Aderson Oliveira: I've spoken with Mark Jamieson about his experience with outsourcing, and Mark has the opinion that outsourcing is about finding a partner that can bring value to you and your business in a cost-effective way, and not necessarily just shipping business overseas. He also mentioned that we should do A/B tests with outsourcing companies as well to figure out which one works best for you, and also the fact that we should not launch new projects on Fridays.
Hello, hello, Aderson Oliveira here. This is another interview for the OuchSourcing Podcast where I talk to business owners, specialists, professionals about outsourcing, and how outsourcing impacts their business, and how to do outsourcing properly. That's the reason why I have, with me, Mark Jamieson. Mark is the President and managing partner at WSI eStrategies. Mark, thank you very much for being here.
Mark Jamieson: Good morning, Aderson, and thank you for having me.
Aderson: Perfect. Mark, let's start with the basics. The basics is where are you located and what is your business about?
Mark: Well, thank you, Aderson. We're located here in Canada's nation capital of Ottawa, and WSI Strategies is an internet marketing company specializing mainly in search engine marketing, web design, social media marketing, and content marketing.
Aderson: Perfect. Again, it's one more interview with WSI consultants. Why WSI? Why I bring so many WSI consultants? Because, a key aspect of what WSI does is about outsourcing, so I said, "Why not bring all those professionals, those business owners that understand a lot about outsourcing?" I'm just trying to cover here why. Mark, how does outsourcing apply to your business?
Mark: I think it's economics at the end of the day. As the agency has grown over the last four years, starting out, you realize that, initially, even just simply finding the right talent was a little harder than it seemed. Outsourcing was a way for us to sub out. I don't want to say the word "sub out". It was just a way to really get the work done in a cost-effective way that really helped us for our business. It helped us keep our margins down, it helped us keep our cost to create significantly lower than a lot of the other agencies may have, and initially what it did is, and what we realize really early on, Aderson, is that for the SMB's out there, they understand the importance of marketing. I don't think anybody out there can't really say that marketing is not something that we need to do. What typically stops them from really moving ahead are the finances, the financials. Some of the larger agencies out there really have to price high to cover their overhead, cover their cost, probably that staff with 30, 40, 50, 60, or even 100 people within. You got to keep the machine going.
Outsourcing really allowed us to keep our costs down, and it wasn't a selfish means. It really was a way that we could translate that back to the client. It help us close more deals, it helped us get more SMB's into the marketing game and do whatever reasonable way for them where everybody was happy. We make some money, they save some money, and they're able to help grow their business earlier on.
Aderson: When I was thinking about what to ask, what not to ask, I said, "You know what? I would like to understand if there is how your business looks like without that outsourcing component added to it? How would it look like if you had a business at all?"
Mark: I think, starting out, if we hadn't outsourced, I fear that we may not be in a position that we are today. We're at a point now where, obviously, there are certain things that we still outsource. I'm not going to lie, yes, there's certain things that we absolutely do not outsource, we keep completely in-house. We just need to keep that element of control. But, if we were really coming in and hiring the right talent internally, paying the salaries that need to be done to do the job properly, like any other growing business, we needed to acquire. We need to bring in more customers to be able to feed that machine. Outsourcing helped us do it. I can honestly say if we hadn't outsourced in the beginning in that first 24 months, I don't think the business would have gotten off the ground the way it has today.
Aderson: Got it. You mentioned there something that you said. There are things that you don't outsource. What do you don't outsource and why?
Mark: Why? Let's look at something like web development for example. One thing that we risked for a lot of the SMB's, and I think if you look at the numbers out there, the average cost of a website could be $10, $12, $15 thousand. For a lot of the smaller businesses, that's too much. We found that outsourcing gave us an edge where we were to commit and accommodate some of those smaller businesses.
On the fundamentals, on the technical side, outsourcing really works here. Where we found that it didn't work was on the creative. Creative is something that really is personal to the client. We bring our creative team, we talk to the customers, get an idea of the company, their culture, and at that point, creative, we do in-house. Then, we bring that over to the outsourcing team for them to implement.
