The other day I answered a question about working with outsource partners. The guy who asked the question complained that he had been trying to find reliable outsourcing partners but the level of responsiveness he got was way below his expectations.
He was asking what the reasonable level of responsiveness is. Here is what I answered him:
“When you outsource, always give a deadline of at least a week before your actual deadline. And, of course, don’t tell them about the one-week reserve. Most of the people whom you outsource to work on several projects simultaneously and one of the most difficult things for them is to fit everybody in their schedule.
Because of that, urgent projects or projects that must be finished by a particular date become of higher priority for your outsourcing partner and he or she concentrates mainly on this project.
It is vital that you state your expectations in the very beginning. So, the first thing you should clear is if your outsourcing partner has the time for your project or not and if he or she can take you on as a client.
If the answers to both questions are yes, then you can start negotiating the turnaround time for the project. They will tell you when they will be able to finish it.
However, if you want to be sure that you both speak the same language, ask again. For instance, you can say: “If we start the project on Monday, it’ll be done by XYZ date. Am I right?” If they say yes, this means that you have achieved their commitment to finish the project by a particular date.
After that I usually give as a first project a non-time sensitive one. This way I am testing the waters and get the feeling what it is like to work with them.
Another important question you need to ask is about their preferred ways to communicate. The choices are many; telephone, email, instant messaging. If they prefer instant messaging, ask them which IM client they use most, for example, Skype, MSN, Yahoo or something else?
You can also ask them about their business hours and how many hours a day they are online.
Different people work at different times. For instance, some of the webmasters I know work only at night because then they are most productive. Other webmasters work in the daytime.
Work hours are really important and you need to clarify this in advance. If you have a vital question to ask them and they work mainly at night, you will be trying in vain to reach them during normal business hours.
Another trick I use when working with outsourcing partners is to eliminate all the guesswork for them. I don’t know if many other people do it but I really like it and it works for me because it makes our cooperation more effective.
For instance, when I have outsourced the creation of a website, I browse a lot and find many sites I like. Then I show them to the webmaster, so that he can use them as reference while creating my site.
I pick up five to ten sites and tell the webmaster what I like in each site – i.e. the colors, the fonts, the layout, etc. I provide many examples to illustrate my point.
You might object that this all takes you a lot of time. That’s right, but this is the way to eliminate the guesswork and to cut the unnecessary communication.
When you present sites you like, this helps your outsourcing partner to get an idea of what you want and this makes it easier for him or her to create exactly what you want. This approach saves both tons of money and a lot of time and that’s why it has been working for me without failure.
I have already stated that the most important issues you need to clarify are managing your expectations and getting commitment (including clarifying the time frame) from your partner.
Another very important issue is to discover the best way for communication and the best time to do it.
It is also very important that your first project with any outsourcing partner is not time-sensitive. Remember, the first project is like a test. If you feel your partnership is not working the way you expect it, don’t start another project because if you do, this will be a mistake.
Very often the process of finding responsive outsourcing partners is based on trial and error. You might have to try many providers till you find The One.
Once you find somebody you enjoy working with, rest assured – you can use them for as many projects as you have! •