outsourcing

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How to Choose the Right IT Support for Your Business

How to Choose the Right IT Support for Your Business 2048 1536 Greenlight Managed IT Support Services | Sydney | Melbourne

Laptop computerSimply put, a lack of IT support will hurt your business and severely affect your daily operations. Instead of focusing resources on more urgent matters, you’ll be tied up with problems that shouldn’t be there in the first place. Plus, without dedicated IT support, the best you can hope for are “quick fixes” – but those “quick” fixes are often no more than a Band Aid, with more costly problems looming.

Just one problem: In-house IT support can be costly. Among the problems you may face are budget constraints, keeping up with the trends and finding the right people. That’s why it’s beneficial to get outside help.

What’s in It for Your Business?

Outsourcing IT support will help you control costs, increase productivity and minimize risk.

  • Controlled costs: Monthly expenses for IT support are fixed so you’ll know exactly how much goes out of your pocket. You will also be able to foresee possible expenses and allocate funds appropriately. As a result, cash flow is managed better.
  • Increased productivity: Instead of finding the one or two employees who “know a thing or two” about troubleshooting, those employees can focus on their own projects and deadlines. That, in turn, leads to increased productivity.
  • Minimized risk: When things go wrong, either with your hardware or software, business shuts down. Now, you’re facing a potential loss of profits, expensive repair costs and once-loyal customers who are now concerned about working with you. And that doesn’t include the possibility of security breaches, both for you and your clients. Working with an IT company gives you peace of mind.

Steps to Find the Right Support

  1. Create a plan: What is your main goal? Why do you think seeking professional help will benefit your business? Is there a specific area you wish to improve or a problem you want resolved right away?
  2. Who’s using them?: Before hiring anyone, go to their respective website, and see if they list previous and current clients. Are these businesses similar to yours? It’s better to work with an IT company that has helped similar companies because you’re more likely to have the same needs and issues. Word of mouth is also an effective way to find the most competent people.
  3. Are they certified?: Make sure anyone you’re considering is certified. You can usually find this information on the company’s website or various social media sties. Look for those who are Microsoft Certified IT Professional (MCITP), and Microsoft Certified Technology Specialist (MCTS). You should also look for those with CompTIA Network+ certifications.
  4. Narrow down your search. Once you’ve pinpointed several finalists, reach out to each company and ask questions. Document everything so you can go back to and discuss with the team before you make the final decision.
  5. Think of your business’ future. Find a provider that will be in it for the long haul. IT system maintenance is essential to your business – and you need someone who will stick with you for several years. You need the right people to maintain reliable IT systems for years.

Things to Watch Out For

  • Tech people who only speak in jargon: These people are either hiding something or masking the fact that they don’t really know anything. Reliable IT providers will ensure that you know what you’re getting into, so they’ll explain what needs to be done in simple and clear language.
  • Support providers who don’t like to get their hands dirty: IT support providers must be willing to get involved in your business’ daily operations. They need to immerse themselves so they can figure out the best way to take care of your IT needs.
  • Those who like using quick-fixes and insist that their solutions are the ONLY ones that matter: Short cuts are dangerous because not every detail is scrutinized. Avoid support providers who like doing these. At the same time, those who refuse to seek a second (or third) opinion and insist on doing only what they are familiar with will only cause you more problems.

Outsource Websites – Use the Right Tools for the Job

Outsource Websites – Use the Right Tools for the Job 150 150 Greenlight Managed IT Support Services | Sydney | Melbourne

outsourcing-platformsOutsource websites like eLance, Freelancer and oDesk make hiring freelancers a cost effective and convenient option for businesses of all sizes. While similar, there are some distinctions between the different websites. While the process, interface, tracking system and fees are similar, the major distinction happens to be what sort of contractors each of these tend to attract.

I’ve always been a big proponent of outsourcing small jobs. It’s cost effective, easily tracked, and once you find a good specialist contractor, it can save you a LOT of time. We had quite a bit of positive feedback on our last post on outsourcing, so I thought I would elaborate on some of our favourite ‘contractor marketplaces’, and how they stack up against one another in terms of costs, talent and features.

Why Outsource?