Something like that is something that we completely keep because it's very personal, it keeps the direct relationship with the end user, with the client. So, that is a good example for something that we absolutely would not outsource. We tried it. We just felt that the quality wasn’t what we were looking for, and at the end of the day, we put our name on everything, so it needs to be 100%.
Aderson: When you say creative, which area specifically about creative do you mean? Is that advertising, is that logo, brand design? What are those creative areas?
Mark: Absolutely. Creative could be anywhere between the graphic design. It could be the brand identity for the end users, for the client. It could be the way things are laid out. Normally, what we would do, for example, with the website, our creative team would really draw the mock-up to get an idea of exactly what we're looking for, bring in the design elements, colors, logos, whatever may be, and then bring that over to the outsourcing team, and then they can add the technical to it, and then they can just kind of fidget around, do what needs to be done with it, bring it back to us. We can adapt and bring it back to the client, get their okay, make a few tweaks, and off we are.
Aderson: Let's talk a little bit about how you come about picking and selecting which provider, which partner you work with. Can you tell us a little bit about your process of selecting a partner, an outsourcing partner?
Mark: Sure. I think, Aderson, and that's a great question, and I think, even for us, this is the one part about outsourcing that is what might turn any business off, like any anything else, it's a lot of trial and error. I think, more importantly, before we would even talk to a third-party agency or to a development team that might not be controlled in house by us, references. We're looking at references, we're looking at reputation, etcetera. Like any other shop around, you’re not going to hire a contractor what they'll do in your due diligence. We would do our due diligence, get an idea, ask for referrals, talk to other businesses that use them, find out how the culture was, and the relationship was. We really took our time there.
I think, for WSI, one of the big edges we have is because of the sheer size of our network, and again, as you know, Aderson, we're over 1,000 consultants in 80 countries. We were able to reach out to some of the veterans that have been at it for 10, 12, 15, 20 years and get some feedback, find out what agencies or third-party or outsourcing areas work well for them, which ones did not, and obviously we capitalize on that.
Aderson: Okay, that's great. You have a network, so why not just leverage that and get referrals from people that have done, that have come prior to you. A little bit more on the relationship with outsourcing partner. What pisses you off when dealing with outsourcing partners? What is it?
Mark: I love that you use that language. What pisses us off the most, obviously, is control. As soon as you outsource, you are eliminating a certain amount of control that you may have in-house. I think that was maybe more prominent three, five, seven years ago. Technology today is so advanced and elaborate that, realistically, look at us: we're 400 miles away, but you're next door. We were able to implement the right tools to allow us to really communicate strongly with whatever production centers that we may be using.
I think, initially, obviously, depending on whether it's time zones that may not be in the same areas you're in, that can be an issue. Every once in a while, you may get a call from the client that says, "Hey, we need some help immediately with this, and unfortunately, we're at a point now, we're 99.9% of time, we do have the talent in-house to accommodate, but starting out initially, we did not have that," so there could be some lags. So, somebody wants something done now; it may have to wait until tomorrow.
These are the things that irritated me a little bit with outsourcing. I think there are some pros and cons, definitely, to outsourcing. My opinion is the pros definitely outweigh the cons, but this was definitely one of them. Response time can sometimes lag communication, sometimes things will not be communicated properly, they're back and forth. There's some costs and expenses too. Starting over, for example, if something wasn't done right the first time where you may have had a better opportunity to keep a closer eye, let's say, if it was in-house. I think, really, the big thing on that end would be simply a little bit of control that you do have to give up. I'm a control guy. I'd like to know what's going on in my business, so that was always a tough one to swallow.
Aderson: Let me probe a little bit more on that. It seems to me that you use outsource, and you still use outsource a lot, but the trend is to bring things in-house. Is that your trend?
