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For many start-ups, marketing is an after-thought. They have limited resources and those are most likely to go first to other areas such as product development. Some start-ups feel marketing is not necessary because they have not achieved the scale to accommodate more business. But if you want to grow your business, you have to market your services. If your resources are tight and you lack the time to do it yourself, the best option is to outsource your marketing.
What is Outsourcing and When You Need It
Outsourcing is the process of contracting the services of another party who can render work on a project or manage a specified set of responsibilities for the purpose of streamlining costs of operations. Outsourcing lowers costs by capitalizing on comparative cost advantages and economies of scale. The official terminology is Business Process Outsourcing or BPO.
A business can outsource to large scale agencies or individual contractors who work online. As private entities, they are accountable for their own costs of operations and save the client from spending additional direct costs to have these projects or tasks completed.
Usually businesses outsource tasks and services that do not fall under their core competencies and those categorized as non- essential functions. These include customer service, phone handling and back office support.
But when the global economy struggled through the 2003 collapse of the equities market, recession and the 2009 Euro Zone crisis; businesses started to outsource more specialized work to improve their bottom- line. Thus, from 2000 to 2014, the global outsourcing industry grew from US$45.6 Billion to US$104.6 Billion.
BPO naturally grew other branches such as Knowledge Process Outsourcing (KPO), Creative Process Outsourcing (CPO) and Legal Process Outsourcing (LPO). These categorized and organized the number of highly specialized services that were being outsourced to third party service providers. Marketing falls under Creative Process Outsourcing. CPO is one of the fast rising segments of BPO as more businesses begin to outsource digital marketing services.
Why Outsource Your Marketing
The reason why start- ups do not prioritize marketing is having a lack of understanding of its processes. Marketing is no longer just about placing advertisements and paying for press releases. It has evolved commensurate with digital technology and the Internet into an approach called digital marketing. Unlike traditional marketing, digital marketing can be implemented successfully without intrusive practices. It covers more ground, sustainable and costs less to manage.
And you don’t need to hire regular employees to run it.
The best option for start- ups is to outsource marketing to talented, experienced workers who have the expertise to generate ideas and quality content and won’t break your budget.
Here are the benefits of outsourcing marketing:
- Streamline Operations. Marketing involves several processes. For example for digital marketing the process included website design and programming, SEO, Creative Brief design, social media marketing, content marketing and online analytics. These require higher skill which normally would incur greater direct costs if done in-house.
- Full- time Attention. By outsourcing marketing, you are contracting people who have the time and expertise to manage your marketing and promotional activities. Marketing involves strategy that needs to be implemented according to the Creative Brief. The marketing team must also be attentive to changes in demands, preferences and trends so that revisions to the strategy can be done as soon as possible.
- Focus on Core Functions. When you outsource marketing, you can allocate more time and resources on the core functions of the business. Savings that are generated by outsourcing can be plowed back to the company and fund projects related to core functions. This improves productivity.
The Pros and Cons of Using a Virtual Team over Hiring Employees
Businesses have the option of using a virtual team to manage their marketing or to have it done in-house by hiring r employees. Before you decide on which option to take, keep in mind that there are pros and cons in contracting a virtual team over running marketing as an in-house operation.
- Lower Cost. Virtual assistants are often referred to as freelancers, home- based workers or telecommuters. They work online from remote locations usually their home and manage multiple clients. Thus, they are technically entrepreneurs themselves.
Virtual Assistants are not paid employee benefits. As the client, you will not incur additional expenses for rent, Internet and utilities. These are the virtual assistant’s costs for providing virtual assistance services.
On the other hand, employees are required by law to receive benefits from the company and mandated agencies. You will have to allocate rental accommodation in your office and incur additional expenses for Internet service and utilities.
It is estimated that the total cost of hiring an employee is equivalent to 1.5 times to double his or her basic salary.
- Greater Productivity. As proprietors of an enterprise that provides virtual assistance services, they will make sure schedules and time-tables are consistently met without compromising quality.
