This is the time I’m starting this blog and in truth, I’m not sure how far I’m going to get with it – but I at least on this Sunday wanted to make a start anyway.
Pearl Lemon’s team is entirely remote and composed of people all over the world.
We’ve got people in India, Pakistan, Spain, Northern Ireland, South Africa, Egypt, England, Brazil, the Philippines and more. We’ve also got partners in several of these countries.
There are certain names that people hear and assume that the quality that comes out of these countries is going to be substandard (which I sometimes see come up in conversations).
And I felt it would be of value to discuss some of the mechanics of this and what it has done for my business and where it will head.
Let’s get into it –
The difference between outsourcing and offshore teams?
Pearl Lemon has an offshore team and does zero outsourcing.
Outsourcing is basically when you bring in a third-party firm to handle some of your company’s business functions.
This is when they are tasked with managing the projects and making things happen.
When Pearl Lemon started several years ago – we did outsource but in a very specific way.
We found a company called Shrushti Digital Marketing who was small enough for us to entirely Whitelabel..and then once we grew they became a full-time part of the Pearl Lemon team.
This – is what is known as offshoring. This is when you have full-time people that literally are not on the same shores as you.
Being British-Indian – I have relatively strong ties with India and given also that SEO is such a big niche in India it made sense for me to look to India to build my team.
And this is a big part of BOTH offshore and outsourced teams.
The general logic is that you can identify individuals/teams who are just as talented (if not more so) than local talent but being able to get them at ½ or 1/3rd of the price.
In either scenario.
Furthermore, what they lack in local knowledge they (both types of teams) makeup it is worth ethic and drive.
Or supposedly (this is a longer conversation).
Either way, hopefully, this underlines the difference between outsourcing and offshoring.
A guide to outsourcing
Let’s then go through at a high level what is involved if you’re outsourcing
Outsourcing is looking at remote teams that are already functional, running, and have (hopefully) proven expertise in the area you’re looking to hire in for.
So for Pearl Lemon – an obvious example would be search engine optimization. There are outsourced teams dotted all across India that offer this service.
Depending upon your area of expertise this can have benefits and drawbacks – which I’ll explain in the coming parts.
Here’s what you need to consider:
Outsourcing business functions that are more manually led and process-driven makes a lot of sense.
Practically that might be data-entry type work.
So for SEO that might mean doing the initial research around domain authority and niche relevance for outreach targets. Or it might mean identifying certain price values from Amazon to enter into a spreadsheet if competitive pricing analysis was a central part of your work.
It makes even more sense if these are functions that then are subject to some level of internal quality control before being passed onto an end client (if that indeed ever happens).
The advantage with an outsourced team is that hiring, retention, employee challenges…well none of these become your problems because that’s the job of the outsourced company.
Ensuring that you’ve carried out effective due diligence in the hiring stage is critical also.
That would be case studies, quality checks, meeting your account manager (I’ll explain more on this shortly), comparing agencies and pricing Vs quality of output and contract length, experience in your geography and more.
So building quite a stringent series of checks is important to your journey in finding an excellent outsourced team.
So here’s how they’re likely to be structured:
Much like your own agency (at least in my case) – you’ll be assigned a project/account manager who will manage all of your dialogue to their end team of actual operators.
So whether you’re outsourcing an accountant, data entry, SEO, sales, or other function – you should be assigned a point of contact who will manage all of your requests and desires.
All in all, it can end up being a pretty productive and successful relationship.
The pros of outsourcing
So outsourcing has many positive aspects to it.
Many providers to choose from
There’s a healthy outsourcing market often located in developing economies such as Asia, Africa, and Latin America. But you can actually find outsourced teams everywhere.
I’ve spoken to multiple outsourced agencies as well who call themselves ‘white-label companies’ or ‘resellers’ – all of which are straddling the line to a different degree when it comes to how much they are ‘outsourced’.
The model is well established and common practice amongst many service providers who will bring in client work and then outsource overflow work to smaller agencies, contractors, and the like.
No need to build internal expertise
So the other advantage with outsourced teams is that there is no burning need to build in-house IP.
Especially when there isn’t (at that stage) a commercial need for it.
We see this happen with our clients to quite a large extent in that they bring on Pearl Lemon in the earlier stages of their development (especially fast-growth companies) and then transition into building an in-house team as the need evolves.
So we tend to help a company build a foundation and then they move into getting an in-house team.
This can be a long-term arrangement in some cases. We have other companies that have zero wish to build an in-house SEO team and see they remain a client of ours for years.
Competitive Market Pricing
Naturally, working with an outsourced team is cheaper than building a team in-house (at least in the beginning). Furthermore, it’s easier to compare the prices of different service providers to pick your favourite team.
It also enables you to compare teams globally rather than locally. I’ve spoken to teams from South Africa, Australia, India, the Philippines, Australia as well as the USA.
