Outsourcing services brings its own rewards, but it comes with some risks as well. Here’s what you need to know about the process’ peaks and pits.
Stories abound of what can go wrong when outsourcing services. One of the biggest disadvantages of is the possibility of losing confidential data. I remember one case that involved a disgruntled medical transcriber based in Pakistan. Upset at the lack of payment for her services, she sought to force the issue by threatening to post the medical records of patients on the internet.
It is important, therefore, to be aware of such risks and if possible have checks in place to avoid data loss.
Another consideration when outsourcing services is the way work is prioritised by the service provider. Since they will usually have other customers, they might not give 100 per cent of their time and attention to your company’s needs. Your work might get pushed to the back burner, resulting in delays and inaccuracies.
When handled correctly, however, outsourcing services can be a boon to productivity. Virtual assistants can take over many routine office tasks; payroll and IT services can keep your systems up-to-date without a huge outlay in new systems; graphic designers can add the flair that in-house sources can’t; there are even specialised agencies for CFO and CEO temps.
No matter what services you choose to outsource, here are five things you must keep in mind to ensure you don’t make a decision you’ll later regret.
1. Be clear on what can be outsourced
If your core operations include sales and marketing, then it’s probably unwise to outsource them – these skills need to remain in-house. However, outsourcing non-core activities, such as back office operations, can save the organisation time and money.
2. Do your due diligence beforehand
Don’t just be satisfied with the blurb on a website. See examples of their work or speak to previous clients. If you are outsourcing services offshore, make sure the provider’s level of English is up to the task and won’t lead to misunderstandings – or worse, work that has to be redone.
3. Give explicit instructions and be clear on deadlines
Be very specific about what is wanted and why. Set up a workflow sheet with detailed instructions and let the provider know you will be checking up on their progress as each milestone arises. This helps both parties, as it ensures they don’t proceed in error. One consultant who uses an offshore virtual assistant advises speaking to them first via video and frequently thereafter. She shares information about her business so that the VA understands where they fit in and how they add value. She also gives regular feedback.
4. Be available, even when they live in a different time zone
This is simply the price you pay for outsourcing. Recognise that you need to be available if they encounter a problem or need more input from you. Open lines of communication with virtual employees are essential for quality outcomes.
5. Be prepared to train the service provider in your systems and procedures
It’s a time consuming but essential aspect of outsourcing. At a minimum, you will need to clue them in on company culture and jargon.
Whether you work for a start-up or a large government organisation, outsourcing can be a godsend when deadlines loom or when specialised skills are needed. Just make sure the advantages outweigh the possible disadvantages.