There will hopefully come a day when your company will—delightfully!—be bursting at the seams. You’ll need help to keep your company on a smart growth trajectory, but you might not be ready to hire full-time employees.
That’s where outsourcing comes in.
While it might seem daunting at first to “give up” control by trusting others with critical company tasks, there are plenty of rewards waiting. I sat down with Todd Defren, CEO of SHIFT Communications, a growing public relations firm with offices in Boston, New York, Austin, and San Francisco, for his best advice on outsourcing. He’s been right where many growing businesses are, and has tips to help you avoid the pitfalls and make the leaps that will foster long-term growth.
When should a growing small business begin to consider outsourcing?
It’s incredibly hard to be an entrepreneur. You rightfully care about everything in your company, and it’s hard to give up control over anything as a result. We have to learn when and why to ask for help. When it comes to outsourcing, the small business owner should ask themselves, “Even though I have an opinion about how to do X, is that the best place to use my limited time, or would the business benefit from having me focus elsewhere?”
If the latter, it’s time to look at outsourcing those needs.
What’s a mistake you made with SHIFT when it came to outsourcing, and how can you help other growing small businesses avoid making the same misstep?
At one time, we used freelancers more often. We’ll still do it on rare occasions. Ultimately, we realized we were using outsiders to perform core functions. While nothing tragic occurred, it simply did not feel honest to our mission. I don’t think you want to hire an outside vendor to perform a core function. If I were a landscape architect, I might outsource the physical labor, but I wouldn’t hire an outside landscape architect to design for clients. Don’t outsource the areas of your business that make or break your reputation.
When you’ve decided to begin outsourcing, where would you advise businesses to begin looking for candidates?
First, tap your network. Second, look for unbiased reviews of potential vendors. Ask for references and be sure to call those references. When checking references, come armed with some atypical questions. For example, a question like, “What’s one piece of confidential advice that you wish you could offer to (vendor)?” might open up a conversation that will help you make a better decision about bringing this vendor into your company’s fold.
When it comes to managing offsite team members, what three tips would you offer other growing small businesses using remote contractors or employees?
- Outline expectations
- Conduct regular review meetings to evaluate performance against those expectations
- Make sure to meet in person whenever possible. There’s something about regular face-to-face contact that assures a greater commitment and a better output.
How important is communication to effective outsourcing, and why?
The only thing that acts like a light switch is a light switch. If you’re outsourcing, it shouldn’t be looked at as a checked box—it’s just a different box that needs to be checked. In other words, you may have confidence that the outside vendor is doing the job, but it’s your responsibility to manage them and evaluate them regularly.
What’s the one overlooked benefit of outsourcing you’ve discovered through SHIFT’s growth that would be invaluable to other small business owners?
The greatest potential benefit to outsourcing is not just about gaining additional “arms and legs.” Done right, it can add invaluable knowledge, contacts, and unbiased expertise to your company.