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Guest blog from Lee Robertson: Time not money… thoughts on outsourcing

I have long been a fan of outsourcing.

Specifically, the ability to delegate externally those tasks which are difficult to achieve within the business for reasons of appropriate skills, time, cost, and just sheer application.

I suspect most planning firms are outsourcing at least some functions.  Compliance, marketing, finance, and other time consuming and skills-requisite tasks.

Different variables can influence an outsourcing decision at any point in time. However, there are certain key guidelines that can help us make a more well-informed decision on whether it is right or not. For me, beyond expertise and team view, it will come down to the trade-off between time and money.

I have never managed to be time-rich, hence, being a fan of outsourcing to delegate those tasks which can hand me back time.

Time to spend on core functions that I believe I am good at and enjoy.

For those tasks that just aren’t in your wheelhouse

Outsourcing is merely the process of hiring an outside organisation, or people of a certain skillset, that you need (aka contractors) that are not affiliated with your company, to complete specific tasks.

The tasks can be short-term or project-specific, such as a marketing campaign or website build, or longer-term, consistent requirements, such as compliance or management accounting. For smaller firms or practices, it is difficult to justify the cost and time involved to recruit and retain in-house talent, particularly if the use case is irregular, occasional, or short-term.

In effect, we trade a better cultural and company fit, plus on-site availability, for a larger degree of flexibility and greater expertise on a contract basis.

And, whilst we may be paying more than we might for an internal team member to complete the work, we are paying on a contracted, predictable, and time-limited basis, and getting access to someone who really understands the subject matter.

Alongside these, in my view, worthwhile trade-offs, outsourcing also allows you to:

  1. Fill knowledge gaps within the business
  2. Discover if you do (or could) have the necessary expertise internally
  3. Have oversight of the task/project so, if things don’t go to plan, you can step in (much harder to do with an internal team member).

I’m convinced… where do I start?

It’s important to identify the areas of your business where outsourcing can help and use it to fill knowledge gaps. If I set aside the compliance and finance functions, I would suggest that the optimal area to outsource would be marketing.

I say that, by the way, as someone who is incredibly keen on the whole marketing, client experience, and communications theme.  This is an area that will take as much of our time as we allow. And, to do it well, at the level of expectations great firms set themselves, takes masses of time.

Whilst marketing has, in some ways, got a lot easier, marketing, social media, design and automation tools abound and, with time, application and a willingness to experiment, much of what used to be the preserve of marketing professionals is now very achievable for allocated or specific team members.

Here’s the rub

It takes time and involves experimentation and mistakes.

The experimentation and mistakes are part and parcel of any marketing campaign and outsourcing does not in any way guarantee success, but it does increase the chances due to the skillset of the professional.

However, as I said, it is the availability of time that impacts on any business.  We are all time poor and unless we really want to add to our own, or a team member’s, workload, it just seems wise to outsource.

We are blessed to have so many good agencies in financial services, serving financial planning firms of all sizes, and Yardstick are amongst the very best.  Their work can be seen throughout our profession and, just as importantly, is often not seen, but is quietly powering the marketing and client communications of many great practices.

The ability to scope, build and deliver a marketing project takes time.

For me, critical friends who are well-versed in the delivery of quality campaigns that delight and engage clients or potential clients are an unparalleled resource. Having that critical friend, highly experienced in what is currently working (and not working) in the fast-moving world of search engines, social media, and marketing trends, is vital.

Delegation vs outsourcing

That is not to say that we just delegate our efforts to others.

We are our own brand guardians. We understand our company stories better than anyone else and we must ensure that these are not lost in the campaign. Good agencies know this and will work really hard to delve deeper than we might expect to make absolutely clear how proud we are of our own client service, team efforts, and company values.

Outsourcing is a way to bring in, temporarily or for a contracted period, subject matter experts.

For me, I always treat them as extended members of the core team. I did that in my own practice, and I do it now within Octo – a very deliberate blend of core and extended team. They bring knowledge, skill, and insight that is not available at the same level internally. They also massively impact in a positive way the team discussions when they are involved.

So, a win-win

Greater expertise on tap and far less time spent down a huge rabbit-hole finding time to learn what others have already mastered.

In summary, brief well, stay engaged (as it must be a two-way discussion to succeed), ask lots of questions, be the custodian of your brand and, because I firmly believe every day should be a school day, learn as you go.

Lee Robertson

CEO, Octo Members Group

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