If you are a small business like Pelago, you probably wear a lot of different hats throughout your day-to-day operations. Everything from accounting to marketing becomes your responsibility. And while it may be tempting to outsource as much of your job as possible, I can tell you from experience it is a bad idea.
There is a big difference between subcontracting and outsourcing. When you subcontract work out to an individual you maintain a working relationship with them. For example, we have a wonderful bookkeeper who keeps our accounting accurate and up-to-date. And we have a CPA do our taxes. When you outsource, you hand a piece of your small business off to a third-party who will take control of it. There are some necessary responsibilities relevant to the “business of our business” that we simply can’t outsource away. Believe me, we’ve tried. It doesn’t work.
As a web design and development agency we’ve had either experience and opportunity to outsource different aspects of our small business responsibilities. If you are part of a small business in the technology and/or creative service realms you may find the following all too familiar, or a warning to be carefully heeded.
The project manager is the bridge between yourself and your clients. It doesn’t matter if you have someone in that role full-time or not. And it doesn’t matter what project management software you use. What matters is that you have someone responsible for managing your clients. You need someone who understands the nuances of your small business — how different people will react to different scenarios — and who can navigate various scenarios while keeping the project on time and under budget. Leave this up to someone on the outside and all the personality of your small agency goes out with it.
Creative agencies often produce the best work when they are designing for themselves. Why? Because you become your own client. The subjectivity of an outside client’s whims are no longer a factor. Take a look at the self promotion section of Communication Arts magazine and you will see some amazing work being done. Ownership and passion come through best when creativity is unbridled. What about client work? It’s your bread and butter, so keep that in-house, too. There is a conversation that goes on behind the scenes of any design project. Tune out that creative chatter and your client work will suffer. When you outsource design you also outsource the human dynamic that makes great design work.
Several years ago it seemed that outsourcing development work overseas was going to put everyone out of a job. At least that is what everyone was saying in the news. It didn’t happen. Development work may be distilled to a bunch of ones and zeros and it may be argued that anyone can knock out lines of code. But it’s not just ones and zeros and it’s not easy to hammer out code. When developing web sites it is important that the code be clean and manageable. And more importantly, managing resources overseas becomes crucial to any project. When outsourcing development work the project manager must deal with inverse time zones, language barriers and the absence of face time. It turns out these obstacles make outsourcing development more trouble than it is worth. The pendulum has swung the other way and more companies are bringing development back. When managing multiple development projects at the frenzied pace of a small business it makes far more sense to keep the developers close-at-hand.
Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
Perhaps one of the most convoluted and mysterious aspects of any business is optimizing your web site for search engines. SEO is the most tempting aspect to outsource, but don’t. I’ve noticed that Google rewards honest and genuine online efforts. If you make sure the code behind your web site is thorough and the content is original and useful, you’ll have addressed 90% of your SEO requirements. That said, if you have to get on page one of Google than working with an SEO consultant may help. They practice the voodoo it takes to go that last 10%. However, they are not a replacement for managing your own basic SEO efforts. It’s up to you to come up with your message and spread the word, as you will see next…
Simply put, no one is going to be as passionate about getting the word out as you are. Marketing consultants are great at coming up with ideas but won’t see them through with the same zeal. It’s one thing to brainstorm new and seemingly bulletproof ideas. Executing ideas is what separates great creatives from mediocre ones. And great creatives who share your passion are most likely already working at your small business. Whether it’s an employee or an owner, our dedication to our small business is unparalleled and should be tapped for all things creative. Our best ideas and campaigns have come to us when we give our brilliant ideas enough time to ferment. Outside marketers will often slap your logo onto a harmless, yet seemingly clever product — think umbrella, we’ve got you covered! — and that’s that. Own it yourself and you’ll soon be devising relevant and subversive schemes to get people’s attention.