Episode #111: Outsourcing vs In-house for Your Design Business

Some graphic designers have misconceptions about outsourcing vs in-house work. Find out common objections to outsourcing and how outsourcing can help your design business.


In this episode of Design Domination, I’m talking about misconceptions you may have about outsourcing to another designer, a developer or virtual assistant vs keeping all work in-house or doing it all yourself.

When I say “outsourcing,” I am referring to you potentially hiring a freelancer or a full-time or part-time subcontractor.

Also, I’m not just referring to just outsourcing client work. You could outsource administrative and marketing tasks such as invoicing, writing blog posts or creating social media images.

Let’s get into some objections I hear from other designers and some that I’ve even said myself.

“Only I can do what I do.”

Oh so many designers say, “Only I can do what I do, dah-ling.” I know. I used to say the exact same thing.

When I was doing all the things—branding and logo design, print design, publication layout, web design, web development, email design and coding, etc.—I was asked by a coach what I would be willing to give up—get off my plate—to help my business?

The choice was design or web development.

I struggled so badly with this question. “But I’m good at both,” I protested. “I like doing both. I like the creative and the technical.”

My coach insisted on an answer—only one of those two.

I gave it more thought and said I’d keep design. I was a much better designer than developer. I thought it would be easier to find a good developer to help me.

And, OMG, I did! He is so much better than me. He’s faster. He has much more technical knowledge on a lot of things.

I was so afraid to take that step. Later, I wondered why I hadn’t done it sooner! It was so nice to get that off my plate and focus on what I did best while letting him focus on what he does best.

A few years after that, I found a great designer and got the design work off my plate too. I didn’t have time to do all the client work and a podcast and all the marketing that comes with it myself.

In my other business, for the podcast and courses, I hired an amazing details person. It’s funny how after he took over handling a lot of the admin- and detail-oriented tasks that I originally thought only I could do, I realized how I had missed some details.

I had too much on my plate. I was going in so many different directions—managing client work, preparing podcast episodes, creating and marketing my courses—I wasn’t always as focused and good with the details as I once had been.

Hiring has freed up my time, so I can focus on what I do best and what I need to be doing. I am always looking to get more things off my plate too.

So think about what being able to focus on just one type of work or task—instead of switching hats all the time—could do for your business.

“I can’t afford to outsource.”

“I can’t afford to outsource” is something else I hear from designers.

But you don’t need to be making tons of money to outsource. Here’s why.

Hiring on a Project Basis

First off, if you’re hiring someone on a project basis, you should get estimates from whoever you want to partner with before you give an estimate to the client. That means you’re already taking into account what you will pay them.

You don’t start out by getting the work and then finding someone later. Some designers do this. In that situation, you may end up losing money or not making enough for it to be profitable.

You can actually be more profitable when you outsource.

Instead of investing time and money to learn every single skill out there, you find someone with that particular skill who does that all day, every day.

If you’re a print designer who doesn’t build websites, you don’t know what you don’t know. You’re going to invest a lot of time and effort into trying to figure it out and hoping you get it right.

Someone who does this all the time already knows what’s involved. Not only that but they will actually spend less time doing that work and they’ll get it right the first time.

Hiring on a Part-time or Full-time Basis

If you’re looking for help on a regular basis—part time or full time—you might need to consider looking for someone in another country whose rates you can afford.

But don’t just focus on the money you’ll be spending. Look at the bigger picture. Look at how much time you will save.

Consider how less stressed you will be focusing only on what you want to do. Consider how much time you will be able to spend on getting new work or new clients instead, so you’re less likely to be in feast or famine mode.

Profitability

Think of it more like an investment. Outsourcing can actually make your projects more profitable.

Sometimes you can’t afford not to. I used to work on these HTML emails—designing and coding them. I didn’t do them all the time, so I didn’t know all the nuances with each email program or service.

I sometimes spent more time troubleshooting things than doing the actual design and coding work to begin with! This was such a time suck, and I was constantly having to explain to clients why the emails weren’t all pixel perfect. It made the work unprofitable sometimes. My time was better spent on other types of projects that I did all the time and actually enjoyed.

