Outsourcing design, development and marketing projects or parts of projects has become a very commonplace process in the world of ecommerce - and you really don't need to be a Fortune 500 company with masses of cash to utilize and benefit from outsourcing.
Scenario: A client comes to you wanting a quote on a web site and it's the perfect job - apart from one element in the project - you aren't skilled in this particular web technology. This component is a crucial element in winning the contract, there's no way of getting around it. What do you do? You don't want to lose the contract, but you definitely can't afford to hire a new employee for this project - there's too many risks and associated headaches.
Or what about a situation with your own site where you need some programming done and simply don't have time to do it, or the headspace to learn how to do it? Isn't your time better spent on your core competencies, the skills that generate cash for you?
Another scenario is where you have so much work on at the time that you really don't have the resources for taking on and developing a full project. In these cases, small companies tend to refer the entire job on to others. But then you lose the client forever to the other company. Wouldn't it make more sense to secure the contract, outsource everything and oversee the development? That way if one of your current projects falls through, you will still have work and you will also more than likely gain future work from that client.
So much technology, so much competition
Web development is a huge field with many dozens of technologies involved - there's no way a small
development company or site owner can cover everything. But without having access to expert designers and developers, small companies can lose many contracts
or market share through a lack of suitable expertise.
What should I outsource?
Most small web design and development companies naturally achieve great expertise in specific areas - these project areas are the ones that they are not only particularly good at, but also the fastest in generating. We all build up our repertoire of "tricks of the trade" over time, and these are the elements of any contract that it makes the most sense to keep.
How do I outsource?
It doesn't have to be a difficult process, although the first time you outsource project components, it will take a little time to get the paperwork together. After the first project, the necessary base documents will be in place which will expedite future collaborations.
Before agreeing to outsource work to another company, ensure that base documents covering the terms of the relationship, intellectual property and confidentiality issues have been developed and signed - these are fairly generic documents which can be easily adapted to be functional in a number of
different projects. These don't necessarily have to be hundreds of pages long - just enough to be recognized as being legal and binding to protect your interests.
The last few years has seen a number of online collaboration services come to life, but be wary and study
the companies carefully before outsourcing via these means. A good online collaboration service will also act as a watchdog over projects, ensuring that both contractor and sub-contractor are protected.
Benefits of global outsourcing
The benefits of advertising for developers and designers globally are many. By building up a network of professional contractors, you not only decrease your running costs as each contractor is responsible for his own work environment and insurances etc, you also greatly expand your companies portfolio of skills that can be offered to clients.
Challenges of outsourcing
One of the major temptations of outsourcing is to approve the lowest bid in order to maximize profits. This is definitely not a good practice, especially when dealing with freelance developers and designers from other countries. If problems should arise it may be more difficult in having them rectified. Remember that your business reputation is on the line and if the designer or developer doesn't deliver, your could lose the client, and worse still, your business.
It's for this reason that I suggest that if you do intend to utilize contractors who haven't lived in the West or are from a country where Western culture isn't really prevalent, it's best not to give them elements of the work relating to marketing without very strict specifications.
Also bear in mind that although you may be able to hire an overseas developer for (example) $10 an hour, it will probably cost you $20 per hour with the inevitable. communications issues that will occur.
Trust and outsourcing
If you do decide to go down the outsourcing path, remember that the developers and designers you contract are, to a degree, partners in your business. In many cases, your "partners" will need to know the big picture of the project, and that means you will need to invest some trust in them - they are not the enemy, but a crucial element in your online success.
Trusting too much can also have its dangers - there's been cases reported where contractors have created malware and built it into applications they develop for others. This malware can collect sensitive details from improperly protected users. Imagine the impact a situation like that could have. In other instances, contractors have been known to leave holes in applications for the purposes of then returning later to gather sensitive data.
Trust can be a double-edged sword; another good reason for reviewing potential outsourcing contractors *very* carefully.
If you, or perhaps a staff member, has the ability to read and understand code, it may be wise to review any applications developed to ensure there's no hidden nasties; but again, using an appropriate level of discretion from the outset when outsourcing can minimize any potential threat and add great value to your business. It's an ounce of prevention vs. a pound of cure.
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