Many traditional roles that were historically done in-house are now being outsourced, and that can include anything from being a PA to project managing. It’s a great way for businesses to keep costs down during the current economic climate and it also helps those who have been made redundant flourish and grow their own businesses. As workforces have become smaller, remaining employees are all pushed for time, and the demands of the business can often mean they lose track of keeping up to date with things such as blogs, newsletters and their website.
It’s hard to be a small business owner and keep a hundred different balls juggling at the same time. How can you focus on sales when you’re not doing any lead generation activity? What about marketing and social media? A surge in people working from home means that all of these skills can be outsourced. But how does an SME know that the person they’re outsourcing to is any good, particularly if they have no testimonials?
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Let’s look at some basics you can research before committing to a further meeting.
1. Google them: Simply type their name and business name into Google and see what results it brings. Ignoring their website and LinkedIn profile for now, look to see if their name appears on any sites related to their industry. This shows that they’re not just walking the walk, they’re actively involved too.
2. Social proof: This is where LinkedIn, Google+, Facebook and Twitter play their part. What does their LinkedIn profile say? Do they have any recommendations? Do they proactively share content? This is even more important if you’re hiring a social media specialist. If they’re not sharing their own stuff, how do they know the best practice when it comes to sharing yours?
3. Time management: If they are charging you by the hour, will they be providing a time sheet or similar to show the number of hours they have worked? If you’re allocated 20 hours per month on various tasks, how are they splitting the time, and more importantly are they doing 20 hours per month?
4. Payment terms: When will you be invoiced and what payment terms do they offer? This can change from freelancer to freelancer, and if they don’t bring it up, you should. Don’t assume it’s 30 days or even that you’ll be paying VAT. Get this right from the start so everyone knows where they stand.
5. Sign a contract: Make sure everything is written down and agreed at the start. If an unexpected invoice lands, it can quickly turn a good relationship into a bad one.
Finally, make sure they are doing the work themselves, and not subbing it out to others who you don’t know.
So what kind of roles can be outsourced successfully?
To be able to outsource PR you need to be clear about what it actually is. Social media and digital marketing has changed the role that PR plays. Historically for SMEs it has meant press releases, editorial and reputation management. It has always been about telling the story of a business, and never was that more relevant than in today’s digital communities. Tweets, Facebook updates and even LinkedIn profiles are all part of the PR role.
Since Google changed its algorithm and stopped unscrupulous use of keywords, the emphasis has been on creating high quality, unique content that flows naturally and is in the right context. Any freelance writer worth their salt should be able to create content that’s readable, shareable and can trigger a reaction such as a comment on a blog post or driving traffic to a landing page.
Sending a newsletter out once a month is not enough. How do you know if your target audience is engaged? Are they even opening and reading your newsletter? Are you telling everyone everything regardless of where they are in the buying cycle? When looking to outsource this, a freelancer should be able to help you generate content that will deliver a return.
There is no need to fear SEO. There are a few simple things that every website should have – meta tags, keywords, and a blog or news page just for starters. Think – if someone were to search for my product or service, what words would they use? Once you have a cluster of these, it’s time to work on adding them to your website, and this is where the expertise of a freelancer can come in handy.
Most business people immediately think of cold calling when faced with a telephone but it can be useful in other ways too. If you’re organising an event then a follow up call to an e-shot can be very effective. There are plenty of options out there but try to avoid the call centre approach. Attendees are likely to respond to a local accent and more personal call.
This can be anything from a new product launch to a website redesign. Good freelance project managers will have experience of handling a wide range of projects and will be able to break down what to you can seem an insurmountable task into bite size pieces and manage the whole process – meaning you have just one point of contact instead of hundreds.
Personal assistant (or virtual assistant)
There are many experienced PAs out there that either by redundancy or by choice are now operating as virtual assistants. Who said Miss Moneypenny had to be office based? With a PC, a diary and an organised mind virtual assistants can work from anywhere. After all, it’s their experience you’re buying into, not their office surroundings.
Whether you have one employee or 20 there will come a point when you need such things as contracts of employment, disciplinary procedures and legal employment advice. HR is one of the most commonly outsourced SME functions, and there is a wealth of experience out there. Even if you plan to manage 90% of the function in-house it’s a good idea to have a HR contact on hand for any of those unexpected incidents that need to be dealt with swiftly.
Whichever function you choose to outsource, you have every right to demand the same attention to detail as you would your own employee. The freelance market is awash with individuals of such high calibre you’ll be wondering why you didn’t do it years ago.