Mark: I don't think it's so much our trend is to bring things in-house. I just think, over the years, we've been able to figure out what things are just better managed in-house compared to what things are better done outsourced. Let's look at we're an internet marketing company which is extremely content-driven, for example. Let's look at content, for example. I'm working with 30 different industries. To have a content writer in-house, for example, or two content writers, or three content writers writing for all these different businesses, it's impossible.
They don't have the knowledge, so we outsource content all the time. Why? Because we can find people who write specifically for these verticals. For us to keep this in-house, it's impossible, and for agencies that do, typically what happens is the content seems to fluffy and very surfaced, whereas when we outsource this, we can get stuff done that's a little bit deeper, has some better meaning, and is really more applicable to the end users' business at the end of the day. Content would be another area that we definitely and will always outsource.
Aderson: Let me ask you a question about content, because based on previous interviews, I see the trend that content, yes, you can outsource content, but it's usually better to keep content closer to where the client is. I mean, if you outsource content, let's say, to the Philippines or to India, maybe they don't have the same context as required here. So, your content strategy in terms of outsourcing, is that to outsource locally to North America? Is that it?
Mark: Absolutely. I think it's important for all the viewers to understand that when we talk about outsourcing, we're not always talking about the Philippines or India. I think this is where, as soon as you say, "I outsource," especially in our industry, all of a sudden you're remembering the 18 emails you got last night from India asking you to get on the first page of Google for $99. This is not what we're talking about here.
When it comes to content, for example, I would say 80% of the content writers that we outsource are not only in North America, but in our case, they're here in Ontario. They understand the geography, they understand the location. We have content writers who we use in Ottawa, we have one of our number one content writers that we use for, I'd say, probably about 30% of our businesses right now is located in Belgo not too far from where you are, Aderson. We have some content writers in the U.S. and Florida. But, honestly, I have never, to this date, outsourced content in India or the Philippines, because common sense here is we're going to have language barriers and issues, so I think it's important. Can you outsource tech to the Philippines or to India? Absolutely. You know what I mean? Phenomenal work, as long as you find the right people to do it.
Aderson: It all makes sense. If we're talking about, I guess, a global language where it doesn't matter where you are, like technology, then why not. But, again, if it's something that brings culture in place as well, then you're better off with your next-door neighbor.
Mark: Absolutely. If I had a local business here whose demographic was a different culture, then I would be outsourcing that content to the right person. The beauty about outsourcing is once you know where to look, and how to find it, and how to validate it, definitely, sky is the limit. At the end of the day, it almost always translates into significant savings, which we can then really pass on the client, which I think, at the end of the day, is what we're happy with.
Aderson: I would assume that, in many years that you have as experience there, Mark, you may have come across providers that you had to fire them. You had to let go because things were not working out that well. What is it that you don't forgive from an outsourcing partner?
Mark: I'm a man of my word. So, when you tell me you're going to do something, and I understand that delays happen all the time. We're very careful in the way that we source out our projects and who we use. What I won't forgive is sheer laziness. If you honestly promise me -- I'm not a forgiving person. At the end of the day, our name has to go on it and our clients have a certain expectation. In the beginning, outsourcing actually was a bit costly for us because we had to fire people. We would be giving some money up, work would get done two weeks, three weeks into it, this is not quite what we thought, and we had to pull the plug. That cost us money, and then we would have to start over.
Initially, that was a little tough to swallow, but that's just part of the -- if you're going to outsource, you're going to have the A/B test and try different people until you find what works and what doesn't work. I am not forgiving when it comes to not abiding by your word. We're very meticulous in the way that we source our projects, we have timelines, we have to-do's, we're very clear with the production centers, or who is going to be doing our projects, and what needs to be done. It just needs to get done. I've given my word to a client, they're signing a contract, I'm signing a contract at the end of the day. We need to assure that it gets done. I'm not forgiving. I don't give a lot of second chances, and if I get screwed, we're done.
