Talk to any savvy or experienced marketer and they probably have battle scars from an outsourcing deal gone horribly wrong and a vow to never do it again. Cheer up ace, here's why your outsourcing deal failed and why you should take another shot.
You sourced to one person
Chances are you probably sourced your tasks to one person in a remote area. That can work...people do this every day. The problem with that is in cases when it doesn't. It's never a good thing when your freelancer does their best Jimmy Hoffa impersonation while you are on a deadline. Or, they get seduced by more attractive work that takes their time and attention away from you. Those are just some of the problems marketing agencies and departments face when hiring a single freelancer. There are limits on their time and desire to do your work. When you source to one person you compete for attention against other people that person freelances for, and also all the other things that are going on in their life. They may have to manage fitting you in with their other clients, hopscotch lessons or their busy schedule of binge watching Friends reruns. An even more difficult scenario is when the person falls in love with your customers or vice versa. Which means you lose your customer and your talent.
Outsource to a team instead. With a group of people doing the work you'll benefit from a wider skill set and loyalty that comes with a partnership between two organizations - yours and your partners. A team wants you to keep sending work to them so they are extremely motivated to service you at the drop of a hat. Much in the same way you want to help businesses with their marketing work. As you grow you need to be able to deliver on your promises to new and old customers. If you're sourcing tasks to multiple individuals it becomes hard to manage and maintain reliability. Since you're an outsourced team's customer it's their responsibility to meet your demand or lose the account. Put the burden of training, hiring, motivating and retaining on them so you can focus on what you do best. Marketing!
You lacked control of the process
When you outsource you give up some degree of control. Your freelancer/contractor works on their own schedule and whenever they please so as long as they meet their deadlines to you. You, like most modern marketing leaders, don't want to micro manage and believe in empowering people to get the job done. But that lack of direction doesn't work for everyone and your freelancer isn't cutting it. Since you have no control over their processes you have no idea what your freelancer is working on at any given point.
Even though your freelancers aren't in the office you need to integrate them with your company practices and policies. You may not want to micro manage your own internal people because you have an intimate knowledge of who they are and what they're working on. Obviously they don't need micro-managing...you talk to them more! Your outsourced help isn't getting that same attention from you and it hurts your chances of the relationship being successful. Make sure your outsourcing partner learns how you operate and collaborate. Give them a corporate email ID and bring them into whatever ticketing system or collaboration tool you use internally. That way they can easily follow your internal discussions, chime in or get a pulse for how things work. They'll also feel like they're part of the team as opposed to an outsider.
Another thing to consider is where you're outsourcing to and where these people are physically located. I'm not just talking different countries, because even people in different domestic cities wherever you are have different styles for how they approach work. Not everyone works well in a casual work environment...or a 9-5 environment either. New Yorkers should probably get a visa before working in San Francisco. Do people working in startups work the same way as bankers on Wall St.? The work styles are totally different.
When you decide to outsource tasks to a person that's not living near you, or even of the same culture/ethnicity as you, try to get a feel for their work style. Ask them about their previous jobs, talk to their references and derive what their ideal work environment is. For example, everyone has a time of the day when they're more productive than others and if you know this you can set mental expectations of when they'll get your stuff done. Who knows? Let's say they're huge Marilyn Manson fans and Christmas isn't a big deal to them. Maybe they can work 11 hrs straight on Christmas day, but then are off the grid on Halloween. Everyone's different and there may be ways to use those differences to your advantage.
You sourced too remote
This is a touchy area, but you're outsourcing is likely to fail if you're sourcing with too many contrasts. How is an outsourcing marriage going to last if the person you're outsourcing to isn't able to communicate with you or available when you are? This is particularly an issue when outsourcing to people in different countries. Sometimes there are issues you may never foresee like political unrest, power outages that last several hours or time zone gaps. Also if things go south it's very hard to be protected by the laws of your country in case of litigation. How can an American marketing agency really enforce a non- compete with a freelance graphic designer based in Australia?
The best outsourcing relationship for you probably involves a partner that could be in your office for meetings on 24-48 hours' notice without the need for a lot of paperwork or visas. Nothing more than a drive or short flight. Ideally, you want to be in a situation where if you had to make a multi- million dollar presentation you could with all of your staff and important contractors on site.
Legally working with a company in your neck of the woods or a neighboring country with similar laws and regulations helps in case you need to exercise certain clauses in your contracts. Also, if you're outsourcing to a local/nearshore company that may have offshore resources you benefit from having enforceable contracts and partnership terms with them...while they deal with all the baggage and irritants that come from managing people offshore. They will also most likely have people you can collaborate with throughout your work day and have a better idea of what you and your clients need. It's a lot easier for an account manager or operations person from the outsourced team that's in your area to scope and understand the big picture of what needs to be done and then discuss those requirements to the rest of their outsourced remote team.
You outsourced the wrong thing
There are tons of freelancers and outsourced help willing to give you a hand. Give you a hand....not a vacation. That's the important thing to remember. They are there to help, but you still need to remain in control and captain the ship. If you outsource too much of your core business functions there is a good chance your marketing 'output' won't resemble anything you envisioned.
Generally speaking, things that can be done cheaper, better and faster by your partners/third-parties are what you should task them with. Maybe they can code, design, type or tie shoe-laces better than you can. So let them do it. But make sure your secret sauce stays with you. If you're a marketing agency or marketing department then that usually means you have an ability to come up with great marketing strategies to get results and ensure their successful implementation. Ultimately that is what is going to drive leads and sales as well as prove your chops as a marketer. Make sure the main thing you are paid to do stays with you. The semantics of how you get it done is what you should consider outsourcing.
Outsourcing is a necessity for marketing organizations. Done right, it can help you add skilled support and allow you to focus on marketing. Done wrong and all you'll have is war stories and animosity towards any future outsiders that volunteer to give you a hand. Unsure whether you should outsource a marketing task or do it in-house? This calculator should help.
About The Author:
Sajeel Qureshi is the Vice President of Operations at Computan. Computan helps short-handed marketing departments and marketing agencies get more agile by providing them affordable and reliable back-end support. He has a degree in business administration from St. Bonaventure University, and an MBA from Eastern Illinois University