You run a small but successful business; just you and a handful of trusted staff. Together you form a tight-knit team that consistently punches above its weight. You take personal pride in delivering every job on time, on budget and in excess of the client’s expectations. As your reputation grows, so do your finances.
One day, an opportunity arrives to tender for a large contract. Land it and not only is the next month’s business assured, but the profits could fund the ambitious expansion programme you’ve been contemplating.
The only downside is that in order to fulfill the contract, you’ll be at full stretch: for this thing to work, everyone’s gonna have to pull their weight. You submit the tender, cross your fingers and await the verdict. Two weeks later, word comes back: you’ve done it. You’ve landed the big one.
Before you can celebrate your impending success however, you’re hit by a double blow: out of the blue, one of your staff hands in their notice, having been lured elsewhere by a more lucrative offer.
Then, another employee takes ill and is signed off for a fortnight. Suddenly, you’re faced with tackling the biggest job of your life without half your workforce. What should you do: cancel the contract?
Desperately try and round up some temps, and risk paying twice as much for talent half as good as that you’ve just lost? Or do you just sit with head in hands, rocking back and forth and reflecting on what could have been? Actually, you shouldn’t have to resort to either, for there is a third option which, if performed correctly, might just prove to be your salvation: you could try outsourcing the work.
If you can find the right freelancers to help you out of this hole, there might yet be hope of redemption.
Outsourcing used to be a dirty word, often used to disparagingly describe companies seeking Third World labour to exploit, be it running a call center or providing IT support to customers struggling to to power up their newly-acquired PCs. Not any more.
Outsourcing hasn’t just shed the grubby connotations previously associated with it: now it positively shines as a beacon of efficiency that many organisations would do well to adopt.
The nature of the work that can be outsourced nowadays is virtually limitless. If you sell burgers out of a roadside catering van, even the cheapest of labour from the Indian subcontinent isn’t going to be of much use to you.
For most other industries however, outsourcing isn’t just feasible – in many instances it’s highly-advisable. As the internet becomes faster and smarter, it is now commonplace for companies to outsource vast swathes of their IT and digital marketing work.
From SEO to data basing and from graphic design to voice overs – all can be performed remotely, often cheaper and to a higher standard than if the work had been done in-house. Indeed, with the rise of cloud computing, not only is the labour outsourced and delivered over the internet, but many companies effectively exist only in hyperspace, with their data and software all stored remotely on virtual servers.
Of course, nice as it is that the internet can facilitate remote working, what exactly is the point of it? Apart from the novelty of being able to say ‘My designer’s an Eskimo who lives in Greenland’, what tangible benefits does outsourcing impart? Well, it would be fair to say that cost is one of the prime factors that may tempt companies to seek external expertise.
The internet may be a great leveller, but different countries still have different standards of living. If an SEO guy in Mexico can generate 100 back links for half the price of his British counterpart, it seems foolish not to utilise his reasonably-priced skills.
Such cost-cutting measures mustn’t come at the expense of cutting quality in the process however.
As the saying goes, ‘If you pay peanuts, you get monkeys’. Outsourcing is not some universal panacea that can cure all your employment woes. The reason why businesses have offices in the first place is so their staff can work together under one roof, collaborating, bouncing ideas off one another and reacting quickly to project developments.
Just because it’s possible for the modern office to consist of little more than a laptop running Skype doesn’t mean that this is the most efficient means of working, cheap as your overheads will undoubtedly be. While video conferencing technology and other communicative tools have served to make the world feel a lot smaller, it’s still easier to relay instructions to someone if they’re sitting at the next desk. Bashing out an 800-word email every time you want something done just isn’t practical.
Few would dispute that outsourcing can be a money-saving exercise, but to write it off as purely a cost-cutting measure would be to grossly simplify it. Sure, you might save some money in the process, but that’s not the best thing about it. Outsourcing’s beauty lies in the power it provides to hire the experts you need as and when you need them.
The average online retailer or B2B provider probably doesn’t need a full-time copywriter, SEO expert, graphic designer and server administrator. At some point however, they’re almost certainly going to need the skills of all of these. Most of us don’t pay a retainer to secure the services of a plumber – rather, we elect to use such professionals as and when required. To do otherwise would be profligacy of the highest order.
Deciding to hire a freelancer is one thing. Deciding which one to hire is another. How do you determine which professional to outsource specialist work to? Type ‘Java developer’ into Google and you’ll come up with around 7,000,000 of them, all claiming to be the knight in shining armour who can answer your prayers. The sad truth however is that many of these self-appointed experts will be nothing of the sort.
Thankfully, employing the services of a freelancer doesn’t have to come down to a leap of blind faith. There are a number of cleverly-designed jobs platforms out there that match skilled freelancers with the clients who require their services.