Aderson: One time. I love what you said there, the A/B testing of outsourcing providers. I love that. That might be the title of our interview. I love that. Let me ask you this, Mark. You said you don't forgive, and you're very strict, and not too many second chances there. But, problems happen. I had to call clients that say, "Hey, you know what? We may get delayed here for a week." What is the proper way of addressing a potential delay on one of your persons? What is the right way to do that?
Mark: I think whether you're outsourcing or whether we're working internally, and again, we still have a lot of internal work that gets done, not everything we do is outsourced, problems happen, delays happen, unforeseens happen, unexpecteds happen. You know, that's business. As much as we strive for perfection and we hope everything's going to run smoothly 100% of the time, that's 100% never the case. I think anybody who's been in business for more than 30 days realizes that.
As long as there is a certain amount of transparency from the partners that we're using if there's an issue -- right now, we have very good relationships with the partners that we use. So, if we're seeing problems or maybe even if they made promises what we did not see this coming. "Honestly, Mark, we may have to up our cost a little bit." If it's reasonable I'm okay with it. If it's failed to launch and absolutely not. If an issue is happening, then definitely as long as the production center who's doing the work takes responsibility and ensures it gets fixed.
I think that is really the nature of a true professional, whether you're on the production side, you're on the agency side like us, I can never look legitimately like finding they are and say, "Mistakes are never going to happen." But as long as you're transparent, you suck it up, you own your mistakes, and you make it right, you know what? I'm fine with that. That's just business.
On that end, we understand mistakes are going to happen. The relationships that we have with any third-party companies that we use to do some of our projects, to this date, have been fantastic. If we can't meet a timeline, we're honest with the client. We'll let them know there'll be a short delay, but I don't think, to this date yet, we've had delays that have really affected our clients financially or really have impacted our end results. We're talking delays could be a week, two weeks. I think that's within the norm of this business.
Aderson: I really think, Mark, that one of the key elements of outsourcing, and I keep insisting on that, is having good communication not only from the provider to you, but from you to your client, good communication all throughout. Because, if you have clear communication, you can identify those problems upfront instead of it's supposed to be delivered tomorrow and it's not delivered tomorrow. Why? Why didn't you tell me this a week ago or two days ago?
Mark: Absolutely, and a lot of it, sometimes, is on your end too. Are you giving them the right information and everything that they need to be able to test things in advance before maybe we're up for our launch date? I was told early on in this business when we started one of the first biggest investments that you're going to make is making sure that you have the right project management team internally to do the job right, and then we took that at the heart. We have found project managers right now, and they are on top.
Any outsourcing that is getting done, it's daily communication. We're set up in the Basecamps. They have the to-do's. We're able to test here internally, make sure things have been done. So, right now, it's just a well-oiled machine, and we're talking to the production teams regardless of where they are. If they're here local in Ottawa, if they're in Toronto, if they're in the States, and yes, sometimes they are overseas and that's okay. As long as the communication is consistent and constant, there is not a day that goes by that our production teams, or that our project management teams are not in clear and concise communication with anyone outside the agencies that could be doing work for us.
Simply, it works. I think we're living in an era now, and I mentioned this earlier, where technology is so fantastic, even our own internal teams that we have here, most of the time, they work remotely. They don't need to be in the office anymore. They can get more done, and they don't have to be dealing with the traffic and the extra expenses. The beauty that the technology is, whether you're sitting beside me, or you're at the office across the hall, it doesn't matter that much today. It can simply get done just the way that we're doing it right now.
Aderson: You're right. You mentioned there Basecamp, and I want to ask you a little bit about that tools that you have in your tool belt to communicate with outsourcing partners, within the team. Tell me a little bit about your tool belt there.
Mark: Yeah, so Basecamp, again, kind of like a CRM tool where we can set up a nice platform. If you look at our Basecamp right now, we can have 60, 70 projects lined up and into different clients. We can give access to any third parties to access those projects. Our internal team creates the to-do's, messaging goes out, we can communicate via video, we can just simply communicate through Basecamp, but it's a nice area where everything gets compounded.
