working with someone who doesn’t appear to know what they are doing. Make sure you meet the person who will be directly responsible for your outsourced tasks and vet them just as you would any other employee.
Measures of success
You should take your time to discuss what success looks like for your partnership – and be careful to set your limits, not just take on board what the service provider is suggesting. I’ll give you an example. Let’s say you are struggling to attract traffic to your website, and feel like you need more visitors to start growing your business. Naturally, you decide to hire an SEO specialist. Now, there are many types of SEO companies, unfortunately, and if you choose the wrong one, all kinds of things can go wrong. Let’s assume that the SEO expert suggests using an increase in visitors as the measurement of success. All they need to do then is to buy some dirty traffic, send it to your site, and walk off with your money. As far as they are concerned, it’s job done – but your business doesn’t make any more money, and you are out of pocket. The key to success in outsourcing is to establish goals that align with your business needs – every good service provider will offer you that at the very least.
Building a relationship
In today’s small business world, you will rely on outsourced partners more than you realize. It is imperative that you get along with each other, with this in mind. Sure, an impressive portfolio is an attractive prospect, but if your relationship sours – or you just don’t get on – it’s only going to damage your business. There will be tensions, of course – as there is in every aspect of business. But unless you can trust and respect each other, it will be a waste of time and energy to continue the partnership, and you will have to start looking again.
OK, so there you have it – some of the ground rules for outsourcing for your small business. Follow these guidelines, and you should have a considerable amount of success in the future – good luck!