As a CEO, you’ll often find yourself in a position that requires a professional in areas beyond your expertise. Whether that’s bookkeeping, IT networking, marketing, recruiting, etc., your first urge might be to hire someone in-house to handle specific tasks or projects. However, this may not be the most effective solution. After all, there are costs involved in hiring a professional to fit a very specific role. Additionally, you may find that you don’t truly have enough work to justify a new hire.
Running a small business — a marketing agency that’s allowed me to be on both sides of the vendor-client relationship — I’ve often found that I need additional help in places where I’m not an expert. After a few hiring failures, I realized that hiring to fit every small need wasn’t the smartest thing for me to do. So I started to look for vendors to fulfill niche roles. Today, I work with a variety of partners that allow me — and the rest of my employees — to concentrate on what we do best, without worrying about uncharted overhead and the challenges of recruiting and hiring for temporary or smaller roles.
However, outsourcing projects or jobs to contractors, partners or vendors comes with its own challenges. Here are four things I’ve learned about maximizing outsourced relationships:
Set Goals Early On
Regardless of what you’re outsourcing, it’s crucial that you set the goals for the working relationship from the very beginning. Whether you’re contracting a bookkeeper to maintain your books, a PR company to find opportunities for press or a recruiter to find specific talent, you need to discuss your goals and provide a time frame. Additionally, you need to paint the picture for what success looks like.
Help your contractor make efficient decisions that will get both of you on the right path from the start. Failure to do so means your contractor will be left guessing, wasting both your time and money.
Identify Expectations for Both Parties
Expectations are everything for any relationship to be successful. In my experience, setting expectations for both parties is the key to success. This means having both parties identify expectations for what it means to work together. For instance, if you’re working with a content writer, they might require that you review and approve pitches within a specific time frame to stay on track. Similarly, you might expect your IT contractor to proactively deal with all software and hardware updates as well as taking full ownership and responsibility of migrating your team to the cloud.
Whatever the expectations are, it’s important that you set those up front so both you and your contractor will know what’s expected. This makes it easy for both of you to stay on track and work jointly to achieve established goals.
Keep Communication Lines Open and Regular
If having clear expectations is critical for working relationships, so is communication. Without it, all else can fail. Maintaining communication is essential for ensuring that everything is going as planned. For my company, this has meant recap emails, reports, weekly calls, monthly meetings, etc.
The key for us has been to make it regular. Even when there are only a few things to recap, it’s important to keep that communication routine. This not only allows for both parties to take a pulse check but also opens up opportunities to discuss new initiatives and plans for the future.
Don’t Be Afraid to Recalibrate
I’ve also learned that getting the most out of any outside relationship requires that you regularly assess and recalibrate. While ending the relationship may sometimes seem easier than addressing changes in scope or a change in direction, outsourced partners are often willing to work with you to make things work. And unlike finding a new partner or vendor, you’ve already built a history and understanding that is hard to achieve in a short period of time.
Since outsourced relationships have a vested interest in keeping you as a customer, they should be willing to recalibrate with you. Whether that means reducing hours, resetting goals or expectations or changing directions, it’s important to make changes as needed.
Next time you find yourself needing a professional to fulfill a specific role within your company or to handle a particular project, you might discover that a freelance contractor, a vendor, or an agency might be your best solution. Not only will you get the expertise you need, but it will also come with your own terms.