Traditionally, the major aim of outsourcing was to find cheaper manufacturing costs by utilizing labor forces from overseas.
Today, organizations are increasingly becoming interested in finding outside specialists to handle the time-consuming tasks that distract a business from its main focus. In the digital marketing world, these tasks can include things like creating blog content, video production and even social media marketing.
While the scope of outsourcing has evolved, the end result is generally the same: cutting costs and saving time. For instance, if you wanted to begin creating compelling videos to grow your company’s YouTube presence, it’s likely cheaper (and a better use of time) to hire a video marketing agency (or freelance videographer) because they already have the equipment and skills at their disposal.
There’s a number of factors that have helped spur on the new wave of outsourcing, such as sophisticated communication channels, automation and hiring platforms specific to freelancing and outsourcing tasks and jobs.
These factors have largely contributed to a rise in companies looking to increase outsource spend (57%). Meanwhile, only 9% of US companies engaged in outsourcing practices are looking to limit or eliminate those activities.
However, for every outsourcing success story, there’s a detractive horror story about a dud freelancer that cost too much, delivered too little and caused any number of issues for the hiring organization.
Thus, I’ve created these 10 tips to help you find true experts with the skills you need, while avoiding the agencies or individuals that will waste your time and cause more headaches than they promised to solve.
#1: Clearly Identify The Tasks Or Positions You Want To Outsource
Before beginning your search, there are some initial steps you should take that will make your quest for that perfect outsourcing solution much smoother. The first step is to clearly identify what tasks and position(s) you want to find outside help for.
This will make it much easier to convey your expectations and needs to a potential freelancer. Plus, it will better ensure that you find the right fit for the job that has all of the skills and qualifications you need, while avoiding additional and unnecessary services.
#2: Understand Agency Versus Individual
As you explore what your outsourcing needs are, you should also consider whether the job is better suited for an outside agency or an individual freelancer. There’s pros and cons to each. For example, hiring an agency will always cost more, but you get more resources and people on the project than a single freelancer.
On the other hand, agencies may have hundreds of clients, while a freelancer has only a handful, which means they can dedicate more time and attention to your project and are typically easier to get in contact with.
Before making a decision, weigh both options carefully and decide what route makes the most sense for your outsourcing needs.
#3: Avoid Self-Proclaimed Jedi, Gurus, Masters, Wizards, Senseis
This may just be my own personal preference; I’m sure some of these self-inflators do great work and are truly talented and knowledgeable at navigating their chosen craft. I’ve even talked to some of these ninjas, wizards and Jedi about why they chose the moniker and they’ve told me it helps sell the tech-savvy, digital persona to potential clients. I get that.
That said, I’m certain that a much larger percentage of these “gurus” are vastly overselling themselves. I prefer to stick to professional titles, like expert or specialist. By avoiding these kinds of grandiose titles, you’re far less likely to land a shabby agency/freelancer.
#4: References & Research
Even though this agency or person will exist outside of your company, you’re still essentially hiring them, which means you should perform all of the research into their work history and references that you would normally do if you were hiring an in-house employee.
It can be easy to create a dazzling LinkedIn account or profile on a freelance hiring platform (Upwork, Freelancer, FlexJobs to name a few) and even easier to be swayed by one.
Ask for concrete work examples and references that you can contact and find out about what the past experiences have been like with this individual or agency.
#5: Avoid Any Option That Doesn’t Ask About Your Company Objectives
You can tell a lot about an agency or freelancer from your initial conversations. Not only will these talks give you insight into how knowledgeable or skilled they are, but also their professionalism and what type of experience you can expect.
One of the biggest tells is how many questions they ask you. Particularly, how many questions they ask about your company’s objectives and goals. If they spend more time talking about the services they provide and trying to sign you into a contract than they do discussing your goals, then it’s time to walk away.
You want a freelancer or agency that is genuinely interested in helping your company succeed and they cannot provide that assistance without knowing what your business hopes to achieve.
