When Should You Outsource a Small Business Project?

kathryn by Kathryn Hawkins on March 29, 2011
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Outsourcing some of your small business’ tasks can save time and money, and these days, it’s easier than ever to contract with workers all over the world. But if you rely on contractors too heavily, you could be putting the security and reputation of your company at risk. Here are some factors you should consider when deciding whether to outsource a role or use an employee in-house.

Does the project involve secure internal data? If the project involves company data migration, new product development, or other proprietary data, be very hesitant when deciding to outsource the role. For short-term projects, it may not be worthwhile hiring a new employee, but you might consider hiring a temp worker who has been thoroughly vetted by an agency. If you decide to outsource the role, you’re well within your rights to order a background check and references.

Does the project represent my business’ brand? Social media marketing, customer service, and blogging are all marketing activities that should maintain a consistent and compelling voice. You don’t need to handle all of these activities yourself, but you’ll alienate customers if your marketing efforts seem to clash with your existing brand. Train an employee carefully in the tone and messaging he should portray in marketing communications before letting him take the lead. If you opt to outsource, find a consultant with proven results and check in regularly to be sure that you’re on the same page.

Does the project involve simple, repetitive tasks? If you’re seeking someone to perform data entry, categorize photos, or perform other low-level tasks, it’s probably not worth monopolizing your own employees’ time and taking them away from more skilled projects. Instead, seek a virtual assistant who will perform these tasks for a lower hourly rate. If the task requires no skill whatsoever, you might consider trying a service like Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, in which workers perform individual human intelligence tasks (HITS) for mere pennies apiece. (Be warned, however, that the ethics of such below-minimum wage services are under fierce debate.)

Does the project involve specialized skills that none of my employees have? Conversely, you may occasionally need help with specialized custom work, such as developing a new web site or an iPhone app. Unless you know that you will need these services on a permanent basis, it’s often not worth hiring a staff member or training a staff member to handle these projects: Hire a consulting agency that knows what it’s doing. It may be costly, but in most cases, it’s far more efficient to hire someone experienced in a task like this than trying to learn it yourself.

kathryn

Kathryn Hawkins is a business writer for Intuit and is passionate about solving small business problems.

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