Once you’ve decided to outsource one or several of your non-core business functions, it’s time to choose the right partner for your needs.
This process seems simple, but it requires thoughtful consideration if you want to realize the benefits of outsourcing.
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“Not only can picking the wrong partner be damaging to a company’s bottom line, it can also dent important parts of a business including brand, reputation, and staff morale,” says outsourcing specialist Sean Baker.
If you choose the wrong partner, you could lose time, money, and your sanity. Here’s how to find the right outsourcer for your needs.
Define Your Goals and Needs
The first step before partnering with an outsourcing provider is to understand your own goals. You need to know what you hope to get out of the relationship so you can hire a partner who can meet those needs.
Goal setting also helps you set expectations for the relationship. If you decide, for instance, that accuracy is more important than timeliness, you can communicate that to your outsourcing partner so they deliver the service you need.
Gather your team – everyone, even if they don’t interact with the outsourcer directly – and ask them what they expect out of the outsourcing relationship.
When you communicate your goals to the potential provider, use clearly defined metrics whenever possible. You might say…
- “We want our website up 100% of the time. No interruptions.”
- “We want a cash flow report in our inbox every Monday morning by 9 AM.”
- “We want new hire onboard within one week.”
- “We want you to respond to all customer support tickets within twelve hours.”
Notice how each of those goals includes a number or date. That makes it easy to determine whether the goal was met. If the outsourcer can’t meet your needs, you’ll find out in the initial interview when you explain your goals.
Check Experience and Reviews
Examine the vendor’s ability to deliver a service for customers like you. Have they helped any businesses similar to yours? What were those results? How have they helped businesses with goals like yours?
Obviously you’ll want to ask the provider these questions, but you should also check on their testimonials and online reviews. Google for the “[company name] review” to find unbiased opinions from the outsourcer’s current or past customers on third party websites.
Look for the Right Qualities
As you browse potential providers and read their reviews, look for these important qualities:
1. Financial Stability
The partner should be financially healthy. A stable partner will be around to serve you long-term. It also means other customers find their service valuable.
2. Cultural Compatibility
Ideally the partner should share your cultural values, or at least understand them. This makes communication, goal-sharing, and conflict resolution easier.
3. Technology and Infrastructure
Ensure the partner has the right equipment and tools to service your needs. You don’t want the work product to suffer because they don’t have the things they need.
You’re outsourcing so you can focus on running and growing your business, so make sure your outsourcer can handle your needs next year and the year after. A good outsourcer understands how your business will change and how they’ll adapt to the larger workload.
The partner should have a clear process for communication. They should be able to filter your emails and messages to the right people in their organization. You should be able to talk to them seamlessly without cultural or language translation. Most importantly, you should understand when and how often you can expect to hear from them.
6. Single Contact
You’ll need a single, responsive, communicative contact at the outsourcer to respond to your messages and calls. Their job is to manage and approve of the quality of the service. This is the person you’ll hold accountable when there’s a problem or you need help.
7. Competent People
This might be hard to judge until you start working with the provider, but it helps to know something about the people who will actually perform the work. Are they experienced and skilled? How long have they been in the industry and working for the outsourcer?
The partner should be able to provide the service you need without interruption. If they assign you an account manager, ask what happens when that person falls ill or takes a holiday. They should have redundancies in place on their end so your service never stops.
9. Clear Costs
Make sure you understand the cost structure of your arrangement. There shouldn’t be any hidden fees or spontaneous charges (unless you agree to them before the outsourcer performs the work). You should be absolutely clear what you’ll be charged and what you get for that price.
Make sure the potential outsourcer has a system in place to meet your needs. You need to know when you can expect deliverables or reports, where and how to communicate, and what steps you’re supposed to take.
Don’t Chain Yourself to One Outsourcing Partner
Ideally, you should be able to break away from an outsourcing partner at any time if you aren’t happy with the service or want to go in a different direction.
One of the reasons we use Xero’s accounting software for our clients is for the portability. If a client decides to use another bookkeeper or manage their accounts in-house, they don’t need to transfer their data anywhere.
Seek a similar relationship with all your outsourcing partners. Don’t sign lengthy contracts that bind you to that provider or burden you with fees for canceling your service. If an outsourcer comes with these restrictions, it means they fear you’ll find reason to cancel your service or you won’t see results immediately.
Test the Outsourcer’s Competency (If Possible)
Before committing to an outsourcing relationship, test the potential provider’s service by ordering a “light” version of your typical needs.
For instance, before hiring a design firm on a monthly retainer, purchase a few one-off projects that represent your typical requests. You might ask for a single poster, a landing page, or a small group of social media images.
You should already understand the quality of the potential provider’s work, but a little test will expose the process side of the relationship you can’t see from their portfolio. You’ll learn how they manage the project, communicate problems/needs, exchange payment, etc.
Understand the Risks
Before you commit to a relationship, make sure you understand the risks. In most cases, the potential risks are minor. For instance, the outsourcer might bill your credit card more than you expect. That’s an easy-to-manage risk, but it’s still a risk.
But in some cases, the risks might be serious and worthy of careful consideration. If the outsourcer has access to sensitive data, they might abuse it or leave it vulnerable for hackers. If the outsourcer speaks with your customers, they might damage your brand.
Risks are inevitable, but it’s important to understand them before you hire an outsourcer and take steps to mitigate them wherever possible.
Take the Time to Choose Carefully
You may need someone to take over a particular function right now, but diving into a poor relationship without careful thought can cost your time, money, and stress.
Don’t be swayed by time-sensitive discounts or pushy salesmen. Consult your team and consider your options objectively.
“Finding a trusted outsourcing partner is a long-term investment, so it’s important to weigh your options carefully,” recommends Joseph Kolchinsky, investor and founder of a smart-home installation company.
It could take as much as 30 days to choose an outsourcer for simple tasks like payroll or travel arrangements. Finding a provider to take over complex tasks like marketing or customer service could take longer.
Finding an outsourcing partner that’s right for your business deserves careful consideration. If you invest yourself in the wrong partner, you could waste valuable time and resources. Follow our advice and you’ll identify the perfect partner to meet your needs.
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