The three corners on the triangle are labelled ‘Good Quality’, ‘Low Cost’ and ‘Fast Turnaround’, and from my extensive experience working as a small business and with a variety of other small businesses, it is virtually impossible to get all three when you are looking for a product or service.
Have you ever seen one of those articles about people who buy their wedding dress off eBay for £15, and it arrives from China and when the bride-to-be tries it on she resembles one of those retro toilet roll holders (or much, much worse)? That’s the analogy that I like to use when it comes to ‘cheap overseas labour’ – it might sound like THE answer to all of your prayers and mean you get a whole day’s worth of support for the price of a single hour of UK or EU based support, but in the vast majority of cases, you are relying on a completely unknown and untested entity to produce work of a good quality in a timely manner so that your business can be the ‘beautiful bride’ rather than a Halloween-esque monstrosity. Particularly following the introduction of the GDPR, if you are asking someone to work with your data (or worse, the data of one or more of your customers), how can you be sure that the data is being handled and managed in a way that is compliant with the regulations?
Of course, the magical triangle above isn’t the only reason that I think people should look closer to home for a virtual support team for their business, there are lots of other reasons too:
Supporting your local economy – when you work with a small local business, you’re helping a local individual or family to support themselves in a flexible way. The employed 9-5 is fast becoming a thing of the past as more and more people choose to work for themselves doing jobs that they are skilled at and passionate about. If all of your customers chose to take up ‘cheap overseas labour’ rather than work with your business, how long would you be able to stay in business? It’s the same for all other freelancers.
Recognisable qualifications, insurance and accreditations – If you need a freelancer to have a certain level of knowledge, experience or understanding about a specific topic, it’s likely that British/European qualifications (professional and academic) are going to be far more recognisable than some international awards. Your business insurance and contracts can also be rendered invalid in certain cases if you choose to work with people outside of the UK or EU, so make sure you check the small print and seek advice from a legal professional if you are unsure.
Language barrier – Though the vast majority of the world’s population speak better English than some of their British counterparts, it’s worth making sure that a freelancer’s written and spoken communication skills are up to the standard you require, particularly if they are going to be in a customer facing role and dealing directly with your customers (even if it is only by email). Grammatical and spelling errors on a website, in an email or in any of the documents that you produce for your business can have a negative impact on the perceived value of the work that you carry out for your clients.
Issues with working hours – Do you need emails responding to within traditional working hours (9-5pm)? Do you need to be able to communicate promptly and efficiently with your freelance team? If so, an overseas worker may not be the right fit for you, particularly if they are online in the middle of the night UK time and your email system is going haywire when customers and suppliers are asleep!
Reasonable re-imbursement for your workforce – £5-10 per hour might sound like the ideal price point for a workforce, but could you live on that income with your business AND household expenses? Even if you had a relatively low cost of living, is that a fair price to pay someone for the work they are carrying out for you? If the work requires a skilled and experienced individual to complete it, then that individual deserves to be appropriately reimbursed for their skill and expertise. What’s the lowest price you would work for? How do you feel if someone tells you that your product or service is overpriced and offers you significantly less for it? Before you exclaim ‘Oh, but I could get that much cheaper somewhere else!’, stop and think. Even if you do think it is overpriced, why not ask why that is the hourly price-point, and whether there is a discount for a package of hours/retainer? During the discussion stage of a business relationship, you haven’t committed to working together so can walk away at any time if the product is not priced at a level that is economically feasible for your business at the present time.
So when you are looking for a freelancer or team of remote staff to support your business, why not start by looking closer to home? Cheap, unskilled labour may seem like a good deal but can be a real false economy and have a negative impact on the perceived quality and value of your business in the long term. The UK has an incredible pool of talent who can help you deliver the quality and service that your business is renowned for, so why not contact them first when you are considering outsourcing aspects of your business to help you work more efficiently and effectively?