Are you ready to outsource your back office?

As companies look to reduce costs, many are outsourcing functions such as HR and other back-office functions. Here are three critical steps to get you started.

Most companies are downsizing out of necessity, but that does not eliminate the need for many of the services that may no longer be done in-house.

These services include back-office functions, human resources, accounting, legal, marketing, public relations, web development, business development and capture, employee education, and many others.

So if you are downsizing one of these services, where do you start?

Step one: Make sure you need what you are looking for. Define the requirement carefully and make certain there is no one in-house that can do what needs to be done. Most employees have more skills than those used in their current positions. If you still need someone from outside the company, proceed after you determine what you can spend on this project and what the timeframe is.

Step two: Ask your employees for suggestions on who you might retain. Again, most employees have been employed elsewhere, so their combined experience with outside consultants can narrow your search.

Step three: Ask your peers. You can do this directly or through social networking platforms like LinkedIn and Twitter.

By now you should have a list. If a name on that list comes from multiple sources, it should move higher on the list. Now you do a little more research on each. Some of the things you need to look for are how long have they done this, do they have a positive reputation in the market, and do you know some of the same people (you can determine this from their LinkedIn profile- shared connections).

There are a couple obvious places to start your research: their web site or blog, you can Google them, or you can check them out on LinkedIn.

On their web site you can see what they offer and perhaps see some examples of their work. Their blog should strongly demonstrate expertise in the area where you are looking for help. LinkedIn can give you an idea of how well they are connected, who has recommended them (and for what), and the area of expertise they claim.

Now you are ready to interview your prospects, but determine if you need a non-disclosure (NDA) in place before you share too much information.

Now you need to interview each. Determine your questions ahead of time and have them reviewed by people in your company who will be involved directly or indirectly with this project. Telephone interviews are OK, but face-to-face is better.

Some consultants, myself included, will only do telephone interviews as going to a prospect site eats otherwise billable time. Do not be put off if the consultant will not do a face-to-face.

Before sharing your issue with each prospect, ask them what their main focus is. If you present your need first, the consultant will often say that is an area where they focus. You want an expert, not a generalist, someone focused on your exact need, not someone with a tangential skill.

During the interview process determine your comfort level with the consultant as well as their understanding of your issue. If you are going to be working with them you need that comfort and trust level to be high. You need someone who understands you and who you understand. At the end of the call have them explain your problem in detail back to you.

If they make the interview cut, this is the time to ask for and check references.

When you have you final list, you need to ask for a proposal, but consider sharing your budget and timeframe before asking for a proposal. Don’t waste more their time or your time if your project needs to be done in two weeks and they aren’t available for a month, or if your budget is $10,000 and their fee is $20,000. While fees may be negotiable, time frames usually aren’t.

I am a government contracting marketing and LinkedIn consultant, and I am constantly on the search for new clients, but because of company reputations there are some companies I will not work with. 

Further, many of those who approach me are looking for skills I don’t have, things like GSA Schedule help. I have carefully selected companies I recommend for different types of work in the government contracting market. All good consultants will recommend someone they trust for a skill they don’t possess.

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