The basis I work off is the currency we have £ and identifying economies where the money we use will take us further.
The cons of outsourcing
However, as with everything – it’s not all sunshine and rainbows – and there are different sets of challenges that come with outsourcing which we’ll run through just now –
No emotional investment from your provider
One of the key considerations is that you’re not going to get the same level of emotional investment as if you bought someone in-house.
An outsourced team is simply not going to care as much about your success as an in-house team will.
You are another client to them – UNLESS you become one of their biggest clients in which case they’ll inherently care and work harder for you.
If you don’t hit this criteria, however – it’s less likely you’ll be of primary importance to them.
Limited flexibility to change things
As your expertise grow (or don’t – but you want to mix things up anyway) – you may decide there are certain ways you want things done.
Your outsourcing partner might struggle with this because it isn’t something they’re used to doing.
Furthermore, if you’re the only person who wants such a change – there may be limited scope for you to have the changes you want actually implemented.
An example of this is what we see when clients outsource their SEO work to us/hire us as their marketing agency.
Many clients request us to join them on slack – to which we say ‘no’ to because it doesn’t support our processes. Being in 30+ Slack channels would crush our productivity.
You’ll experience similar challenges with an outsourced provider. They can only customise up to a certain amount- and that’s got to work within their framework.
A guide to offshore team building
Right, so now we’ve discussed the relative merits of building out an outsourced team – or rather hiring an outsourced team – now let’s discuss the alternative which is incredibly common these days.
Building an offshore team – is simply hiring a remote and international team that’ll be on your full-time payroll as a part of your team.
This is a way in which to take advantage of the advantages of international labour markets where you can hire top talent for cheaper than you would in the UK.
So you may decide that rather than hiring a mid-level or entry-level manager in the UK – why not hire an expert in Eastern Europe as an example.
These are the kinds of decisions afforded to you.
And much like hiring locally – in many ways nothing changes.
You can put out direct job adverts to identify applicants across the boards as well as working with recruitment agencies and the like.
One by one, you can slowly build your team.
The pros of offshore teams
Let’s go through some of the strengths of building an offshore team:
One of the things I’ve seen about hiring candidates from developing countries and economies is that they demonstrate an increased desire to work with an (in my case) British company.
Some of the most effective hires we’ve made at Pearl Lemon have come from the Philippines, India, Egypt, and Greece.
You get people who do outside reading, work longer hours, and are generally more grateful to be working with you than you might see with someone from the UK (this is a generalisation of course).
Loyalty and Ambition
Again much like the above, I’ve seen increased loyalty and ambition to grow within the company from offshore teams. This comes from the opportunity they have in front of them which makes the drive to contribute and succeed that much greater.
Much like with outsourced teams, hiring from developing economies works out cheaper than hiring people native to the UK or US. This means you can pay (comparative to local employers) – competitive wages – which brings many benefits.
So the other advantage with having an international team – is that someone is almost always around working. To a degree, it means that things are getting done.
We have teams in India, the UK, the Philippines, and the US – which pretty much means all time zones are covered more or less.
With this in mind then it means your clients and company are always being serviced – and this just doesn’t happen for teams based in 1 or even 2 timezones.
The cons of an offshore team
Hiring an offshore team is obviously not without its disadvantages – and we’ll look to some of those here to understand why building an offshore team might be problematic
They’re 100% remote
The huge downside to offshore is that they’re of course not ‘in-house’ – so your ability to monitor/support them is extremely limited.
This is of course not just about them being offshore – this is a truism of ALL remote teams. I have people based in London that I’ve never met before either that have been with us for months/years.
Lack of cultural understanding
This is definitely the bigger challenge with international folks – that when it comes to dialogue and communication – there are language barriers that need to be overcome.
This is something that cannot be managed quickly and will take time to figure out. It’s definitely a challenge within Pearl Lemon and something that we try to manage through training alongside identifying who are the best people to deal with clients.
In multiple instances – clients want someone who’s from the same geography as them – but in truth – they just want someone who is good with communication and understands the subject matter better than them!
What I’ve picked in the battle of outsourced versus offshore
So – I hope this has offered some insights into building an outsourced Versus offshore team and the pros and cons of each!
With Pearl Lemon – we’ve ultimately never hired an outsourced team (long-term)
Anytime we have – we’ve been subject to their setup, their processes and it’s meant they haven’t fully adopted the ‘Pearl Lemon’ way – which is what in the end has always worked out best for us.
Our team is entirely offshore + remote
We’ve never had an office and so everyone works from home apart from the India team (7 people in an office).
Overall this has created a massive competitive advantage for us in terms of what we can deliver on the campaigns that we work upon.
Don’t get me wrong – it has its challenges also with language, culture, and the like – but overall it’s meant we’ve been able to punch above our weight and work faster and more efficiently than the competition.
But in the end – I massively advocate building an offshore team – it’ll help you succeed and help you scale!