Outsourcing can be godsent for businesses. But it’s not without its challenges.
Outsourcing isn’t a process that instantly fits into your system. In the same sense that an outsourcing relationship doesn’t always go flawlessly on the first try. Like in a relationship, differences first have to be addressed before you can take the next step. If you and your outsourcing vendor have a hard time addressing these difference, it can affect how you work together in the long run.
So just what are the major challenges that outsourcing clients and vendors have to go through before their partnerships can be successful?
- Distance and time difference
If your outsourcing partner is halfway across the world, working together can be a challenge. Some people find it difficult to work with someone who isn’t physically present in the same space. And if you hire an offshore social media virtual assistant, you would want that person to be working in your time zone so he can cater to your clients, right?
With more and more employees telecommuting, the distance isn’t as big of a factor as it was before. The time difference can be a factor depending on what projects you’re delegating. If you’re outsourcing tasks that require up-to-the-minute, real time feedback like customer support, then you’ll need your outsourcing vendor to work in your time zone.
If you hired an outsource search engine optimization agency to work with your marketing team, that might not be necessary. They don’t need to work in the same time zone but there has to be some overlap in the schedules so they can update each other regularly.
In some cases it might be okay if there’s no time overlap. It’s something that might work eventually when you have an outsourcing partner you can really trust and have worked with for a long time. But in the meantime, for your peace of mind, it would be better to have overlapping schedules or work in the same time zone for the first few projects.
- Cultural and language barriers
Hiring an offshore company who can’t communicate with you in your language is just asking for trouble. So it might be best to avoid outsourcing in places where most of the people there don’t speak your language.
However, speaking the same language doesn’t automatically mean that you’ll understand each other completely. Take Spanish for example. Spanish is used in Europe and South America. But there are times they use the same language differently. And you can see that in the difference in their idioms, slang, etc. Even within Spain you’ll notice subtle differences in the use of the same language based on the region.
So when you communicate with your outsourcing firm, make sure you understand each other completely by practicing active listening and feedback. Make sure they understand your instructions and make sure you understand their feedback. Many great relationships have been destroyed by miscommunication. Don’t risk losing a great virtual executive assistant over a simple misunderstanding.
- Systems adaptation
You finally found the perfect outsourcing partner. But the problem is that they use Trello and you prefer Basecamp. Or they prefer to receive instructions and feedback through email but you find it easier to express your ideas by talking. How will this relationship work if you do things differently?
Rather than just give back or force your vendor to adopt to your system, it might be better to find some common ground first. Let’s say you’re working with an SEO virtual assistant. Maybe you can use Basecamp for the major project milestones and let him continue to use Trello for the day to day tasks. Or let’s say you’re the type of person who prefers to call over email. You can have your calls transcribed and email the transcript to you your outsourced local search engine optimization team so they can keep track of your instructions.
You don’t have to completely go out of your comfort zone to accommodate each other. By finding some common ground and making compromises, you and your outsourced team can continue working together efficiently.
- Company Acceptance
Outsourcing is a sore topic for some people. It’s possible that not everyone in your company would like the idea of working with an outsourcing team. And if there’s some bias or prejudice at the very beginning of a working relationship, it can derail an entire project.
The best way around it is to be clear with your employees on how outsourcing works within your company structure. Reassure your workers that they’re not being replaced. Show them how outsourcing helps the company and how it can help their jobs. Remind your employees that you expect them to act professionally and that personal feelings should take a backseat to project goals.
Ideally, this should help your employees warm up to the idea of working with an outsourcing team. If not, you may need to find ways to move that employee so he or she won’t have to deal with any outsourcing project.
- Communication Gaps (especially when you get used to each other)
When you’ve worked on several projects with your outsourcing vendor, it’s easy to start taking things for granted. This happens a lot especially with communication. That VA company you hired to manage social media might assume you still have the same social media goals if you don’t tell them differently. Or you might assume that your search engine optimization expert can bring you the same results for two different websites.
Communication gaps come in when people start making assumptions. It’s best to follow your communication protocols, even if it seems redundant. Following project communication protocols helps ensure that ALL instructions are received and understood.
- Bad days
Shit happens. Bad days happen. It happens to everyone, even in outsourcing.
Business can slow down but they can’t stop. So when the unexpected happens, like natural disasters affecting you or your outsourcing vendor, it’s best to prepare for it. Back up all your files. Document all communication and processes. Have a protocol in place that you can follow in the event of a disaster.
- Adapting to changes
Your outsourcing needs will change as your company grows. A growing business often means more work, and that means you might need to outsource more. It may even mean you’ll need to outsource to another vendor or hire more than one agency.
And this is something you have to plan for in the future. Because although outsourcing saves money, outsourcing more still entails more cost. And if you hire a new outsourcing company, that’s additional time you’ll need to invest training them and getting them up to speed on current projects.
That’s why it’s important to prepare and plan your outsourcing strategy even before you start looking. Preparing to outsource makes it easier to find great partners faster. And when you’re able to establish an awesome outsourcing relationship faster, it puts your business in great shape sooner.