Expanding Services

On another note, outsourcing can help you make more money by expanding the services that you offer. For instance, if you’re a designer who builds websites but you hate the ongoing maintenance of them (as did I!), then you can partner with someone else to handle that for you.

“There will be a language barrier.”

Some designers may be interested in outsourcing but are afraid to because if they hire someone out of the country, they may not speak their native language well.

Being able to communicate with someone in the same language is key obviously.

You can always have an interview with someone before hiring (I highly recommend that!) and assess their verbal language skills. If writing will be more important because you’ll be mostly communicating via Slack, for example, then be sure to focus on their written skills.

Upwork profiles show information about an individual’s language competency. Onlinejobs.ph also shows this but in a different way. Some of the individuals there have taken English proficiency tests, and you can see how they scored.

“A big difference in time zones will be a problem.”

Another misconception designers may have is that a big difference in time zones will be a problem.

But there are many designers in other countries who are willing to work hours that are different from their typical daytime business hours, especially for people in the United States. You simply have to ask someone you’re interested in working with when they are able to do the work for you.

Unless you need someone to respond immediately during your business hours, like if you have urgent requests that come up throughout the day, for example, then someone could do work for you during their daytime hours and then you just get back to them during your business hours.

The other side to this is that having someone work their business hours—when you’re done for the day—could open up possibilities for your business. If you provide website support, let’s say, and your client has an issue after your business hours, your subcontractor could respond at that time. So you could charge a premium rate for after-hours service.

“I won’t be able to trust someone else.”

You might also think you won’t be able to trust someone. Maybe you’re concerned they will steal client information to either take your clients or to do something with their passwords, for instance.

I was scared at first to share logins to client websites when I started working with my developer. But he kinda needed to have them to do the work.

I was scared at first to share logins to my online accounts for services that don’t allow more than one login, so someone else could schedule posts for me or have access to my social media accounts. I just gave access little by little, and trust was built up over time.

It’s important to have contracts in place to make expectations clear. I also have a list of the accounts that everyone working with me has access to.

After working with the right person over time, you will find that they actually become invested in your business—invested in helping you, not hurting you.

They want to be a part of your success. They want to take work off your plate, so you can focus on what you want.

It’s a wonderful feeling when that happens.

“I don’t want to manage anyone.”

Another objection I’ve heard and one that I used to say is, “I don’t want to manage anyone.”

OK, well, it’s hard to argue with this one. You will have to manage the project still and another person. But not every freelancer or subcontractor you work with will require the same level of management.

You can alleviate a lot of the time spent managing someone by setting expectations up front and having processes in place. Processes could be not just what’s needed for a project but when you expect them to check in as well, where you want them to put files, how you want files to be organized and named, etc.

You will have to spend some time up front to document these things. You should also expect that it may take a few months for a freelancer or subcontractor to get to know your processes.

You may also want to review their work and provide feedback, so they get a feel for what things you may want done a certain way. This also gives you a chance to make your processes more detailed or find out where your processes fall short.

But after you do this, if it’s a good fit, you’ll save a lot of time and have more profitable projects.

“I want control over the project/quality.”

Another objection to outsourcing a lot of graphic designers have is that they are afraid they won’t have control over the project or the quality of the work. But that’s simply not the case. You can still manage the project, review the work and set the standard for the quality you want.

Trust me: I am super picky!

You will have the say in what changes may need to be made before you send a proof to the client.

You need to find someone who does good work first. I also recommend giving them a test, so you can assess the things that are most important to you—creativity or technical details, for example.

The other thing you’ll want to do is document all the things you normally do to quality check your work in the process. Someone else can follow your process and check for those things as well. That will cut down on the time that you spend managing.

How Outsourcing Can Help Your Business

I hope this has set some things straight and helped you understand more about outsourcing and how it can help your business be more profitable, and save you time and frustration.

If this episode was helpful, please take a moment to help me by leaving a review for the podcast on your favorite platform or by leaving a comment below.

In another episode, I’ll get into how tips for hiring a subcontractor because there are a lot of things you can do up front to help you find the right person and to make working together much, much smoother.

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