Outsourcing of business functions began on a large scale in the 1980s when corporations established back-office operations and call centers in India. On a smaller, more localized level, organizations discovered that some functions could be handled more cost-effectively, if outsourced. For example, contracting with a local courier service for one-time and scheduled deliveries got the job done without the costs associated with hiring drivers or vehicle acquisition and maintenance. Medical practices have benefitted tremendously from this concept by contracting with billing companies for accounts payable/receivable services as opposed to employing an onsite bookkeeper or accountant.
Outsourcing has continued to expand, especially within small to mid-sized organizations. A company with 20 to 30 employees will probably not require full-time IT support, but there will be a need to manage the computer network—adding new users or devices, troubleshooting and resolving problems, etc. In today’s world, this function is frequently contracted out on an “as needed” basis.
With the technological advances over the last 15+ years, the use of virtual support services has exploded. Developing from the concept of telecommuting which first appeared in the modern world during the oil crisis of the 1970s, working virtually has many advantages for both the worker and the company. The worker (employee or independent contractor) usually operates out of a home office, shares files/calendars/etc. online, participates in meetings either via phone or video conferencing, and does not have to be in the same location as the corporate offices. The company does not have to provide office space, may or may not provide equipment; and when engaging an independent contractor, avoids the costs associated with a full-time employee.
However, no matter what activities are being outsourced—a large call center function or part-time IT support—it is critically important to contract for these services in a manner similar to hiring an actual employee.
1. Define the tasks, required skills and level of expertise (AKA, prepare a job description);
2. Check references; and
3. Put everything in writing.
Sounds basic, right? And yet, when it comes to outsourcing, especially on a small scale, these basics are frequently left on the shelf to gather dust.
For the past 12 years I have been involved in the world of virtual administrative support, first as a virtual assistant (VA) and then as the owner of a business that provides VA services to clients. The horror stories I’ve heard make me cringe. They usually begin with, “I had a VA once and you wouldn’t believe…!” A little investigation most often reveals that there was no investigation. I am amazed at how thoroughly someone will research an auto mechanic, which granted could lead to a life-or-death situation, but then will simply rely on a VA’s personal declaration of skill and ability without determining the validity of that declaration. This can lead to a life-or-death situation in business when a deliverable is not met.
My point: When seeking to outsource a function or engage virtual support service, do your due diligence. The 19-year-old kid across the street, has he really changed the brakes on more than 100 cars—successfully? What proof do you have? And, before you put a portion of your business in the hands of someone else, have the proof that he or she can provide the service as promised.
March 5, 2013
by Susan Devereaux filed under