A year ago, when Michael Clark co-founded Safety Web, he knew he needed to farm out some important duties to an outsourcing company.
He started his Denver-based business to help parents monitor anything written online involving their children, both comments regarding their offspring and authored by them.
To keep costs down, he wanted to use an off-site team to help customers with technical questions and screening web content, as well as to handle inbound sales.
But for Clark, shipping the jobs to India didn’t make sense. First, he knew he’d need to make periodic visits to the outsourcing provider, in order to monitor training. And, thanks to the sensitive nature of the calls, he feared that language and cultural differences would cause miscommunication problems.
His solution? Clark ended up choosing an alternative: rural outsourcing. To that end, he signed on with an Iowa-based company, Caleris, to provide the support he needed from their offices in the Midwest.
Clark is one of a growing number of small business owners deciding to go the rural sourcing route. (It’s also known as onshoring.) That means choosing one of the 20 or so companies based in rural areas or small towns and cities, where residents need jobs and the cost of living is less expensive than in many other parts of the country. While using these companies isn’t as cheap as outsourcing, say, to India, rates are anywhere from 25 to 50 percent less costly than hiring personnel from more-urban locations.
They have a number of other advantages, as well. For starters, you don’t have to deal with different time zones. Plus, you have fewer problems caused by language and cultural variations. You don’t have to worry about sending proprietary information to countries with less stringent intellectual property laws. And travel costs are substantially cheaper. “You’re not dealing with a trip to India, on the one hand, or a $400 Manhattan hotel room,” says Clark. “For $60 a night, you get a nice place to stay.”
To make the most out of your rural sourcing experience, Clark has the following suggestions:
1. Make sure your choice employs people with the right skills. Although the industry is new, there’s already a variety of rural sourcing companies with differing specialties. Some hire former low-wage manufacturing employees and give them intensive technology training. Others use more experienced IT workers nearing retirement. Still others operate near small cities with universities and largely hire college students. You need to make sure your choice focuses on the appropriate type of employee and skill set and has a proven track record providing the service you need.
2. It’s best to look at a number of possibilities. Clark, for example, considered six. Of course, ask for references, preferably from companies in a similar industry.
3. Do a test run. Before you hire a rural sourcing firm, make sure you’re handing over tasks that can actually be given to another company. “Even if it means bringing in a few temps, you want to see what it’s going to be like having outsiders handle these calls,” says Clark. “The most successful companies are those that have done a small tryout beforehand.”
4. Pay frequent visits. According to Clark, you can probably do some of the training over the phone, since you won’t have language differences to contend with. But, you should visit the site anyway. For one thing, you might need to do some training face-to-face. Plus, “You’ll build better relationships with people who are the public face of your business,” says Clark. And, since your visits will be to low-cost, domestic areas, they won’t break the bank.”