Post up an ad stating your requirements, then sit back and wait for a flood of submissions from freelancers eager to do your bidding. Because such websites are based around reciprocal trust-building between customer and client, reaching a decision can be as simple as perusing the freelancer’s job history and checking the feedback they’ve received. By the time you’ve performed a few cursory checks, read their portfolio and factored in the price of their bid, you should be ready to reach a decision.
But what if something goes wrong – suppose the freelancer fails to live up to their glittering résumé, and the work you receive is not up to scratch? While there is no denying the potential for things to go wrong, it should be noted that this hazard is not merely limited to remote workers. Most employers will admit to having hired candidates who, in spite of acing the interview and having an impressive CV, just couldn’t cut it in the office.
Another common concern with outsourcing pertains to payment. How do the finances work? What if you were to put down half the cash and then never hear back from the freelancer? It’s not as if you can fly halfway round the world and chase them down.
As you might expect, these considerations have been taken into account in the construction of popular freelance sites such as Elance and People Per Hour.
The way such platforms tend to work is that the client, upon awarding the job, pays an escrow deposit, which may be around 20% of the total job price. This money doesn’t go to the freelancer however. Rather, it is held by the jobs website, until such time as the work is completed to the satisfaction of both parties. Thereafter, the client pays the invoice (minus the escrow deposit that has already been levied) to the jobs website.
The website doesn’t directly charge the client, but rather takes a small cut from the final balance they pass on to the freelancer. In the unlikely event of there being a dispute, the freelancing website can mediate, using the written communication that’s passed between both parties as evidence of the work that was agreed.
For employers who desire cast-iron assurances as to a freelancer’s suitability, using a trusted jobs website is the best way to go about it. It is worth noting that such websites tend to take a dim view of employers contacting freelancers out with their portal.
Once you award a job via the website, you’re expected to perform all invoicing within that framework. Elance et al’s insistence on adhering to this policy is perhaps not surprising given that such sites stand to lose their commission if you cut them out of the process altogether. Keeping payment within an accredited jobs website is good practice, not for the site’s benefit, but for your security.
Nevertheless, don’t let this deter you from researching your freelancers on the side. Good old Google is your best friend if you’d like to learn the sort of details you won’t find within the freelancer’s profile: enter their name into a search engine and see what turns up. See who they’re connected with on LinkedIn.
More often than not, the freelancer will have their own website with a more extensive portfolio that will enable you to fully appraise their work. Moreover, see how many glowing testimonials your search turns up from previous customers.
If you can’t find any – or worse still, find negative feedback – you might want to reconsider.
Many companies turn to outsourcing in their hour of need; for that website they needed built yesterday or that corporate brochure they’re struggling to come up with compelling content for. Such one-off collaborations can often develop into ongoing relationships.
If you’ve been delighted with the work you’ve outsourced to a graphic designer while yours was on holiday, you may start to question whether you even require the full-time services of an in-house designer, complete with all the sickness, holiday pay and bonuses that come locked in.
The beauty of having established links with freelancers is that an inspired idea can occur to you in the shower that morning, and by lunchtime your micro-site is already taking shape, thanks to the web development team you’ve fired off a swift email to.
Developing a trusted freelance team you can turn to whenever work gets hectic or ideas blossom is like having a storage facility with $50,000 cash and a bunch of passports stashed in it: you never know when it might come in handy.
Because the internet is a marketplace without borders, your business competitors are no longer limited by geography: if you want to stand out within your field, it’s not just enough to be the best in your city – you need to be the best in the world, or at least capable of holding your own against the big guys.
Conversely however, the democratisation brought about by the internet means the skilled workforce at your disposal isn’t just limited to the professionals within a bus-ride of your office: the whole world is yours for the recruiting.
Of course, great as the advantages bestowed by outsourcing are, it’s not going to be right for every occasion. Many jobs – even the ones that can be performed remotely – are best performed in-house, with the whole team gathered around the same table to bounce ideas off one another.
Moreover, if your time is increasingly being spent pinging emails back and forth to remote workers, perhaps the savings you’re making might not be as substantial as you first thought.
Assuming the most obvious pitfalls associated with outsourcing can be avoided, it is not just a viable way of working – it’s the smart way. While the technology is already in place to abolish the conventional office model altogether, that’s not really what freelancing’s there for. It’s more about the ability to add strings to your bow; extra firepower, ready whenever you need it.
When work gets frantic or staff fall ill, the danger of having to renege on contracts or turn away new business is obviated: just outsource and carry on as normal. Do some basic researchidentify the skills you’re looking for and don’t just settle on the first or cheapest freelancer to come your way. With the right team in place, you can take on the world with a little help from the world – and win.
Hire the Best Freelancers on Elance. Post your job today.
Author: Marc Walton