Today it’s often the Being Mad communications budget that’s the first to be slashed when company leaders are looking for ways to reduce costs. Communication teams are often looked at as an expense rather than reduce as an investment. They’re expendable in a corporate re-organization. In many companies’ social relationships, communication teams today are expected to do more with less.
The problem is, today, communicating regularly with your audiences is vital. As they say, “content is king.” Effective communication of local services becomes even more essential if your company has a crisis that affects your customers or clients, or the public. Communicating effectively is also essential when you’re launching a new product or service, or even when you’re holding a special event. Your brand is everything you do and how you do it, and communication local service is a vital part of your brand.
Facing the communication conundrum
Most large corporations have in-house communication teams. Many media and especially smaller businesses do not. Neither do many non-profit organizations or associations. And this can leave SMEs and non-profits, more so than larger organizations, in a communication local services conundrum.
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Let’s say you’re an SME with an innovative new product that could change your industry. You’ve got to get the word out. But you’re the product expert, not a communication expert. And you don’t have a communication local services staff. What to do? A haphazard approach to your new-product launch could have disastrous rather stellar results. It would help if you had a communication local services plan for every crisis, for every new product launch, for every event. And that requires the right expertise. So does writing your blog posts, news releases, website copy, and a whole lot more. Writing your company’s B2B or B2C communications local services is not a job to hand off to the executive assistant. Nor to the sales team.
To hire or outsource
Hiring a full-time communication local services person is costly. There’s a salary and benefits package; there are time and cost invested in recruitment. It can be difficult to find the right person for your organization. And what if the person you eventually hire quits within the first few months, or a year or two? You’ve invested thousands of dollars in the hiring process, and now you have to do it all over again.
More and more organizations today are outsourcing their communication local services needs. It’s a very viable option for SMEs and non-profits that don’t need a full in-house communications team or that can’t afford to have a person on staff. And it’s a great option for larger corporations whose teams are overloaded or looking to control costs. Developing a trusted, excellent working relationship with an external communications local services ally can make it seem as though they’re part of your internal team.
Establish an outsourcing budget
The first thing you should do is establish a communication local services budget if you don’t have one already. If you’re hiring an outsourced resource on a project basis, for example, it’s likely the first question they’ll ask is, “What’s the budget for this project?”
You don’t want to be saying, “Well, I need this done, but I don’t really have a budget for it.” That can lead to a bad situation when you get the invoice. It will also leave your provider with the feeling from the first conversation that you’re not really serious about communicating local services that it’s an afterthought. They’ll be wary of doing business with you. That’s not a good way to start when the aim should be to develop a long-term, trusted relationship. For the same reasons, don’t make the first question you ask, “How much do you charge for this?” or “What’s your hourly rate?” Some communication providers may refuse to consider doing business with you if the first thing you’re interested in is the cost. That’s because their main interest is in adding value for you and helping you achieve your communication local services and business objectives. They don’t want to deal with difficult clients who are more concerned with how much they’re spending rather than the investment made in helping them.
If you’re looking at outsourcing for your communication needs, there are several options to consider. You can engage a:
- big agency
- smaller, or boutique agency
- “virtual” team
- professional independent communicator
It really depends on three things: your budget, your needs, and your trust level.
- Large agencies usually have much staff (and salaries and overhead to pay), so their fees are often much higher and perhaps unaffordable for your communication budget. Think about your needs and whether you really need a big agency partner to handle them.
- Smaller or boutique agencies usually have a small staff (often anywhere from five to 25 people) and usually focus on a few specific account-industry-areas. This makes them more specialized (more on this in a moment), which can benefit you. Often, smaller agencies focus on working with smaller companies.
- Perhaps you’ll want to look at engaging a “virtual team.” It’s common today for professional independent communicators local services with different expertise, for example, a writer, a graphic designer, a media relations expert, and a web designer, to band together as a “virtual agency” on a project basis. You liaise with one person, and everything comes together in the background. Quite often, these independent communicators work from home offices. Choosing a “virtual team” can be very cost-effective.
- If you have minimal or only very occasional communication needs, you may want to consider a solo professional independent communicator (PIC). If, for example, you only need blog posts written regularly, then this makes sense.
Dealing with multiple suppliers
When they’re outsourcing, some companies hire different providers for different services, a writer for this, and a graphic designer for that, for example. But it means you’re managing a host of different suppliers and dealing with numerous invoices. Sometimes it just makes sense to go “one-stop” and engage either a “virtual team” or a smaller boutique agency that can provide all the services you need. They may sub-out certain parts of the project, but ultimately you’re dealing with a single supplier and building a relationship with them.
