According to a study by Freelancers Union, 53 million Americans work for themselves in some fashion. That’s 34% of the US workforce, which is expected to rise to 50% by 2020.
According to Deloitte’s 2016 Global Human Capital Trends study, 51% of executives say they plan to use more flexible and independent workers in the next three to five years.
This all means that outsourcing to businesses and freelancers will become a bigger part of your business model over the coming years. You need to build positive and sustainable relationships with partners if you want to stay competitive and grow your business.
Why do you want a positive relationship with your outsourcers?
- The outsourcer may give you flexible payment terms. This could prevent you from having to use credit from a bank for your recurring operating expenses.
- The outsourcer may complete tasks and projects faster than you expect, letting your business move faster too.
- The outsourcer will learn your business, products, and customers, which results in improved outcomes.
- The outsourcer may offer ideas and suggestions to improve your tasks, projects, and your business as a whole, even if the service you pay for doesn’t include these recommendations.
- The outsourcer may be willing to customize their service for your unique needs (more than they would for an average customer).
- Happy outsourcers go the extra mile for you.
Let’s talk about some ways you can make your outsourcing relationships successful.
1. Think of Your Outsourcer as More Than a Vendor
If you’ve taken care to hire an outsourcer who meets your needs, you shouldn’t think of them as a vendor. You should think of them like a partner.Think of your outsourcer like a partner, not a vendor. Click To Tweet
As a partner, your outsourcer should strive to meet your goals. They should invest themselves in your success and take steps to optimize their performance to help you hit your milestones (at least whichever milestones they can affect).
You might be tempted to squeeze more value out of the relationship by micromanaging the outsourcer. Just like you wouldn’t micromanage your partner, don’t micromanage your outsourcers. How they deliver the work is up to them. You don’t need to know the details of how they operate, so long as the work product is quality and delivered on time.
Furthermore, partnerships are balanced. Neither party should have absolute power over the other. Seek to work together with your partner so you both meet your goals.
In some cases, this will require compromise. You may have to adjust your process to fit their needs. They may have to adjust to fit yours.
Finally, treat your outsourcing partners like part of your team. Listen to their advice and take it seriously. Consider their ideas and praise their successes. Don’t forget the little touches, too, like inviting them to your holiday party and wishing them happy birthday.
2. Train Your Outsourcer Like You Would a Teammate
No matter how standardized or productized your outsourcer has fashioned their service, they’ll still have to learn about your business. They won’t instantly know how you operate or what’s important to you.
It’s your job to train them just like you would an employee. Explain your process and needs carefully. Give them access to any resources or documents you use to educate your team. Devote some of your time to walking them through the details and answering their questions. You may have to create some documentation just for them.
Most importantly, give your outsourcer partners time to get up to speed. They’ll need time to learn about your business and adjust any of their internal circumstances for your processes.
3. Don’t Become “That Client”
Imagine the type of client you would hate to have. What does “that client” do that makes them difficult to work with?
- They ask for more than they pay for.
- They expect communication outside of business hours.
- They increase project scope at the last minute.
- They fail to communicate clearly.
- They behave emotionally, irrationally, or unprofessionally.
- They fail to pay their invoice.
If you want a successful relationship with your outsourcer, don’t be “that client.” Always uphold your end of the agreement, even if you feel the outsourcer isn’t upholding theirs. Respect their time and expertise. Speak politely as you would to an equal, not a servant.
If you notice yourself becoming “that client,” take a step back and ask yourself if your expectations have grown or if the outsourcer’s serviced has withered. You may need to realign with the outsourcer or find a new one.
4. Negotiate Prices Sparingly (or Not At All)
Obviously you want to reduce your expenses as much as possible, but your outsourcer is a business too. They deserve to be paid fairly for their work.
You’ll spoil the relationship if you constantly pester your outsourcer for better deals. If you insist on paying a cheap price, you’ll get cheap work.
This isn’t much of a problem if you enter into a subscription-like arrangement with a fixed monthly cost for a clearly outlined service. Under a system like this, you only negotiate once at the beginning of the relationship.
This is how we work with all of our clients. In fact, we don’t negotiate at all. We’re transparent about our pricing. This way we only work with people who are comfortable with our prices and we always feel fairly compensated for the work. That’s the recipe for a positive and successful relationship.
If you purchase services on an as-needed basis from your outsourcer (maybe you occasionally hire a writer, designer, or programmer), it’s best not to regularly push them to lower their rates.
Even if you know their prices are wildly inflated, the outsourcer may not produce quality work if you don’t pay what they ask. If you find yourself routinely disappointed with their prices, it may be time to find a new partner.
5. Lean on the Outsourcer’s Strengths
One of the biggest advantages of hiring an outsourcer is the ability to leverage their expertise. You gain access to subject matter experts at a fraction of the cost of hiring in-house.
The simplest way to get the most value out of your outsourcer’s expertise is to always speak in terms of your problems, not the solutions you expect.
For instance, rather than asking your outsourcer to build a custom app that transfers email addresses from your online shopping cart to your CRM, it’s better to ask about your deeper problem. You might say “I need to get my email addresses into my CRM.” Your outsourcer may have a solution that’s faster and cheaper than building an app from scratch.
6. Keep Lines of Communication Open
Lack of communication is one of the biggest causes of failure between businesses and their outsourced partners. Successful outsourcing relationships require regular communication, especially when you’re working with businesses and freelancers who might be scattered all over the globe.
Your business will change over time (that’s the point of growth, after all), which means your partner has to change too. Strong communication helps you avoid potential problems, set and adjust goals, build a positive culture, change strategies and tactics, clear up ambiguity, and honestly discuss performance without one side becoming defensive or offended.
If you have a genuine problem – speak up! Don’t permit poor performance for too long or it will become the new standard. Besides, the outsourcer may not know they haven’t met your expectations and would be happy to fix the issue.
Keep your line of communication open by building it into your process. You don’t need to schedule in-person or phone meetings (though they help), but it’s important to check in with one another regularly to gauge the health of the relationship and make sure there aren’t any festering problems or concerns.
7. Define Both Party’s Processes in Detail
For best results, you and the outsourcing partner need to understand the tasks and deadlines you’re each responsible for.
Clear up any ambiguity by sharing a document that lays out each party’s action items and deliverables. It could be a Google Doc, a Trello board, or some other project management tool. This way no one can claim ignorance about their role. Make sure to include any supplementary information either party needs, like passwords, reference material, or other processes.
Update this document regularly whenever anything changes. Keep everything in one place so there’s no confusion, and so that anyone on your team or the outsourcer’s team can find answers to their questions.
The relationship you build with your outsourced partner directly impacts the value you get from the arrangement and the success of your company. But outsourcing relationships don’t just happen. They require attention and careful nurturing. If you follow our advice, you’ll create long-lasting partnerships that serve your business goals.
She has travelled to 31 countries and regularly visits her Tasmanian homeland. She is an avid surfer and yogi and spends her time between the Gold Coast, Australia and Argentina.
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