To outsource or keep in-house, that is the question.


One question I’m often asked is “how do I decide whether to outsource that element of my marketing or manage it in-house?”. While there's not always a definitive answer for what the right approach is, for me it comes down to three key things: time, cost, and in-house skills. And, while time, cost and in-house skills are three distinct factors that need consideration, they are of course unavoidably linked.

Firstly, let's look at the question of time. It may be that you do indeed have the right skills and experience in-house but that your team are busy delivering projects or carrying out their business as usual activities. As such they may not have the capacity to take on additional work or to take it on and do it well. It could be that you have team members on long-term absence or are facing a resource shortage while struggling to recruit. If you find yourself in this situation, have a deadline to hit or need something turned round quickly, outsourcing is quite probably the best option for you.

Now let’s say your in-house team don't have the right skills or experience. In this scenario time becomes a major deciding factor. If you have the luxury of time, it could be that upskilling your team is the best option as it can also help future proof your marketing function so the situation is less likely to occur again. Upskilling can be done in one of two ways: send them on a formal training course that addresses their skills gap or insource the work by getting your third-party supplier to work in your office and with the team. By taking the latter approach, the team can begin to learn the necessary skills by seeing a specialist in action, gain relevant experience and hopefully next time be better positioned to carry out the work themselves. If time is a luxury you don’t have, outsourcing is again likely to be the right solution for you. Personally, I believe that even if you've had the formal training there's no substitute for experience. By bringing someone in to work with your team they will benefit not just from being shown what to do but by being shown how to do it. This approach is likely to deliver results more quickly than waiting for your team to complete the necessary training and then be in position to start the project. Also, it may be that without having the relevant experience and/or guidance, even after successfully completing the training, your team members are not be in a position to successfully deliver what your business needs.

Now let's look at cost. This can be considered from two different angles: can you afford to outsource the work or alternatively, can you afford not to outsource? Of course outsourcing will cost you money but if managing it in-house results in major errors or delays then the actual result may not be a net saving for your business. Remember, the cheapest solution is not always the best solution so consider who is more likely to deliver the desired results and deliver them well. Making sure you consider both the long and short-term consequences of your decision will help you properly evaluate the cost benefit of outsourcing vs. keeping it in-house.

Finally, when it comes to assessing your in-house skills, you and your team need to be honest with each other. Making sure you understand what is required by your business in order to succeed in today's marketing environment is crucial; as is reassuring your team that it's OK to admit where they have gaps in their knowledge or experience and to be confident in the skills they do have. By marrying what is needed with what you have, you'll very quickly see what holes need plugging. Then it comes down to time and cost: do you have the time to devote to upskilling and training your team? Can you afford not to outsource this project? Can you afford not to upskill your team? As touched on earlier, even if your team has the right skills and experience, sometimes outsourcing is the only way you can deal with resource shortages and impending deadlines.

So, while I may not be able to offer a magic formula for deciding whether to deliver the work in-house or to outsource (or indeed insource), if you consider the three key variables of time, cost and in-house skills, you will surely find the answer that's right for your business. But remember, if you decide to outsource, choose a company or an individual that not only has the right expertise and experience but one that is also a good fit for your business, will work in the way you want to work and has both parties’ best interests at heart. How you identify such a supplier however, is a post for another day.

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