VENTEUR spoke with Jordan Bell, CEO of Agency Bell, about outsourcing for startups. Agency Bell is a digital advertising agency that uses machine learning to power its operations. Bell is recognized as an advertising, digital agency, automation, and entrepreneurship expert. He has founded and launched several successful companies, consulted or advised startups in numerous industries, and managed hundreds of millions of dollars in digital campaigns for Fortune-level companies. Bell was recently featured as a Coach and Judge on Season 4 of "The Blox" (a reality competition for entrepreneurs). In addition, he has trained thousands of business professionals and students at UCLA, Cal Arts, General Assembly, and more.
What tasks should startup founders consider outsourcing, and why?
Startup founders should consider outsourcing tasks that are NOT strategically important to their organization but ARE still operationally necessary.
Most functions that meet this criterion are commoditized or standardized enough to be delegated to specialists or SaaS.
For instance, hiring an outsourced payroll specialist or using out-of-box payroll management software is an excellent choice for many businesses with strategies unique to their niche.
What tasks should startup founders not consider outsourcing, and why?
Startup founders should retain (and not outsource) strategic and operationally essential tasks to their organization.
Finding adequate replacements and long-term solutions for the most strategically aligned skills takes a lot of work. It's also significantly more time-consuming to retrain for these strategically essential skills.
But outsourced work has a much higher risk for turnover.
In addition, a contractor's commitment is usually not enough to justify the deep level of work product that is truly "strategic" enough for the startup's standards.
This is especially true when the startup and founder have developed a competitive advantage.
What steps should be taken when looking to outsource specific tasks or projects, and why?
When founders want to outsource specific tasks or projects, they should follow these steps:
- Determine which tasks to outsource. These tasks should be operationally important but not strategically important.
- Identify the skills needed to perform these tasks and typical freelance positions or types of outsourced companies with these skills.
- Write a basic job description and post the job to sites known for cost-effective freelance labor, such as Upwork, Indeed, Fiverr, and LinkedIn. Set clear expectations on the work to be completed so that the candidate pool reflects the work the founders wish to achieve.
- Review the candidates and companies that respond to the posting. It's crucial only to advance candidates who demonstrate their ability to get the founders' specific requirements done. This is where reviewing portfolios comes in handy.
- Interview the candidates if needed. This is to set expectations and understand the candidates' working styles.
- Set a sample task to complete. The quality of the work should be the gateway to more projects if it meets the founders' expectations. Be sure to provide enough contextual information and directions so the contractor can sufficiently complete the task.
- Hire and onboard the candidates to complete more work. This is when it's essential to further onboard a contractor to standard company practices and templates or guides. This is because the contractor needs to have the benefit of getting to know the company's standards or enough context about the work.
- Track and maintain quality standards for all work. Contractors are often the least likely to follow standards since they are less accountable than employees. This is why the work must be quality-checked, and all issues must be resolved by allowing the contractor to resubmit the assignment or setting more detailed expectations for their next submission.
What is the best way to approach outsourcing tasks or projects to reduce uncertainty along the way, and why?
When outsourcing tasks or projects, founders can reduce uncertainty by setting objectively clear guidelines for what the requirements for the job are and the style or standards for the final deliverable.
This is to reduce the variable nature of what work gets turned in.
In addition, since the contractor may not have worked as long at the company as employees (or has been as committed), the contractor is less likely to have the same intuitive and foundational knowledge for the tasks assigned.
What questions should startup founders ask contractors when looking to outsource tasks or projects, and why?
Founders should ask these questions to contractors they're considering hiring:
1. What do you need to do your job effectively?
All workers have unique methods of completing their tasks, and contractors are no different. By better understanding how that contractor best receives and performs duties, founders will typically get better long-term results by collaborating this way.
2. How does your previous work reflect the tasks assigned to you?
It's essential that the contractor can competently connect their work to the tasks assigned and show they have the skills and experience.
3. What should we expect from you regarding the quality of work delivered?
This creates an "agreement" to which the contractor can be held accountable.