This is because virtual assistants look at their service as a business they can grow. Thus, there is shared interest between Virtual Assistant and the client. If the client is happy with services, the Virtual Assistant can hope to get repeat business or referrals.
A Virtual Assistant is also paid per productive hour. They have to make sure they meet deadlines and time- tables. An employee is paid a fixed salary per month. It doesn’t matter if his hour is productive or not. As long as he shows up for work he gets paid.
A study by personal development coach Steve Pavlina shows that employees only account for 90 productive minutes per day or 19% out of a regular eight hour schedule.
By delegating non- essential work or other non- core functions to the Virtual Assistant, you can focus more time on the core business activities of the business.
- Flexible Operations. A Virtual Assistant can work different shifts. Their schedule would depend on what your business needs and what you want to achieve.
This is the advantage of hiring virtual assistants from remote locations. Depending on where you are in the world, time zone differentials make it possible for your business to be managed after office hours.
Regular office employees follow a fixed schedule. Any hour in excess of regular office hours will translate to overtime pay. If you assign them to work after normal office hours, you may be required to include hazard and graveyard pay.
- Problems in Communication. Despite the advances in technology, nothing beats close collaboration. It is easier to communicate with another person who shares the same space than with someone who is behind a computer monitor. It is largely human nature to be more confident and attentive when the person in within proximity. In the virtual world, filters exist that could hinder proper communication.
Differences in cultural practices and societal norms may also affect efficient communication because changes in perspectives will exist.
- Data Protection and Integrity. When you outsource, the service provider shall be granted access to information that may otherwise be considered confidential.
The network will also be shared. Whether it is intentional or not, it may be difficult to secure the network from dangerous or unprotected sites which the Virtual Assistant may stream.
For example, if the Virtual Assistant manages customer service, a subscriber inquiry may require her to access a site that unknowingly contains malware or spyware. This could compromise the network especially if the malware can breach the firewall.
Which Marketing Tasks Can Start Ups Outsource
Before you decide to outsource start up marketing, you have to answer these questions:
- Are you ready to market your services?
- Do you have the facilities in place to accommodate more leads?
- Is your budget enough to cover the costs of marketing?
If the answer to these questions is “Yes”, then you need to learn an important concept in marketing.
Marketing is not the same as sales.
These are two different disciplines that work to accomplish the same objective: create revenue. Marketing is tasked to acquire prospective customers through a sales funnel and qualify these as leads.
Marketers use a variety of techniques to generate leads. These techniques are highly specialized and could be outsourced to generate cost savings and ensure implementation. Among the online marketing strategies you can outsource are:
Website Development and Management
- Mobile responsiveness
- Multi browser accessibility
- Downloading speed
SEO & PPC
- HTML Coding
- Link Building
- Keyword Research
Social Media Marketing
- Strategy Design
E- mail Marketing
- verify the leads
- qualify the leads
- book appointments
The above marketing processes are used to generate leads. The task of converting these into paying customers falls into the hands of sales. Conversion can be done through sign- ups, e-mail marketing, having effective calls- to- action and regular engagement.
Virtual assistants have the diversity in skill to manage these functions.
In theory, outsourcing start up marketing to virtual assistants is the best option for entrepreneurs. Outsourcing streamlines costs and increases revenue by improving productivity.
How to Find the Best Virtual Assistants
There are many avenues you can consider to find the best virtual assistants. For freelancers you could use any of these options:
Online Job Platforms. Over the years, several communities have proliferated in the Internet creating a market place that matched clients with freelance service providers. Among the popular ones are:
- People Per Hour
Social Media. Many people use social media to look for work and find ideal candidates for their projects. You can join focus groups or community organizations that can connect you with the right people. LinkedIn is the preferred choice for professional networking. You can post job openings in your community or you can fine-tune the search parameters in LinkedIn so you can connect with potential right-fit candidates as Virtual Assistant.
Referrals. Of course, you can also use your current network to recommend or refer virtual assistants for your business.
