10 Steps To Successful Outsourcing

"If you want something done well, you have to do it yourself." Not true...when you outsource the right way.
October 07, 2011

Teaser: Outsourcing leaves many small business owners thinking, "if you want something done well, you have to do it yourself." Not true...as long as you outsource the right way.

In 2007, outsourcing seemed to be the thing to do. (Thanks in large part to Timothy Ferriss' book The 4-Hour Work Week.) After all, what business owner or manager wouldn't like the idea of giving all the tasks they despise to someone else?

As one of these people, I quickly found and hired a virtual assistant in India. And as quickly as Tim had raised my hopes for this new outsourced life...they were dashed.

I had asked my virtual assistant to get contact information for local media so I could send them press releases in the future. The next afternoon, I received a call from the largest newspaper in town complaining about the person who had contacted them on my behalf. In this instance, outsourcing had caused a public relations problem, and extra work for me. Lesson learned.

I've now developed systems to ensure a seamless and stress-free process for outsourcing meaningful work. And after over two years of trial and error—and many costly mistakes—our system has become very efficient and productive.

Here are 10 steps to successful outsourcing.

1. Centralize communication

At first, to save a few bucks, we tried using e-mail as our primary communication tool. However, it didn’t take long to discover that this was inefficient. When you start communicating back and forth via the Internet, it can be a little difficult to keep up with what was “said” and what questions or concerns have been addressed.

Instead of wasting countless hours searching through your inbox, use project management software. It will store and organize all communications in one easy-to-navigate space. There are many great options on the market to choose from. (We love Basecamp.)

2. Treat them like children

Before you think I’m advocating being rude or talking down to someone, let me explain. When you explain something to a 5-year-old, you use descriptive words to paint a visual picture. You don't assume they already know what you're going to say, so you simply and explicitly state the details. This is a good habit when communicating tasks or project details to an outsourcing contractor. When you don't rely on assumptions, you minimize the risk of misunderstandings.

3. Summarize the desired outcome

Write a sentence or two explaining what the ideal outcome of the task or project will be. Often, people get so caught up trying to explain the project in immense detail that they forget to explain what the final outcome should look like.

4. Be graphic

When it comes to outsourcing, a picture is truly worth a thousand words. If you are outsourcing something involving graphics, provide them with a screenshot or sketch (yes, even if you have no artistic ability). If you are outsourcing data, research or text, create a fake sample of the format you’d like the final product to look like.

5. Ask for confirmation

Have the contractor confirm that they understand the project. Ask them to write a one- or two-paragraph summary of the project or task.

6. The 20 percent rule

There’s nothing worse than outsourcing a 10-hour project, getting the final product back, and discovering that they did the entire thing wrong. Once they have completed 20 percent of the project, have them provide you with an update on what has been completed and what remains to be completed.

7. Make a sandwich

After you have received the 20 percent completion status update, it is important that you provide constructive feedback. If you discover they are doing part (or most) of the project incorrectly, try using the sandwich approach.

Think about the construction of a sandwich: there are two soft pieces of bread on either side of whatever the filling happens to be. When providing feedback try to begin with a few compliments, then provide constructive criticism, and then finally end with a few more compliments.

8. Rinse and repeat

Depending on the size of the project, you may need to receive updates and provide feedback several times during the project.

9. Give a final exam

Once the final project or task is delivered to you, provide feedback. Create a brief summary of what went well and what didn’t go so well. Share this document with the person or team you outsourced the project to, so they can learn how to better meet and exceed your expectations on the next project.

10. Reward your team

Reward them for their effort. Even if the project or task didn’t go as well as you had hoped, this likely isn’t the time to burn bridges. Keep in mind that you and the other person are just beginning a relationship, and these relationships will get better over time.

The reward you send doesn’t have to be big or expensive. It can be as simple as a copy of your favorite book or a gift certificate. Show them a little appreciation and it will come back around to you.

Have you outsourced a task or project? How was your experience? I’d love to hear your outsourcing story—good or bad—in the comments.

OPEN Cardmember Wayne Mullins consults with entrepreneurs from around the world. He is the founder and chief daydreamer at Ugly Mug Marketing. You can find more business growth tools on his blog: Marketing Confessions.