Communication is done through Basecamp. Nothing gets lost. There’s no piece mails through emails for this, here, there. Everything is in a nice tight little wrap both for us. If we have to go back and take a look at something, or see if this communication has been responded too, assigning to-do's, assigning deadlines for things to get done, it's really straightforward, it's really easy. So, that's a phenomenal tool. GoToMeetings like we’re doing right now, this is something that we use constantly. We even use it with our clients. We have clients in different cities. We have clients in different countries. I'm not flying out every three days to have a conversation, so we use these tools to communicate, simply if it works.
Aderson: Going back here to the main point, the main topic: outsourcing. What is it that you don't outsource currently, but just because you didn't get a chance yet? I mean it's something that you say, "Hey, we have to stop doing this, and I need to shift this off to somebody else." What is it? Anything?
Mark: I'm going to have to think on it for a second. It's a great question. What don't we outsource right now that we considered outsourcing? I think, at this point, we just really figured it out. We figured out what we need to do internally, we figured out what's better off being outsourced. In a sense, all businesses are different, but if you look at a business like ours, digital marketing, as you know, Aderson, there's a lot of moving parts. There could be a month where we can have 20 websites on the go, but there could be a month or two or three that we just don't, because that's just not what's happening. To keep a web developer on staff for three months and not doing anything, that just doesn't make sense. It's not a good business.
Things that we don’t outsource right now, I think, is the project management side of anything, and I don't think I ever would. I think it's just something that we need to keep internal. I would rather have 10 project managers internally in my house, but outsource all our web development just because it just makes more sense to do it that way. What are we doing internally right now that we should outsource? I don't think I have an answer for that at this point, because I think we've just really -- think of it as a line. We're seeing now how it doesn't work at this point.
Aderson: No problem. Moving on here, one of the ways we learn as people, businesses, professionals is with our mistakes. I would like to ask you if you are open to that, to talk a little about a horror story. That's what I call those situations -- I'm trying the horror story here with an outsourcing partner, because that's the context that we are talking about. Any horror story that you can get to specific details that you can share with us that you are open to that?
Mark: I'll share some horror stories. I'm not going to share some specific names. I'll use early on when we started, we had a fairly large web development project to be done that had an internal payment system, for example. They really needed to be created from scratch, and we needed to ensure them that it was working. Early on, when we started, we were vetting out some different agencies for web development at that time. We just didn't have enough web jobs coming in that warranted to have somebody on staff doing this. We outsource a lot of our web work, and we still do. Even though we could bring in our own web developers, we still outsource this just because it makes sense.
But, nonetheless, it was during a peak season, during a holiday, and all of the sudden, the whole payment system went down. Clients calling us and yelling at us because they're losing money minute after minute after minute because people can't make these online purchases. Yes, we'll get it fixed right away for you. Contacted the company who had built the website, and they were nowhere to be found. We just could not get ahold of them on time, everybody was on holidays - big issue.
So, this is where outsourcing can be problematic. We're lucky enough, now and again, this was earlier on when we were building a business. We're at a point now where we have always somebody in-house that, if these things were to happen, we do have the talent internally that can address it right away. But, nonetheless, this was one of the biggest horror stories where the client was losing hundreds, possibly thousands of dollars over the course of four days for something that we just couldn't get fixed. It was scary, and we had to make it up to the client financially, and that hurt.
Aderson: I was about to ask how did you mitigate the situation at that point?
Mark: You suck it up, right? At the end of the day, there's pros and cons to everything, and you hope everything is going to be 100% all the time, but it's not always the case. So, yeah we had to get back, and it costs us some pennies. But, nonetheless, client was okay, and to this date, this client is actually still a client. That was over three years ago. Really, the only horror story that I've had today with any type of outsourcing. I think, based on the amount of work that we do and that we have done, odds are in our favor right now.
Aderson: I tend to think that that situation of having a partner that did whatever development was done, and the client having a problem in a time that is not appropriate for the outsourcing partner to work on. I don't think that this is too unusual. How do you mitigate this currently? I would assume that you may come across situations like that again. So, how do you mitigate that now?