Use agencies like OutsourceWorkers to outsource marketing, or Qualicode for development needs, that contract virtual workers to manage their clients. There are many advantages in dealing with an agency compared to a freelancer:
- First, because of economies of scale, the cost of hiring a Virtual Assistant could be lower. Or if it is marginally higher compared to a freelancer, the agency will ensure greater value by including additional services or benefits.
- Second, you are assured of quality. The virtual assistants in their fold have worked with their clients for many years.
- Third, if you are not satisfied with your Virtual Assistant the agency can replace her without missing a beat.
Things to Consider When Outsourcing
As successful as outsourcing has been as a business development strategy, there have also been arrangements that failed to deliver results. Every relationship involves two parties and it is never just one party’s fault.
Here are some tips to consider when outsourcing start up marketing to ensure positive results are delivered consistently:
- Define Your Goals Clearly. As the client, you have to be the one who sets the targets and objectives of the campaign. If the Virtual Assistant does not have an idea of what you want to accomplish, she would not be as productive.
- Conduct Due Diligence Before Hiring or Contracting Anyone. There are many service providers online. But despite the growth of the virtual assistance industry, not everyone can give great results. Establish a reliable qualifying process and take the time to check up on the background of the candidates.
- Consider the Challenges of Working with Virtual Assistants from Remote Locations. It will be more affordable to hire someone from a remote location such as India or the Philippines but there will be more challenges. Although these countries have developed a sterling reputation in outsourcing, you still have to consider barriers in language and culture as potential hindrances to the arrangement. The solution can be found in #1 and #4.
- Ensure Effective Communication. Working with someone from the virtual world presents unique challenges. In addition to language and cultural barriers, you also have to deal with problems in collaboration. Instead of asking, “Did you understand my instructions?” require the Virtual Assistant to feed back the instructions to you.
- Moderate Expectations. Clients should always keep in mind that outsourcing is not an overnight fix. It takes time to get things running smoothly because there is a learning curve to overcome. That’s because it will take time for your virtual team to understand your system and requirements. That’s especially if you outsource technical tasks.
- Create Benchmarks. The best way to keep track of your Virtual Assistant’s performance is to set benchmarks. You should have a system in place that allows you to measure or grade the efficiency and effectiveness of your Virtual Assistant. Benchmarks should always be supported by statistics and figures. Another effective approach is by using self- evaluation techniques. By comparing these to statistics you can uncover potential weak points.
- Get Involved in the Process. Clients also make the big mistake of remaining disengaged with the process. It is advisable to have involvement in the managerial aspect and frequently oversee how the work is coming along. Engage your Virtual Assistant and find out directly if there are issues that need to be resolved.
- Give Credit where it is due. If she does a great job, reward her. It doesn’t have to be monetary in value although she would appreciate that greatly! Give her additional clients or referrals so she can grow her business. But let your Virtual Assistant know that you are happy with her work.
Outsourcing start up marketing can be an effective option for entrepreneurs. It is cost- efficient and allows you to focus on other matters while business tries to gain traction. Outsourcing will give you the means to start building on your brand without breaking the bank.
Note from Moran:
- Most freelance marketers you will hire would not care to be called ‘virtual assistant’ although widely used in the article. Virtual assistant is usually referred to someone who performs certain tasks that do not require high-level professional knowledge or experience like data entry, researching, customer support, etc. The real experts would like to be referred to as consultants or advisors.
- There are a few more cons to consider.
- First, the productivity isn’t always better than an employee who is physically present in the office and is fully dedicated to the job. Freelancers would often have other clients and will not be able to sit around and wait for your comments on the last tasks they performed. They will dive into a new project, so iterations can spread out and extend the entire project time frame.
- Hiring the right freelancers takes time. When I search for a good content writer for example, I always hire more than 1. I hire up to 5 actually, giving all 5 the exact same task, and then keep working with the best one (assuming hopefully one of them would be good enough).
- If you’re hiring a freelance developer, create a test before tasking them with the entire project. You have to make sure they’re capable enough. This can save you a lot of time and money, even when taking into account the time and money spent on the test.