Creative LeadershipEngaging Culture

What Can You Successfully Outsource?

Organizations – either for-profits or non-profits – have become more and more complex.  In a flat world of government regulation, digital media, globalization, and more, it’s difficult for a single organization to do everything well.  For some, it’s a matter of expertise – seeking the best and brightest minds to help your organization succeed.   For others – it’s about off-loading – keeping your workforce small and nimble, without sacrificing growth and productivity.  As you think about what you can – and can’t – outsource, here’s a few issues to consider on both sides of the topic:

The advantages of outsourcing—using consultants and freelancers:

1. With consultants and freelancers, you get access to the best people in the industry.  These folks  have vast experience and expertise.  They live independently, so they must be pretty good.  After all, if they weren’t any good, people wouldn’t be hiring them.

2. From an administrative perspective, it’s nice and neat. No overhead, no benefits, no moving expenses, no tax deductions, HR problems, or bookkeeping.  Pay their invoice and it’s done.

3. Access a network of relationships.  Consultants frequently have wider industry experience than in-house people, and can call on the knowledge and experience of a wide circle of business contacts.

4.  In an age of PR nightmares, the smaller your full time staff, the less the chance for sexual, financial, or other problems.  If a freelancer gets arrested for soliciting sex from a prostitute, since he’s not a full time employee, you have more legal protection and less PR damage.

Disadvantages of using consultants and freelancers

1. The fee for consulting may be higher than you would pay in salary to a comparable full-time employee.  (But then again, consultants are usually more experienced and knowledgeable than someone you can get on a full time basis.)

2. They don’t work exclusively for you. Other clients will also get attention.  On the other hand, that brings added experience to your table.  But understand you won’t see them all the time.

3. It could spawn in-house problems.  Employees sometimes feel threatened and fight against the outside consultant.  They sometimes criticize the work, and make the consultant generally miserable.  This is a very real challenge, but a good consultant knows the drill and can sell himself to the staff as well as the leadership.  It’s usually brought on by insecurity with full time employees and should be addressed directly.

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  1. There are other internal issues to consider as well. As a freelancer for 20+ years it has been my experience that the CFO, VP of Accounting or the Executive Pastor often will shy away from hiring an outside consultant/freelancer because they falsely believe that such outsourcing is costing too much money. To them, it's dollars going out the door rather than viewed as a valuable professional service provided that is meant to garner results or enhance the message.

    Instead, many bean counters see their fulltime staff working down the hallway and conclude that they'll save money by adding more projects to the permanent employees' workload. The rationale is "why should I hire a freelancer when I have paid staff that can do it?" This accomplishes little if nothing. The creative staff now have more work dumped onto their plates, including projects they may not have enough time, energy or expertise to accomplish. The organization suffers because such media projects aren't given full attention (unless the president/founder says so) and the group loses access to the creative skills, professional relationships and deeper experience that an outsider can bring. Many of us have worked on secular commercials, reality, travel, sports, documentaries, live events, fundraising, infomercials, promos, music videos, educational, biographies and corporate pieces. So when we are engaged to work within faith-based media or Christian television, we bring extra resources to the table. Sometimes viewed as a threat to fulltime staff, instead, outsiders aren't here to COMPETE, but to COMPLIMENT what the media team is already doing.

    In the end, some vital questions to ask are: how important is this project? What results do you want? Is your media staff already overwhelmed, exhausted or understaffed? Where is the bar set for this project or service? Can your existing team hit that level? Might be time to consider a consultant or freelancer.

  2. The only problem I have run into is that just because they are a freelancer that is getting work doesn’t mean they are any good. This could be more on the local level, but I have seen my fair share of local freelancers who do work that is downright awful, yet they are continually hired for work. This could be due to local budgets with smaller companies, but it goes to show that you need to inspect the work of the freelancer before you hire, and you also get what you pay for(in most cases.)

    Disclaimer: I’m a freelancer that still has a long way to go in terms of quality, but I also haven’t been in the industry for 15+ years as some of these guys have been. 🙂

  3. Most ministries don't need 100% of many high level talents.  They can  save money by only paying for the fraction of the "Phil Cooke-type" they need. 

    Too often I see ministries hiring entry level talent "they can afford" and then wondering why the results are not there.

    Hire someone with a track record — then listen to them!

  4. Mary, I must agree with you completely with you on this…hire someone with a track record (hopefully a successful & results oriented one…I'm quite sure you meant that)…and now, here comes the hard part, actually "listen to them"…their input could  possibly be what will pull you through, put you over, carry the ball right into the endzone for you…let them get to know you…expose your perceived weaknesses and strengths to them, conversationally…remember, you get what you pay for…if you want it cheap, odds are you will reap cheaply from it…determine what you think you need, do your research, ask others in the field who have benefited from referrals…then qualify the short-listed parties down to the winning party…then get to work with them, being sure to include them in your brainstorming sessions and strategic planning meetings…draw everything you can from them, make your time count with them, commit to paying them well and set them free to do their best on your behalf…as mentioned previously, they have others they serve as well…if you treat them well and professionally, they will greatly enjoy working with you and quite possibly apply themselves more diligently & creatively in your direction…you get what you sow…plant some good seed and reap the harvest you have been looking for!

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