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Top 10 Tips for Outsourcing Success

Do What You Do Best and Hire the Rest

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Entrepreneurs and small businesspeople are always looking for creative ways to accomplish more of their business goals for less money. One strategy that can help you save time, money and frustration as you start and build your business is to outsource as much work as possible to skilled, but cost-effective, external service providers.

In my work with Elance Online -- an online marketplace that helps small businesses outsource almost any type of project – I’ve talked with dozens of buyers who have successfully outsourced projects as diverse as administrative support, business strategy, graphic design, web design and development, writing and even software development.

When I talk to buyers who’ve mastered the art of effectively managing external service providers, the same themes emerge over and over. I’ve distilled their advice into the following “Top 10 Best Practices” for working with external service providers. Following this advice can help you get the most out of your relationships with external vendors or contractors -- whether you use the web to find service providers or are requesting and evaluating quotes from vendors the “old fashioned” way.

1. Clearly define the scope and schedule for your project
This might seem obvious, but any successful outsourced project always starts with a clear statement of what you are hoping to accomplish. Define your project requirements up front. Service providers need accurate, complete information to present you with realistic proposals and to quote you a reasonable price. Be specific about the deliverables you expect the vendor provide. Give vendors as much information as you can about what you need delivered and the way in which you need the work done. Also, be clear and realistic about your schedule requirements - project schedules can have a huge impact on project costs.

2. Evaluate a service provider like you’d hire a full-time employee
When you’re evaluating proposals from service providers, don’t be afraid to ask questions. Just like hiring a full-time employee, selecting a vendor is a very subjective experience. Check their references and ask for feedback from other clients who have used their services. Engage in a dialog – if you have any concerns about a vendor’s specific capabilities, voice your concerns. Don’t just stew about it and hope for the best.

3. Look for specific experience fit
Ideally, the service provider you select will have specific experience with the type of project that you’re undertaking. You don’t want to be somebody’s “guinea pig.” This is especially crucial when outsourcing complex technical projects such as software development. For example, if you’re looking for someone to develop an application for the Palm PDA, make sure they’ve actually completed commercial projects on that platform for other satisfied customers. This advice holds true for other types of projects as well. If you need a business plan for opening a retail store, you’ll get best results if the consultant you hire has verifiable experience in the retail sector.

4. Don’t choose a vendor based solely on price
Though it might be tempting, never select a vendor based solely on price. Experienced buyers who have outsourced many projects and evaluated hundreds of proposals almost always recommend discarding the highest-priced and lowest-priced bid. Buyers report that their most successful projects are the ones where they felt the vendor offered a balance of good value and quality results.

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