#6: Don’t Get Locked Into Any Long-Term Contract
Enlisting the help of an agency or freelancer should not be like joining a cell phone plan or signing a starting pitcher. You shouldn’t have to sign into a one-year contract to get them on your roster. You want to reserve your right to fire an outsource solution if it isn’t working out for you.
By signing into a time-based contract, you’re forfeiting that right, which means you could end up with a dud agency for an entire year. Great freelancers and agencies know that their work speaks for itself, so there’s no need to lock clients into a year-long agreement. Anyone asking you to sign into a long-term contract is likely trying to lock you into a subpar service that you may not even find beneficial.
On the other hand, it is reasonable for an outside service to ask for a short term contract. After all, some processes take time to deliver real results. Someone specializing in SEO or Google Analytics wants to give themselves and their clients enough time to really see the results.
It’s possible that they’ve been burned by impatient clients in the past and want some insurance that their efforts aren’t going to go to waste. This is something that they would discuss with you.
#7: Only Pay For What You Need
Agencies and freelancers alike often have many different skills that they use to help clients. They’ll often try to sell new and existing clients on these services to help bolster the contract. As you’re hunting for the right outsourcing solution, it’s important to remember to only pay for the services you need and avoid paying more for those offerings that won’t drive your organization towards its current objectives.
On the same subject, not everyone will tell you each service they provide, especially freelancers. For example, if a graphic designer is hired by your organization, he or she will likely assume that it is the only service you’re interested in. They may not tell you that they also do great video editing work, which could be another skill your organization is after.
Thus, don’t be opposed to asking questions and exploring the other specialties that your chosen outsourcer may have. It’s easier to work with someone you’re already comfortable with than hire another freelancer.
#8: Concerns About Sensitive Data
If your outsourced tasks require access to sensitive data, you want to raise any security and privacy concerns you may have. In these cases, it is best to choose an agency-type solution, instead of a private freelancer.
While a freelancer may be 100% honest and trustworthy, it’s likely that their system and network isn’t as sophisticated as an agency’s would be. You don’t want any sensitive data or information stored in an unsecure location, especially if it is customer data.
#9: You Get What You Pay For
This is an especially big concern when hiring an individual freelancer. If their rates are far below the average or what you would expect for their service, they are either going to under-deliver on their promises and/or their results will be low quality. While outsourcing certain tasks can definitely save your organization money, if you want great work, you have to be willing to pay for it.
If you’re cautious of a newly-hired outsourcer, you may be able to negotiate a lower rate for the first month or so — call it a trial period. Once you’re comfortable with their work, you want to increase the pay rate to a more appropriate amount.
Overtime, you may even want to increase the agreed payment amount, especially if you’re exceptionally happy with their work.
Remember, while this individual or agency works outside of your company, they are essentially an employee. Giving them a raise can help ensure their long-term commitment to you as a client. It may even encourage them to put your project and tasks higher on their priority list.
One of the top reasons cited for why organizations choose outsourcing is as a strategy to cut costs. In order to determine how effective your outsourced processes are behaving, you need to understand ways to measure them, particularly how much money is being saved.
If you’re outsourcing tasks that used to be handled in-house, this is relatively easy. It’s just a matter of comparing what you used to spend for the staff and resources necessary to operate those tasks versus what you’re paying for an agency or freelancer to handle them.
However, if you’re outsourcing new tasks, it can be a lot harder to determine what the cost of handling those processes in-house would be. You may have to look at industry standards and make some rough estimates.
It’s also important to measure how efficiently tasks are being completed by setting deadlines and tracking how often they are met or missed.
It can be entirely uncomfortable to put your faith in an outside entity to handle key organizational tasks. Yet, there’s a lot of benefits to be gained by outsourcing. Not only does it help you save costs, but it also means your business and in-house employees can directly focus on the most important aspects of the company, while tertiary processes can be completed externally.
Despite the benefits of outsourcing, they can quickly be diminished if you hire a bad agency or freelancer. By using the tips and criteria listed in this discussion, you’ll know how to identify those red flags that signal a dud outsourcer and thereby protect yourself from hiring one and having a bad outsourcing experience.
The best advice is to trust your instincts. If something feels off with an agency or freelancer, there’s probably a good reason.