Small and medium businesses in particular tend to have many recurring small jobs they require done, without justifying bringing in a permanent and dedicated staff member. Even if someone on your team has the skills required for the task, it is simply not an effective use of their time. For this reason, the growth of outsourced business processes has seen dramatic growth over the past few years, with research think-tank Gartner estimating that up to $9.5 billion will be spent by 2016 just across the Pacific and Asian regions. In Australia alone the market for BPO amounted to $4.6 billion in 2011.

Another major reason to outsource is cost efficiency– we know it is important to manage your cash flow, especially early on in your business. While hiring a graphic designer in Australia may set you back close to $100 per hour, these online market places allow you to shop around, finding highly skilled contractors in places like Russia or the Philippines who generally work for $9-$15 per hour. Just like outsourcing your IT Support, there are huge performance and quality gains to be made whilst benefiting from specialised talent and infrastructure, as well as improved cost efficiency.

Wondering how to get started?

Getting started is easy, and you can even post a job on many of these websites without sharing your credit card information. Generally speaking, the way it works is:

  1. Post a job – many of these sites even give you suggestions on the post description, to point you in the right direction. If your job type does not have any suggested information, I strongly recommend a quick search along the lines of ‘how to hire a graphic designer’ — there are hundreds of great articles written giving you advice on how to engage the right contractor. My advice is to be selective with the criteria (part of the posting process) to specify that only applicants with a certain level of feedback, training, dollars earned, or English proficiency are able to apply. This will ensure quality over quantity when it comes to applicants, as it can be quite time consuming to manually go through 60+ applications.
  2. Invite contractors – this is optional. Once you post a job, you are almost guaranteed a flood of applications from around the world. Often there are recommendations on the top performing candidates to invite, which is helpful.
  3. Compare applicants – hopefully you will have limited the number of applications to ensure the contractors meet a certain number of criteria. The selection process can be time consuming, but there are a host of filtering options to separate the wheat from the chaff, so to speak. There is a trade-off between the number of barriers you put in place (questions they have to answer by email or in forms, for example) and the number of applications you will receive. Experiment with these and see what works for you. I always like to hide at least one question in any job post, to make sure that applicants read the project description in its entirety.
  4. Hiring – Once you have shortlisted a number of finalists, I strongly recommend organising a Skype conversation with each of them. This will allow you to gauge their level of English, as well as their understanding of your project requirements. It is also much harder to exaggerate (or mislead) if you are in a live video chat with somebody. Go with your instincts– you will be able to pick up on cues such as changes in body language and tone of voice, which you would otherwise not be able to via emails.

 

1. Elance – “Get jobs done fast. Get the work done right.”

outsourcing-elanceHow it works – Elance gives you the options to hire by the hour, or by the project. You are able to track the progress of any given project under ‘Manage my Team’, where you can share relevant documents and message one or more members of your team.

Payments – You are given the safety net of being able to approve work before making any payments, which does offer some peace of mind. You are able to place project deposits in escrow, with Elance handling the money transfer. If you elect to pay by the hour, Elance have a WorkView feature which lets you view regular screenshots of work prior to approving payment for the set number of hours.

Fees – Elance charge an 8.75% transaction fee at the time of writing this article. Considering that hourly rates for contractors can range greatly, this can impact on your budget. It really depends on who you hire, and for how much.

Our opinion – Elance is perhaps one of my favourite sites for finding quality contractors. It is generally more expensive than the alternatives, and is my go-to platform for finding contractors with strong technical backgrounds, particularly around application and web development, and graphic designers.

2. Freelancer – “The World’s Largest Outsourcing Marketplace”

outsourcing-freelancer

How It Works – Freelancer gives you the option to assign a fixed payment for a project, or to assign hourly budgets which you can stretch out over days or weeks.

Payments – Payment is made based on ‘milestones’ which are agreed upon prior to commencing any tasks.

Fees – The fees are split between the hiring party (3%) and the ‘freelancer’ (10%), and there are a number of upsells you can opt for which improve the visibility of your project, hide it from search engines, and so forth.

