Importance of Planning

There is a lot of uncertainty in the air.

iStock_000019998849XSmallThe so called Fiscal Cliff, the economy, new business regulations, new healthcare laws and the list goes on. Everyone knows the importance of planning, but it can be difficult to know where to start when you are unsure of what to plan for.

Remember the old saying, “nothing is certain but change?” If that is true, and none of us have a crystal ball to accurately predict the future, how do we proceed? Perhaps the best defense is to create a plan for building flexibility into your business. The ability to ramp up or down without saddling yourself with lots of fixed overhead that can crush you if you don’t have the cash flow to support it.

A piece of that plan may be outsourcing. That doesn’t mean farming out your core business, but it does mean taking a hard look at what you really need to focus on in-house that is revenue generating and what processes or pieces of processes you could find outside vendors to provide.

I am sure that this is something that you have considered, but maybe you need some pointers to actually start going down the outsourcing path and do it successfully. I am in a position to share some insights because I have been on both ends of outsourcing relationships. My company is a call center that provides outsourced telephone answering services and I have vendors that provide outsourced services to me (ex. IT support). I would like to focus on some important questions to ask yourself and bring up some issues you may not have thought about.

What to outsource?

  • What is your core business and how do you serve it up in a unique way?
    You need to think about this before you decide what to outsource. It doesn’t mean you can’t outsource certain aspects of your business, but you need to make sure that your vendor can stick to your formula for success.
  • What is the goal you are trying to achieve through outsourcing?
    Some examples might be: shortening the ramp up time required to take advantage of sales opportunities, reducing labor costs and freeing up people and resources for “revenue generating” activities. You can’t outsource successfully unless you are clear on what you are trying to achieve.
  • What activities in your company are mission critical?
    You may still choose to outsource some of them. However, if a project falls into this category, you should consider giving it a lot more time and attention and perhaps even require a review by a top level manager.

How much and when to outsource?
Often outsourcing doesn’t have to be an all or nothing situation. Is there a way for you to test the waters on a smaller scale? Perhaps you could begin with your overflow work or a single project. You also want to avoid beginning a new relationship in a rush if you can possibly avoid it. You are more likely to be successful at outsourcing if you recognize the importance of planning, give yourself and your vendor adequate time to do it well and test the relationship on a manageable scale.

Who to outsource to?
There are tons of articles written about this subject, but I want to talk about some points I don’t see a lot of discussion on.

  • Is there a match between your company values and those of your potential vendor?
    One way I get at this is to ask myself an important question. If something goes wrong, perhaps through no one’s fault (it may be an issue neither you nor your vendor considered) do you feel that your vendor will work with you to do what is reasonable to resolve the issue? Do they value a win-win relationship? I am a big believer in trusting your gut on this one. If you have concerns, don’t feel that you have to spend a lot of time “proving” you are right. Spend the time looking for a better vendor.
  • Do you find it easy and comfortable to communicate with them effectively?
    This is absolutely key to outsourcing successfully. Bad communication is a recipe for disaster. Outsourcing is a type of marriage and your vendor has to be able to adapt to your communication style.
  • Do they have a specific process for “onboarding” new clients?
    I am much more reassured that I am going to have a successful relationship with a vendor if they have a documented process and/or checklist for things like: gathering information to set up my account, determining what will need to integrate with my current processes/applications/vendors, providing me with information on who to call for different types of requests and setting up-front expectations on performance and TOTAL costs.

You already know the importance of planning for success. Don’t stress yourself out in 2013 by trying to be a fortune-teller. What can you do to plan for flexibility so you will be better prepared no matter what happens?

This blog was written by Laurie Leonard, the President of SUITE 1000, a U.S. based national telephone answering service, inbound call center and outsourced call center service. Her company has specialized in handling legal intake, sales leads, email lead response, appointment scheduling, customer service and help desk calls for over 20 years.

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