Many managers see dollar signs when outsourcing is mentioned, thinking it’s an easy way to save money. However, it’s far more effective to approach outsourcing as a tool to increase quality, whether that’s with products, information systems, or marketing communications.
You can’t outsource everything—and shouldn’t. Instead, identify individual processes that can be done “outside,” but always maintain control and oversight to ensure a quality product.
Outsourcing Done Right Creates Value
I oversaw a successful content marketing outsourcing project for my company’s corporate blog a few years ago. We went from zero to 1 million annual visits in just two years. And our numerous blog posts were all created without an in-house content management team.
How did we accomplish this? With clearly defined roles and processes. I am a big believer in creating solid systems that benefit the company in some way, and this initiative was no different.
Take a look at the workflow for the blog creation process from start to finish and how we divided duties.
We broke the tasks into areas of expertise. Our in-house team understands our business and its regulatory environment. They’re familiar with the challenges faced by clients and know the industry’s hot topics. Our carefully chosen writers might not be industry experts, but they know how to write. We found writers who could break down complex topics into easily understood concepts, as well as write snappy copy.
Note that this project wasn’t 100% outsourcing. Branding and marketing communication is too critical to be entirely handed off to a third party—we had to keep control of the message. Our process also had checks and balances along the way so nothing completely off-topic or off-message was delivered, much less published. Reaching our goal of 1 million annual site visits with quality content was due to an ideal combination of subject matter experts in-house and outside working together.
Successful Outsourcing Offers Flexibility
One person can only do so much. Even the best, most productive writer can’t juggle 10 separate topics simultaneously and produce a decent result. But five skilled writers can easily handle two assignments each. We could spend $40,000 on a salary for a single in-house writer, or spread the same amount between contract writers and get quality work produced faster.
Launching the blog and writing 100% of the content in-house would have taken more people, and we’d have spent time and money recruiting and training them. Outsourcing the entire project would have cost a ton of money with uncertain results. Not many content management companies have the knowledge and core competencies we required.
Through smart outsourcing, we were able to create an effective mix of skills. We had a varied group of writers with a wide range of expertise who could bring new perspectives to the topic. We managed deadlines among writers so that the blog always had fresh content that kept readers coming back for more. At the same time, our in-house oversight acted as the quality control department. Nothing got posted without being vetted by our own employees.
This is an important component of successful outsourcing. You must completely understand the process and tasks you’re farming out and have clear goals. Otherwise, you’re at the mercy of contractors. Careless outsourcing can damage your organization and your brand.
Emphasize Quality Product Over Cost Savings
This seems counterintuitive to many managers. After all, why outsource a task if it won’t save loads of money? That attitude has led to some spectacular outsourcing failures—notably the production delays associated with Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner.
In this case, Boeing outsourced not only production but also design of many components. Many of those contractors followed suit and outsourced critical components of their piece of the project. The result was poor communication, production delays, higher costs, and negative publicity.
Boeing failed because management saw outsourcing at a cost-cutting tool instead of a quality tool. Learn from that failure and structure your outsourcing agreements accordingly.
Here are some tips:
- Evaluate the expertise of contractors. How much experience do they have? What do references say? What does a Google search tell you? The adage “You get what you pay for” is exactly what happens in outsourcing.
- Communicate well and often. Stay in contact with contractors and require weekly or even daily status reports. That helps you solve a small problem before it blows up your production schedule.
- Set clear expectations. Before any work begins, make sure that everyone knows the details and deadline, and understands the development and production process.
- Get agreements in writing. If you don’t write it down, it’s not an agreement. Period.
Yes, it’s a cliché, but it’s true. Without a plan, you really are planning to fail. Your organization will waste time and money to recover from a self-inflicted wound.
Keep Close Control
Epic outsourcing failures often happen because a troublesome process got tossed like a hot potato into the lap of a contractor who bid (or under-bid) on work they couldn’t deliver. It’s much more efficient and effective to outsource a few components of a critical process but maintain close control and oversight of the work product.
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