Our opinion – One of the main reasons I don’t use Freelancer as often is the range of upsells it ‘offers’. ‘Features’ like hiding your posts from search engines or posting a full time job incur their own separate fees, which may or may not suit your budget.

3. oDesk – “Get the right freelancer. Get the job done.”

outsourcing-odesk

How It Works – oDesk is for the hands-on recruiter. One of its core offerings is the ability to track mouse and keyboard activity, feedback and screenshots. If you are just starting out outsourcing, you may find this level of visibility reasurring. oDesk also offer the guarantee that you will only pay for work done (and tracked) via this method.

Payments – Hourly and fixed price projects are both options, and payment is released at your discretion.

Fees – The rates for contractors that you see in the marketplace already include a 10% fee which goes to oDesk.

Our opinion – oDesk is a great alternative to Elance, particularly for less technical and more labour-driven jobs. I’ve used it often for data entry and basic editing work.

Okay, so which site is best?

The natural follow up question to any comparison post. And of course, there is no ‘best’ — each platform has its own merits and caveats, and hopefully the insight we’ve given will allow you to know which website to use for what type of contractors you’re looking to hire.

Contractors will often have accounts across multiple websites, but a strong piece of advice is that if you find a contractor you ‘gel with’, stick with them. Many contractors love ongoing projects with a good client, and many clients are very hesitant in sharing a good contractor with their business acquaintances.

As you know, good talent can be hard to find. If their work is doing good things for your business, make sure you reward them accordingly. All of these sites allow you to give bonuses and rewards. Use them sparingly but to good effect.

Project based or hourly rate?

Use your best judgment when deciding on project based or hourly rate payment options. Generally, hourly rates are a good option for ongoing work, and when you are unsure how long a contractor will take to complete a project– I particularly like to do this for projects with an ‘untested’ contractor, as while I risk losing a few dollars, I can find out whether they’re wasting their time very early on. With research based projects for example, hourly rates will allow you to gauge progress early on in the project, which makes a lot of people more comfortable.

With graphic design projects, project based rates are a good way to ‘set and forget’, and to keep your costs to a minimum. Having a rough idea of the amount of time a project is very important, so make sure you work that out prior to committing to hiring a contractor. With that established, you can decide on a fair project based rate based on their normal fees, or the amount you have managed to negotiate.

Tips for Project Based Agreements

Because this is a more hands-off approach to outsourcing, it is extremely important to fully outline requirements, milestones and deadlines to your contractor. The more information you provide in the project outline, the more likely you are to attract contractors who have experience in projects with similar levels of complexity. Unfortunately, one of the common scenarios on these websites is that you will get an influx of generic applications from contractors with no portfolios or experience– which is why the filtering criteria is so important.

Hiring an individual vs. an agency

There are a number of contractors who actually manage their own subcontractors. These websites refer to them as ‘agencies’ but this should be taken with a grain of salt. During the hiring process, make sure to ask for complete transparency in terms of who will be doing what aspects of your project. While your interview may be held with someone who looks promising, there are occasions where that person will then delegate to their less competent staff, essentially making them a project manager. See what works for you, but bear in mind this potential caveat.

 

 

Risks and Benefits of Outsourcing for Small Business

Risks and Benefits of Outsourcing for Small Business 150 150 Greenlight Managed IT Support Services | Sydney | Melbourne

risks-and-benefits-of-outsourcing

Having previously worked for one of the largest Business Process Outsourcers (BPO) in the world, as well as for a number of small and medium businesses, I have had many experiences in outsourcing small ad-hoc pieces of work (market research, copywriting, graphic design), projects with a set timeline (social media campaigns, software integrations), as well as ongoing services such as telemarketing campaigns. What I have learned is that outsourcing can either be the best thing you have ever done, or an absolute nightmare.

As a business owner you may have dipped your toes in outsourcing, and usually this is for one of the following reasons:

  • the thing you need done is labour intensive, and nobody on your team has the time
  • the project requires specialist skills your team does not have, like experience with Photoshop, copywriting or crunching data in Excel
  • the opportunity cost of the project is high; that is, your team’s time is better off invested elsewhere. Projects involving extended research or conversations with hundreds or thousands of customers just take too much time and are often best outsourced.