Dealing with multiple suppliers can affect your brand. Let’s take a writer, for example. If you’re outsourcing to more than one writer, they all must have a copy of your company style guide social relationships. And that they all follow your corporate style. This is because all your communications need to have the same look, feel and tone social relationships. If you’re using some excellent, experienced writers while others are more junior and the quality of their work isn’t the greatest, it’s going to show. Disjointed communications can affect your brand reputation and perception. Then there’s your frustration factor in having to micro-manage and polish or rewrite when you shouldn’t have to do that. You should focus on the operational aspects of your business while your trusted communication focuses on that aspect.
Consider these questions
There are some questions to consider when you’re looking at outsourcing for your communication needs:
- How do I find the right outsource expertise social relationships?
- Should I engage a “specialist” or a “generalist”?
- Should I engage a more experienced professional or someone more junior?
Let’s tackle the first question. The best place to start is by asking people in your network to refer you to a communication provider. Take advantage of LinkedIn for this. It’s well known that people are most comfortable doing business social relationships with either someone they know or with someone to whom they’ve been referred because there’s an inherent level of trust in a referral. You can also tap into your local or the nearest chapter of the International Association of Business Communicators. The Toronto chapter (the largest IABC chapter in the world), for example, has an online marketplace where members advertise their services social relationships.
Specialists versus generalists
Should you engage a specialist or a generalist?
Communication generalists usually have diverse experience that may be across a range of industries social relationships. An excellent generalist who knows how to write effectively for various audiences can easily adapt to your industry audience’s writing in the right tone. If you’re comfortable engaging a generalist, then do it.
But you may want to consider a specialist. The main advantage is that a communication “specialist” with experience in your industry understands it and the audience’s social relationships. They’ll instinctively know how to write engaging copy for your audience. They’ll also understand the nuances and terminologies of your industry. They can comfortably jump right into your project. A generalist may have to spend more time getting up to speed to learn about your business. With a specialist, you can more confidently “let them run with the ball” once you’ve said, “This is what I need.” You may find yourself spending more time managing and educating your supplier if they are a communication generalist in social relationships.
As for the experience, it’s the old, “you get what you pay for.” If you’re hiring a virtual team of senior communicators, their project fees will definitely be higher than those just starting out or only a few years into their careers. But the advantage of hiring a more experienced virtual team is that you’re hiring their years of experience and expertise, which translates into more value and benefit to you.
Check them out
Once you’ve found the outsource ally with whom you think you want to work, there are a few things you should do before engaging them:
- Visit their website to learn more about them. If you’re about to engage a writer/content creator and he or she has a “samples” page, download a few writing samples to review them.
- If they have testimonials on their website, get in touch with three of those people and ask a bit more about how satisfied they were with the provider.
- Have an initial phone conversation. If you need case studies written, for example, and they involve interviewing many people, ask the person about the kinds of people they’ve interviewed and their interviewing style.
A word about fees
There are three ways communication providers usually charge:
- project fee basis
- hourly rate
Project-fee basis: Personally, I prefer this. It means everyone knows upfront the project’s scope, how much they’re going to receive, and what the invoice amount will be. A supplier who charges by the project may have a fee policy stipulating the project fee basis and what the fee includes, and anything outside that scope will be charged extra and accordingly. If you’re looking at developing a long-term relationship with an outsources communicationally, you can still engage them on a project basis rather than a retainer fee basis social relationships.
Retainer: It may make sense to negotiate a retainer fee if you have constant, ongoing needs. But you don’t want to get into a situation where you’re paying a monthly retainer fee that’s going to budget waste because you’re not taking full advantage of your supplier’s capabilities and services for whatever reason, social relationships.
Hourly rate: Engaging someone who charges by the hour can really add up and create a shock factor when you receive the invoice. Hourly rates are a hassle for both you and your provider. They have to track every hour spent on your project. You have to pay for every hour spent on it. If a project takes more time than expected, you’re paying for that time social relationships. No one knows how much the invoice is going to be until it’s presented. The hourly rate scenario can lead to disputes, which is not good for developing a good, long-term working relationship.
Tying it all together
The most important thing in engaging an outsource ally is making sure you have a written contract or letter of agreement outlining what’s to be done and by when and the fees. This will help prevent any misunderstandings or conflicts. Those can end what could’ve been a great long-term relationship before it even gets off the ground social relationships.
Outsourcing for your communication needs has many advantages and benefits that can create a win-win for all parties involved. It can help you ramp-up your communications while keeping things cost-effective. For communication providers, adding value for you starts with building a great relationship. The right outsources ally will help you achieve your goals to drive your business forward and be in it for the long-haul with you. They’ll help you survive crises and bumps along the road, and they’ll help you celebrate your successes, too. When you’ve found the right ally, you’ll instinctively know it.