10 THINGS TO DO WHEN OUTSOURCING
There are times, as most businesses will have experienced, when we’ve needed some external short-term help – usually for a specialist or a particular project. Sub-contractors/freelancers (however you want to refer to external ‘others’ who deliver work) have proved a great help but we’ve had some disasters too. Let me share my experiences and my 10 top ten things which will help you avoid the pain which outsourcing can bring:
(1) Be really clear about what you want – needs and expectations
Unless you’re really clear about what you want the freelancer to do (work and results), how do you expect to get back what you want/need? Spend some time working this out and committing it to a plan before engaging a freelancer, but make sure that you agree/allow for some flexibility to make changes in the plan should you need to.
(2) Know when you want it
It may seem obvious but make it clear at the beginning when you need the freelancer’s work/results. In my efforts to get stuff done I have overlooked this and it wasn’t pleasant!
(3) Choose the right freelancer for the job you need
Hiring an freelancer means a process not dissimilar to recruiting an employee. You need to find the right people that can do the job you need. It’s easy to keep going back to the same freelancer because they’re easy to work with, but if the work needed is different are they still the right people?
Fail to spend time getting this right and trust me, disaster will follow. I’ve had freelancers accept jobs which they clearly couldn’t do and have wasted their time and mine. It also put me off from ever using them again on stuff they could do brilliantly as it leaves a sour taste when this happens.
(4) Agree the price
Again, obvious, but agree the price. You need to set a fixed price (10 hours at x amount per hour or a fee of x) or a maximum amount (this will cost no more than x). You do not want a freelancer competitively pricing themselves to get your work in but then expecting to charge you more because they underestimated what’s involved. Of course, if you make changes then amendment prices should be agreed at the time you identify those changes.
(5) Clarify responsibilities
Even if you outsource you are still responsible to your buyer/client. Outsourcing is delegation not abdication, so you can’t just let the freelancer get on with things and keep your fingers crossed – you must “project manage” the whole job. This is even more important if you are using an freelancer operating in a different time zone.
(6) Agree and insist on regular updates
One way to keep your finger on the pulse is to agree a frequency for regular updates and make sure you get them. Depending on the project time, I would say get an update at least every 3-4 days because this will avoid micro-management but will help prevent a disastrous end result.
(7) Agree how to communicate
You need to establish a solid, reliable but easy method of communication. Of course email works, but I would suggest using a project management tool such as Base Camp/Trello/Asana where you can all log in and share written communication. The paid-for versions of these can be expensive so also look at the many free or cheaper basic tools too. They save time and money because it’s all in one place. We use Base Camp as it enables us to scale projects for our clients and all parties can see what is going on with any part of a project and at any time. Get one which works for you.
(8) Clarify accountability and liability
Bearing in mind you are still responsible to your buyer, what will happen if the freelancer does something wrong. Who “pays” the price? If the stakes are high, does the freelancer have any relevant insurance cover? Have you covered all this in your terms and conditions and Non Disclosure Agreement with the freelancer too?
(9) Agree and maintain clear boundaries
Make sure that the freelancer is clear what they can and can not do. For example, if they are helping you to provide services for an end customer/client, is the freelancer permitted to contact that customer/client directly? Unless you make this clear to the freelancer (and let them know what potential penalties could be) how will they know?
(10) Get a written agreement to avoid work and legal issues
If you have a written agreement which sets out responsibilities and obligations there can be no excuse for everyone understanding their role and help avoid disasters and disagreements. However, it is also important for other “legal” reasons too.
You may be clear that freelancer is independent of your business, but problems can occur if you haven’t made sure that the freelancer is operating their own properly registered business or if you regularly use the same freelancer. This is because it’s possible for a freelancer working mainly for you (with few or no other clients) acquire a legal status in terms of employment law rights as a worker, or even as an employee. If this happens it could mean that
- you are responsible for their (backdated) PAYE
- you will end up paying holiday pay and for rest breaks
Try using a template agreement prepared for sub-contractors and freelancers. A good template will enable you to have one formal written agreement so you will only need to issue project sheets for every piece of work you subsequently need.
Ultimately our business still has extremely valuable and successful relationships with freelancers who we use extensively on the web and marketing side of the business, but the odd misunderstanding has kept us firmly on our toes.
Would you like a free checklist to use when outsourcing? Ours will save you time, money and pain please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org