Research shows that small businesses are increasingly considering outsourcing various departmental functions in order to focus on their the lifeblood of their business– that is, generating new products and service offerings, and sales. Having said that, many businesses are also burned by their experiences and apprehensive to trying again.

Below are a list of considerations, covering both the risks and benefits of outsourcing business functions, which apply primarily to small and medium Australian businesses. We have also given some advice to mitigate some of the risks of outsourcing.

Benefits of Outsourcing

Cost reduction and improved efficiency
We mentioned economies of scale, and cost reduction is unexpectedly one of the primary reasons that businesses will outsource job functions. With a dedicated team and infrastructure in place, outsourced businesses will in nearly all cases be able to provide superior service for a lower price point than hiring internally.

While many smaller businesses would love to hire the best and brightest in house staff for each area of their business, this simply is not always an option given large corporations with sizeable budgets often have their pick of the bunch. Often a single employee will be responsible for a number of areas within the business, such as graphic design, IT or marketing.

One of the major benefits of outsourcing key areas of business is that these companies will specialise in a given area, meaning dedicated talent and greater efficiencies of scale. This can mean putting important areas of your business in experienced hands, which will in nearly all cases reduce operational risk.

Scalability (or flexibility)
Being a small to medium business, your business needs can fluctuate more often than large multinationals. Because of this, there is an inherent risk in hiring a full time employee, and many businesses will instead try to mitigate for this risk by giving fewer staff more responsibilities. This is often unavoidable, and can work quite well— provided you are keeping track of your internal efficiency metrics.

When outsourcing business processes, these issues are avoidable by negotiating ad-hoc contracts that can increase or decrease with your business needs.

Risks of Outsourcing

Like any business venture, outsourcing your business processes can carry its own risks. Instead of opting to reinvent the wheel, we thought we would give Joanna Krotz from the Microsoft Small Business Blog.

We have elaborated on some of her points to hopefully help your decision making process.

Alignment – Is outsourcing the right move for your business?

The question to consider here is how much control you need over the process in question– IT services, for example, may just be something you want to work behind the scenes. Marketing or sales on the other hand is generally something you would rather keep in-house with greater visibility. At the very least, make sure that someone internal is assigned the responsibility of overseeing the work being outsourced to ensure it is an effective investment and meeting the originally specified needs and/or goals.

Business Case – Have you estimated the costs of managing processes internally versus outsourcing them?

Having visibility of your financials is at the heart of a business, and it is up to you to know how much a business process is costing you versus in terms of opportunity costs. If your role as a director is being divided amongst fixing computers, making sales calls and managing your books for example, there is a case for analysing how to best outsource or delegate some of these processes so that you can focus on business development and establishing yourself as an authority expert.

Culture – Can you bridge the cultural gap between your company and the company providing the service?

Outsourcing to a company in the same country can mean improved communication as well as a ‘door to knock on’. Another thing to consider is whether you LIKE the people you and your employees would be dealing with– this is an area that is downplayed but can really mean the difference between a successful partnership and a bad investment. Do you prefer a hands on or hands off approach? Perhaps you like to be kept in the loop with monthly reports, or maybe you want a set and forget type of relationship. Make sure that whatever company you work with, it fits with the way you like to work.

Delivery – How will you define a successful partnership?

Set key performance indicators for each core business area, so you can establish a current baseline. This will help you decide whether resources can be re-allocated to functions generating more business, and ultimately more revenue. With these baselines in place, make sure that there is clarity between your company and any outsourced provider to ensure that there is performance accountability that meets your needs. If you do not test and measure, you will never know if you have improved.

Some Outsourcing Resources

Graphic Design, Market Research, or Data Analysis – Some of our favourite platforms for outsourcing these sorts of tasks include oDesk, Freelancer and eLance. These sorts of projects can be completed extremely cost effectively. Another favourite site is 99Designs, which allows businesses to create ‘competitions’ where graphic designers around the world compete to best match your design brief.

Look for contractors (or agencies) that speak English fluently, and have an established track record (in terms of jobs completed, portfolios listed, and feedback received) on the platform you are looking at.

If you are considering outsourcing your IT, find out more about our Managed IT Support services here.