Outsourcing can become a serious headache if you don’t show it enough respect. To find external workers who are reliable and offer good value for money requires a lot more work and forethought than many clients realise, and once you’ve established the relationship, it must be nurtured properly in order to flourish.
The marketplace really can feel like the wild west, but if you stick to some simple rules, you can eliminate most of the risk and fully enjoy the benefits of flexible hiring. Read on for our guide on how to make outsourcing work for you...
There are a number of reasons why a client may choose to outsource above hiring permanent staff. A common scenario that lends itself to outsourcing would be a project of weeks or months that requires specialist skills that a client doesn’t have available internally. Maybe the current employees with the relevant skills are too busy with other work, or maybe they are not in the organisation at all.
“If you deprive yourself of outsourcing and your competitors do not, you're putting yourself out of business."
Lee Kuan Yew
Although making the commitment to outsource can seem like an imperfect solution, the concept is familiar to all of us in our everyday lives, i.e. if we need to repair an appliance in the home, we seek the help of a specialist as and when we need them.
Outsourcing doesn’t always have to be temporary either. For regular part-time work it can sometimes be preferable for a company to pay a freelancer on a rolling basis, as opposed to hiring a permanent employee with all of the contractual and legal obligations that come with it. While a freelancer is likely to charge more per hour than an employee on the payroll, a company has the freedom to end the arrangement at any time for any reason, and they are not liable for holidays or sickness.
Having decided to outsource, you then have the choice of whether to use a creative agency or an individual freelancer. There is no absolute right or wrong answer here, and sometimes the solution can be a combination of both.
An agency is likely to offer greater peace of mind that work will be delivered on time and as agreed (certain agencies may have a specific project-management function to make sure of this). An agency may also be a good option if you require multiple creative skill sets, i.e. bespoke web design or copywriting. As well as saving time in the recruitment phase, a creative team under the same roof ought to deliver a more coherent project than individual freelancers who are working together for the first time. A team of individual freelancers will also require more project-management time from a client than one point of contact at an agency.
However, the extra safeguards that an agency provides will come at a price. An agency will be subject to significantly greater overheads than the average freelancer, which will be reflected in their pricing. Also, any additional time for project management, meetings etc. will be billed in most cases.
It has never been easier to find a freelancer. There are a number of well-established online marketplaces that match freelancers with client jobs that also offer protection for both parties. Upwork, People Per Hour and Fiver are three of the most well known, but there are literally hundreds out there.
The above screenshot shows the user experience of a freelancer on Upwork. A freelancer can see any job posted by a client that matches the nature of work they are looking for, i.e. web development, copywriting, logo design. If a freelancer is interested in a job they have the opportunity to bid for it against the other freelancers who are interested, with the client ultimately deciding which freelancer they wish to hire (more on this below). Alternatively, a client can browse through the profiles of each freelancer on the site and offer them the chance to bid for their job.
Linkedin is another active marketplace for freelance work. Similarly to a freelancer-specific website, candidates can come to you by replying to an advert or you can find them as part of a skills search.
Freelancers can also be found on search engines (most experienced freelancers will have their own website). Something to be mindful of when using a search engine is the listings that appear at the very top are often paid for by the listed company (signified by the word ‘Ad’ in a green box). Be sure to look below these results for Google’s organic search results.
Hiring a freelancer outside of a freelancer marketplace, however, doesn’t offer the same protection for a client. In the event of a dispute with a freelancer a site like Upwork has the resource to mediate the dispute or even punish the freelancer. Also, freelancers are more accountable in this environment because clients have the option to rate them on completion of each job. Because these ratings are logged permanently on a freelancer’s public profile there is a great incentive for a freelancer to complete their work on time and on brief.
There are some very simple things you can do to help ensure you work with the right people. Before even considering somebody to work for you, you should be able to answer the following questions:
- What is the standard of their previous work?
- Have they worked for other clients in your industry?
- How many years of experience do they have?
- Do they have their own website, and if so, is it well presented and well maintained?
- Is their price consistent with the market rate?
- Do they have positive testimonials from previous clients?
Whether you found a candidate in a freelancer marketplace or elsewhere, you should be able to answer most of these questions without having to even speak to them. If you can’t, there’s probably something wrong.
Having gone through the initial screening, the next task is to communicate with your potential candidates and award the work. A good tip here is to ask open-ended questions about your project/job and judge your potential candidates more by their responses to your questioning than by their initial pitch. Remember that an initial pitch can simply be copied & pasted. A question as simple as “what are your ideas for this project?” is a good starting point.
If their written responses contain typing errors and/or don’t fully answer the questions then you can assume that the quality of their work may ultimately not be what you’re looking for and you can rule them out. For the surviving candidates you have the option of hiring your favourite based solely upon written correspondence and what you have found out about them online, or you could take the vetting process one step further and speak on the phone, skype or even face to face.
We recommend a verbal conversation where possible. Although you can gather plenty of information online and receive even more in a written exchange, there is no substitute for a proper conversation. To successfully complete a project of any decent size and cost you will need a strong rapport with your outsourced worker(s), so it makes sense to establish the rapport before you start and set the relationship off on the right footing.
Normally, creative projects fail because of poor briefing and poor communication between client and worker as opposed to a lack of creative skill. Make absolutely sure that your outsourced worker knows precisely what your expectations are and that once they do, they clearly agree to meet those expectations (ideally in writing). There should be no doubt about what the end goal is, when it should be delivered and, where possible, how much it will cost. Certain projects may not be fully costed beforehand and may be paid by the hour, but even in these cases, there should be a reasonable consensus between the two parties about how much it is likely to cost and how long it is likely to take.
The worst thing a client can do when outsourcing is to assume the hard work is done once a candidate is hired and starts work. An outsourced relationship should be managed in the same way as an internal member of staff, i.e. the work should be monitored on an ongoing basis and there should be conversations between the two parties throughout the project to ensure everything remains on track.
It certainly helps if the manager of the relationship on the client side has some kind of experience of the nature of the work the outsourced worker is undertaking. At the very least, an understanding of the standard terminology and processes in the relevant field should ensure that an outsourced worker can be called to account if their work falls short of expectations.
With diligent planning and straight talking, clients can enjoy the many benefits of outsourcing. When managed properly, outsourcing can enable a company to stay agile and efficient while still being able to deliver the highest possible expertise.