Outsourcing aspects of your business to an external business support professional can be hard, especially when so many business owners you speak to at networking events seem to have horror stories about unskilled, unreliable or unscrupulous freelancers causing problems for their business.
Here at Personally Virtual, we have first-hand experience of some of these issues – both when we’ve been looking for support with the running of our own business, and when we’ve been trialing new ‘associates’ to help deliver work for our clients. Over the last five years, we’ve met a number of people who have been unable to provide reasonable quality work to appropriate deadlines (or at all!). As a business that prides itself on our professionalism, quality of work and open, honest and timely communication, we want to ensure that the businesses we work with share our values and ideals so that we can work efficiently and productively together. If we can’t trust the businesses we outsource work too, then we aren’t working efficiently – we may have to check and edit or correct the work they have completed, or we may find that the work is unusable, meaning that we are paying out for a service and not receiving anything in return… not really a financially viable business model!
We have addressed this risk in our business by choosing to work with freelance business professionals who have certain criteria in place. We ensure that they have appropriate insurance and contracts in place and are registered with appropriate governing bodies like HMRC (for Anti-Money Laundering Regulations, if they do any book-keeping or financial accounts management work) and the Information Commissioner’s Office (if they manage or handle data). To help business owners confirm that potential freelancers have all of these essential business features in place, and to make sure that they are highly recommended by previous clients we always get references and we have a set of IT criteria everyone needs to have.
A number of our VAs are also accredited through the APVA. VA accreditation can really help to ensure that a business is a reasonable and appropriate ‘fit’ for your business outsourcing needs, it is a relatively new certification that we hope grows in momentum and popularity over the next few years! There are other checks that you can make yourself to find out whether a business can offer you the level of service and support that you are looking for if they aren’t accredited by an organisation like APVA:
**Ask about their insurance – ask whether a business has Professional Indemnity Insurance in place, and what level of cover that they have. The business may also require Public Liability Insurance and/or Cyber Insurance, depending on the work they are carrying out for you. If a business doesn’t have insurance, I would ask them why they haven’t opted for this and be wary of working with them; insurance helps to financially protect both them and you in the event of an unforeseen negative situation arising and should be considered a ‘must have’ for any self-employed small business owner.
**Ask for references and/or to take a look at their portfolio of their work – Creative businesses may have a portfolio of sample work, or work that they have recently completed, to help illustrate their skills and experience, so it’s worth asking if they have one. Some freelancers may be unable to collate this information because of the type of work that they complete, so it’s not unusual for businesses not to have examples/samples that you can review. However, the majority of businesses should be able to provide testimonials/references from their customers, so make sure you ask to see them! If a potential freelancer is unwilling or unable to provide this information, don’t be afraid to ask them why.
**Trust your network to give personal referrals – If you’re looking to outsource work, why not speak to your network of trusted peers to make honest recommendations? If you’re a member of a local networking group, ask them about their positive experiences with freelancers in a specific field.
**Speak to them! Although it is possible to meet and start working with a freelancer who you have only ever corresponded with via email, it’s usually best to speak to them directly via a Zoom/Skype call or on the telephone to get a better insight into the way that they work and their business ideals and values.
**Don’t expect them to work for free – It’s so tempting to ask a freelancer to carry out some ‘tester’ work for free for you, but please don’t! These are small business owners, like you, who have bills to pay and food to put on the table. If you aren’t sure whether to commit to a number of hours per month with a specific freelancer, why not ask whether they’d be happy to complete a small paid-for trial (i.e. 1-2 hours) so that you can get an insight into their working style and make sure it fits with yours?
**Cheap doesn’t necessarily equate with quality – It’s tempting to accept the cheapest offer from a freelancer to complete work for you, but a low rate doesn’t necessarily mean a quality result! Experienced, qualified and trusted professionals are likely to charge a rate that reflects that experience, but at least you can rest assured that your business is in the safe hands of an experienced professional!
**Trust your gut – If something doesn’t feel right at any stage – trust your gut instinct! Even the most experienced and qualified individuals may not be the right personality fit for your business, so have the confidence to step back and review your options, as it will save you and the freelancer in question lots of wasted time and energy!
Although the list of potential questions above is fairly comprehensive, make sure that you take time to carefully consider whether outsourcing to a particular business or freelancer is the right action for your business. Don’t rush into a business relationship with an unknown entity unless you have contracts in place to protect your business, but rest assured that when you have done the research and found the right candidate for your outsourcing needs, the benefits from outsourcing work can be significant and make a huge and positive difference to your professional life!