Lunch & Learn Recap: Tips for When to Outsource

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By Safia Kazi

More and more is expected of small editorial and publishing teams. When staff are unable to meet all these demands, associations may look to outsourcing. At AM&P’s September 20 Lunch & Learn session in Chicago, Sarah Loeffler, director of custom media at PMMI Media, and Joe Stella, vice president of business development at GLC, discussed ways to do outsourcing and provided tips for successful outsourcing.

Types of Outsource Arrangements

Strategic outsourcing can help associations elevate their vision. An external resource may have expertise that is not available in house. Loeffler says associations may not have much turnover, so the same group of people looks at problems with a particular viewpoint. Outsourcing strategic needs can help associations find someone who can neutrally assess the status quo.

Associations may also outsource to access new resources. For example, it may not make sense for associations to invest in specialized equipment or skills, e.g., language translation or telemarketing for membership retention. Associations may also look to external help to provide one-off aid, i.e., assistance with a particular project or campaign. Stella says an association is not likely to ask too much of agencies. They want to help and may be able to help in ways you would never even consider.

Many associations have seasonal work, like a conference or show or a project. Outsourcing work for projects with inconsistent volume may be a good idea. For example taking video at one annual conference is not enough work to justify a full-time employee, but a freelancer can be paid just for work at that conference. Outsourcing can help complete those seasonal tasks in a cost-effective manner.

When it comes to cutting costs, outsourcing can be a great tool. Aside from avoiding excessive investments, outsourcing can free up staff to do work that produces higher value. Consider outsourcing routine tasks to free up staff members’ time.

Must-Dos of Managing Projects

Before using a freelancer, it is crucial to carefully vet them. Ask questions to get to know them. For example, knowing how they dealt with frustrating projects in the past can provide insight into how they address challenges and ensure that working with them will be easy and beneficial.

Once the relationship has been developed, periodically check in with the freelancer and assess the ROI. Loeffler emphasized not to get too comfortable with freelancers or the tasks that are outsourced. It is worthwhile to re-assess the relationship, not just continue outsourcing tasks or using the same external resources because that is the way they have always been done. If raises are given, it is also worth exploring whether the value equation works for both the association and the freelancer.

It is also important to set a clear scope for each project. This provides protection from upcharges and ensures the vendor knows what is expected of them. It is crucial to get everything in writing, including how to terminate the relationship. This agreement must be kept current.

When Outsourcing Goes Wrong

Outsourcing can go very poorly if strategic experts are not fully oriented to your association’s unique positioning and purpose. Take the time to train strategic experts so the advice they provide is helpful. People are sometimes hesitant to take external advice because of the perception that external resources “don’t get us.” This problem can be remediated with better orientation.

On the flip side, sometimes outsourcing goes so well it can become a problem. If strategic experts are brought on for all projects large and small, you may not be getting enough out of staff and there may be insufficient ROI.

When determining which roles and projects to outsource, consider whether freelancers will have a lot of member or advertiser contact. If they work directly with advertisers, they could leave the association blind to quality and security issues. If the issue is core, someone from staff must watch over and be part of this process. Keep in mind that this freelancer may be acting as a steward for your brand; ensure they represent it well.

Finally, external help tends to lack investment. because the relationship is, by nature, temporary. Developing good relationships with freelancers is crucial. It is important to remember that freelancers can turn down projects, so having a good relationship may mean they accept more projects. Also remember that freelancers likely have a network of other freelancers who can also help. On the flip side, news of a bad relationship with a freelancer may spread. Your association’s reputation among freelancers should be strong, so try to treat freelancers as help that is worth investing in.

Keep in mind that outsourcing does not have to be all or nothing. It may be necessary to only outsource a few tasks or outsource for a short time. Be open to the ideas and help agencies can provide, and invest in the relationship with freelancers to get the most out of outsourcing.

Safia Kazi is the editorial coordinator for ISACA. Association Media & Publishing thanks Safia for her stellar job of covering this Lunch & Learn for our members who were unable to attend.