Mark: We've learned by our lessons. Certain projects launch at certain times, and there are certain days of the week, and certain times of the month where we would never launch a project, just in case. We're very careful now. It's not for everything, but let's look at web development, for example. Never launch a website on a Friday.
Aderson: Of course, of course. That's my number one rule.
Mark: Number one rule, right? But, when you're starting out, you don't know this. We've launched many-a websites on a Friday in the past, and all hell breaks loose. Here's a really good example of living and learning. You don't launch certain things over the holidays. You need time to test. I think, as long as you try to launch a project, and especially if they've been outsourced, you really pick and choose when is the best time. Make sure you have time to do any testing and fixing the issues. Listen, I've been doing this a long time now, and nothing's ever perfect. We've never launched a website that hasn't had at least one or two little glitches that needed to be addressed within the first few hours, few days of being launched. It's normal, and that's the industry, which is why we're very careful now on how we do it, and we make sure we set our dates, we set our targets, we set our times, we know when to do it, we know when not to do it, we don't have problems anymore.
Aderson: Got it. Mark, we are coming towards the end here. I'd like you to think through for a second and tell me one thing that you'd like people that have gone through this conversation to leave this conversation knowing about outsourcing, knowing more or, "Now I know about this." One thing; pick one thing.
Mark: Sure. I think, coming back to what we said earlier, outsourcing does not necessarily mean you're taking your business overseas. It's not what we're talking about here. Outsourcing it's just really about finding partners that can bring value back to your business in a cost-effective manner. Again, we got to look at it this way. For us to keep certain elements on staff five days a week throughout the year is just not possible because, again, so many moving parts, and all businesses are like that. You have so many moving parts and so much different talent, you just can't always have all that talent in-house all the time.
Really, this is we're establishing those proper channel partners. Outsourcing for us, for example, content, certain tech on the web development, strategy, that stays in-house. There's no way we would ever outsource strategy or get recommendations from outside parties. We're very, very confident in how we stay updated in our industry, so strategy is always something that's done here.
Don't fear outsourcing. I think it's a very cost-effective way of doing business regardless of where you outsource it. It's value added that you can bring back to our end user. In our industry, one of the biggest problems with the biggest agencies out there is they really have to charge big dollars, because they got to keep that cog, they got to keep that machine moving 24/7. The beauty about outsourcing is that it's ad hoc. When you need it, you have it. When you don't need it, guess what? You're not paying for it. It's great. It's added value back to the client. We can typically always come in a little less expensive than the larger agencies because there's certain things that we can outsource.
Don't fear it, but you need your due diligence. It's like anything else. You have to shop around, you have to build that relationship, there's going to be ups, there's going to be downs, but they're no different than ups or downs you're going to have internally with your staff. It's just hiring the right people. You hire the right people, it works. You hire the wrong people, it doesn't work, whether you're outsourcing, or whether you do it in-house, I think it just applies. Smart business people, just do what's best for the end user, remember your name is always going on it, and again, as I mentioned, I'm not a forgiving person. You can fool me once, but you won't fool me twice, and just be safe.
Aderson: Very good, Mark. A lot of value that you have provided here. I really like the honesty, the openness, and again, thank you very much. Before I let you go, please let me know, let us know how can people can reach out to you if they have more questions, or if they may want to engage with your business and with yourself, please.
Mark: Absolutely. Any time, and I'm always here to answer any questions, whether it's about outsourcing, or whether it's about digital marketing, or whether it's lead generation for your business, you can reach me directly at the office, 613-424-7042. Our website is www.wsiestrategies.com, or you can email me directly at email@example.com
Aderson: Perfect. As usual, all the links, all the details, the sites that were mentioned in the interview during the conversation will be added to the show notes. Once again, Mark, thank you very much for your time, for your knowledge, and for your willingness to share that with us. Bye.
Mark: Aderson, my pleasure. Let's do it again soon.