Because I've been a solopreneur/freelancer and small business owner for a while now, I've witnessed outsourcing from almost every angle. I've been:
- The person being evaluated for hire.
- The person doing the hiring.
- The person asked for referrals.
- The person being referred.
No matter which person you may be on that list, the whole outsourcing experience is jam-packed with the same emotion: fear.
If you're a business owner trying to find someone to work on a project for you, you are probably terrified by the risks to your business. Even here in our tiny town, we've had no less than four cases of embezzlement hit the news in the last couple months. Literally hundreds of thousands of dollars have been ripped off here in Small Town America.
The risks aren't just financial either, although many things do come down to money. You're probably worried about:
- Qualifications. Can this person really do what she says she can do, or is her Web site a giant fairy tale full of a lot of bogus testimonials and fabricated projects?
- Productivity. Is this person charging an hourly rate because she's so dang slow? Is this project going to cost me a fortune?
- Quality. What if the work she produces is absolutely terrible?
- Trainability. What if she's too stupid to understand what I need her to do?
Meanwhile the person under consideration has her own set of fears. If you're the freelancer, you're probably worried about:
- Competition. How many other people is he interviewing for this gig? Do I have a prayer? Are my prices too high? Too low?
- Payment. Is this guy having cash flow problems? Why is he paying slowly? (I have to pay my mortgage dude!)
- Compatibility. Is this client going to become my very worst nightmare?
- Communication. How am I going to finish the project when I have no idea what he's talking about half the time?
When it comes to referrals, the same fears linger, but they're just one step removed. For example, I won't refer a colleague to someone I know will drive her insane. I like to think my colleagues will give me the same consideration.
Know When to Hold Them
To maximize your outsourcing dollars you want to take that old business adage to heart: "hire slowly and fire quickly."
Many of the biggest outsourcing disasters I've seen could have been averted if people had just cut their losses and gotten out of the relationship early. (You could make the same argument for a lot of marriages and romantic relationships, but that's a subject for a different article!)
I like to start freelancers off with a small project to test the waters. If it works out, we move on to bigger projects. When you find someone who is trustworthy and does good work, the fear dissipates and it's easier to entrust the person with more responsibility over time.
Know When to Fold Them
Of course, sometimes things don't work out. What do you do when you end up with a serious dud? I think almost everyone in business has had this situation at one time or another. (My worst experience involved reporting a virtual assistant to the Better Business Bureau, which was no fun at all.)
When a freelancer proves his or her lack of worth to you, it's time to cut your losses. The concept of sunk costs comes into play here. You may need to accept the fact that you will lose money and/or whatever work the person has done for you.
You need to move on and move forward. Letting go is difficult, but necessary.
Have a Backup Plan
When you work with freelancers, you also need to accept the fact that times change and people change. Just because you worked with a great editor on your last book, doesn't mean she'll be available for your next book.
I've worked with several editors on my books and only one is still even in the business. People change the type of freelance work they do, get a (non-freelance) job, retire, move, or simply get too busy.
Don't become so dependent on someone that your business would fall apart if she left. Have a back up plan and understand what people are doing for you. Work with multiple people and document what they do, so the loss of one key person won't be a gigantic calamity.
Outsourcing is a great way to grow your business. Just be careful so you don't end up stuck in the middle with just you again.
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The author of this article (Susan Daffron) offers Book Design, Copywriting, and other services to authors, publishers, and other entrepreneurs. She has worked on a wide range of projects for everyone from rocket scientists (yes, NASA!), to publishers, manufacturers, consultants and small one-person companies.