Outsourcing: Success Or Failure Is Determined By One Thing…

by | Business Strategy

I’m a big fan of working with outsourcers. When you recruit the right outsourcer and give them a solid brief to perform against you gain back mental space as well as time and can put more focus on energy on driving your business forward (and maybe having a few more hours a week with the family).

Using outsourcers, comes in all shapes and sizes from virtual assistants to graphic designers. In fact, outsourcing could also include more senior people too like a consultant, because whenever you are reaching out for help, you’re giving someone else the opportunity to work in or on your business for you.

I love the flexibility an outsourcer gives me. They don’t have the associated costs of an employee or the level of commitment, but you do need to give them a strong brief, so they have good guidelines to work within… which is the topic of this article…

I’ve been called in to work with a business owner many times who have a high turnover of outsourced team. They are frustrated because the outsourcers “just don’t get it”.  I often hear “I usually end up doing it myself”.

Sure, occasionally you might end up re-gigging some work and using it as a teaching exercise, but when you are going through one person after another, and finding the same issues recurring, it’s probably not the people you are recruiting. More likely it’s that the brief wasn’t quite what it needed to be.

Sometimes, I’ve asked a business owner for the brief they gave the outsourcer and they looked at me blankly. “There was no real brief.”

And to be fair, that’s where the problem lays.

The First Thing A Outsourcer Needs…

Without a brief, the outsourcer lacks clarity.

When I dig a bit deeper with the business owner, I often find they knew they needed someone to do the job, but didn’t have time, or didn’t know how to explain the job, and assumed the outsourcer would just do it, and do it better than they could.

In my experience, sometimes you can find an outsourcer who can seemingly read minds. I’ve been hired to optimize automations going on at the back end of a high-income business. The brief I was given was, “Can you just fix it.”

With my knowledge and experience, I could do that and I knew what questions to ask to essentially brief myself, but many outsourcers won’t do that.

Having drawn my briefing from the business owner, we both had clarity, which is the first thing any outsourcer needs. A brief that has clarity will help you to:

  • Reduce confusion and misunderstandings
  • Saves you time and money
  • More easily measure the success of the project
  • Compare outsourcers
  • Helps the outsourcer give you more accurate costs and timeframes

Getting Value For Money

I don’t know about you, but when I hire someone, I want value for money. I want a return on my investment.

I’ve worked with many outsourcers over the years and I’ve seen first-hand what creates success and what doesn’t.

In my experience 9 times out of 10 it comes down to the briefing they received at the outset.

Assuming the person you are outsourcing to has the skills and capabilities you need, they just need clear direction.

To support that communication between you and the outsourcer you can use a ‘briefing document’ or at the very least a checklist of items that you need to make sure you communicate each time you’re outsourcing a piece of work.

What I’m saying is the brief needs to be documented i.e. written down. That way no-one needs to remember anything, because it’s all noted.

What A Good Brief Includes

I want to clarify the briefing isn’t telling the outsourcer HOW to do their job. There’s an expectation, that before you recruited them, you knew they could do the job. So, the briefing isn’t telling them “how”.

What this means is that when you give the outsourcer the briefing, you don’t need to know all the ins and outs of the job you are giving them.

The briefing document does however, give the outsourcer the “why” and the “what”. Together, you’ll work out “when”.

The Critical Part Of The Brief That’s Often Missed

We’ve already noted that a good brief brings clarity. However, an excellent brief will paint a picture of what success looks like.

For example you can give the outsourcer instructions to ‘Get my YouTube channel sorted.” This isn’t specific enough and there is a high chance you won’t get what you want.

More clarity might include, “I want my branding adding to my banner and thumbnails and all videos optimised”.

Driving even deeper, you would want to establish exactly what success looks like when it’s done. For example, now all videos are optimised will the video be shown more by YouTube in search results? Now you have branded thumbnails would you expect to see the click-through rates increase? Will the channel subscribers grow as a result? If so, what is a realistic improvement in the results?

By just going a bit deeper, do you see how much clearer you are becoming on what success looks like? And because you are being clearer, do you think the outsourcer has more chance of success? Do you feel you may end up being happier with the end results?

A few minutes of planning and thinking upfront can save you hours later as well as disappointment, frustration and unsatisfactory results.

I refer to this as knowing your success criteria. This is so that when this work is finished and you consider it to be a success, you can answer these questions…

  • What will you have, see, or be able to do better than you can now?
  • How will you measure the Return On Investment (ROI) of the work and how quickly do you expect to see ROI?

These are great to know up front as they can become your measures at the end of the piece of work to check off as to whether it’s been a success or not. If you can’t answer them you can always take them to the meeting with the outsourcer and hear their views on it and build it in a collaborative way.

Six Questions To Get You Started With A Successful Project Brief

Here are some questions to help you get clear on what you want from a project.

  1. What will the impact be of this piece of work on your business?
  2. Why are you bothering and going to the time and financial investment of doing it?
  3. Where does it fit in the overall business strategy?
  4. What investment are you prepared to make to get the outcome you want?
  5. Do you have an idea on how long you expect this sort of work to take and is there room in the budget for it now or does it need holding back to another time?
  6. Do you already have the skills in your team, or will you have to recruit a person who has the skills to carry out the work?

Seven Items That Make A Strong Brief

Briefing Your Outsourcer

1.     Overview

I always start briefing Outsourcers with an Overview of the business. This gives them the big picture.

If they aren’t a permanent member of your team let them know about your vision, mission and values (your permanent team members should already know that J). Give them your brand document, which should have all that in it, so they know your style, who’s your Who, the Human you serve, your fonts and colours, etc. This gives them the information about your brand so their piece of work can be created with that in mind.

Explaining where this project or piece of work fits into the business overall and how it aligns with your other products & services so they have clarity on how their piece is going to be used and complement the business. And they may well have other ideas and suggestions on how it can be made even better than you envisioned.

2.     Purpose of the Project

You want to explain what the problem you have in the business that this work is solving and why. Why is it important? Knowing the purpose, meaning and benefits to the business behind a project shows the outsourcer the importance of their work. The outsourcer can now begin to see what you’re looking at achieving.

3.     Deliverables

This is critical. You need to communicate here what you expect to see at the end of the work that will mean it’s a success. What you are expressing here is your desired outcome. We talked about success criteria earlier and this is where that comes in. Let them know where you want to end up once their work is finished so they know where they’re heading and what’s expected, for example, you expect five videos, three interviews & a series of social media posts to be created using the brand document.

Tell them how you’ll measure ROI on the work. Will it be by increased income, more leads, sales calls booked, or save your time, make things run smoother?

ROI is so important and can be such a boost knowing if something worked and how well it worked…but where I see people failing is forgetting to take the start number. No matter how much you intend to measure…you need to know where you are now to fully understand how far you’ve come.

4.     Team

Depending on the work or project other people in your team may be involved and you may have asked another team member to manage the project for you. So communicate who is the decision maker, who does the outsourcer need to go with for answers to questions or for passwords for example? Who can be consulted, who’s responsible for what?

5.     Set Timeframes

Always have a due date set for every piece of work. Whether it’s set by the outsourcer themselves as to when they feel they can complete or if you ask for it to be done by a particular date – that way it stops things hanging over for longer than necessary and gives everyone clarity on the expectations. You don’t want the situation where you assumed something would take two weeks but the outsourcer thought it would take four.

As a bonus tip, consider using buffers. Life happens, expect the unexpected…kids get sick, car breaks down, storm knocks out the internet, so if you need something in four weeks you can agree two or three weeks as a due date with your outsourcer. So if things run over a bit your project doesn’t get negatively impacted. You don’t really ever want to be in the position where you are down to the wire, that’s so stressful for everyone, and a buffer can really help prevent that.

6.     Set a mid-point review date

Depending on the size and complexity of the project you’ll be wise to set up review dates. Rather than delegating and walking away, which is kinda abdicating, carry out at least one or ideally multiple review dates. If you are only having one then set a mid-way review so you can get an idea of where they’re at and if they’re on track. I like to have a review a short time after they’ve started too just to check they are on the right lines and see if they have any questions. You don’t want to assume they’re on track only to find on the completion due date that they aren’t.

7.     Managing the tasks

I’ve seen countless outsourcers be delayed in their work because they were waiting for information from someone else in the business. Let your outsourcer know where to file their completed documents, where to access documents or images they may need and how to contact you with questions.  You might use a project or task management system that you also want them to use.

Our briefing documents include the sections I’ve given you here, sometimes a section has more or less information in it and sometimes you don’t need all the sections, so customise it to make it your own.


In summary, outsourcing success is all about clarity. If you don’t give the outsourcer clarity, they are going to fail and you are going to waste your money, and probably your time redoing what they failed to do.

About Jo Fellowes

With 25 years in business management, team development & digital marketing, Jo Fellowes understands what personality brands in personal development, health and well-being require to be successful.

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