You can’t always be a master of all trades on every project and there are times when an outsourced developer becomes a necessity. Maybe you're short on in-house resources, maybe you don't have specialists for that part of the project, or maybe again you could use a helping hand to stick to your deadlines.
As common as this might sound to you running your agency business, however, it can turn out to be a cause of concern for many of your clients on many fronts.
Clients are usually people with minimum technical knowledge (it's not required for their role) and an agency outsourcing work sets off a number of red flags for them.
Is the company not qualified enough to handle the work on their own?
How are things going to turn out at the end?
Will I waste my money with this agency?
These are just some of the most common concerns that might be going on in your client's mind.
And here exactly is where you're faced with a crossroad:
Will you tell the client about outsourced developers or would you just avoid it completely and simply outsource the work without the client know?
For an agency that believes in the core principles of business and transparency, this is not something that is to be recommended. In fact, obscurity never wins over transparency in business relationships.
Still, that's a huge issue many agency owners experience and can't decide which path they should take.
Let's delve into this matter and see how you could turn it around in your favor.
Where does your client's fear come from?
If you make it clear that you'll be involving outsourced, "external" developers working on your client's project, it might be the case that some of them will raise their eyebrow and won’t feel 100% confident to hand their project to your agency.
Why is that happening? Why is a client concerned if outsourced developers will be - or won't be - involved in their project?
Setting aside all sales technique someone might have up their sleeves, there's a profound reason for a client to be somewhat hesitant: lack of trust. Specifically, lack of trust in those new subjects they're hearing about now and whom they've never talked to. Your clients are afraid they will not get the best outcome possible. Sometimes, clients feel they're getting tricked or even scammed. As WordPress developer and Codeable expert Paul Cohen highlights:
When it comes to outsourcing, clients are concerned because they simply don't trust these new developers. And, to an extent, I don't blame them and understand their point well because I've heard this from other developers too. What I think, though, is that there are already enough issues when you're doing the development directly without lying about what you're doing. I see no real good reason to do that with your clients.
Building trust should be the first priority on your list when talking to a client. Thanks to it you'll be able to mitigate their concerns, if not address them completely.
Communication gives rise to trust. Once a client sees the effort that you’re putting into keeping their concerns at a minimum, they start to confide in you and believe that you’re the right pick for the job.
If you don't do it and keep it a secret, you're settling for project failure.
Failure to be transparent about outsourced developers causes projects to fail
A substantial chunk of web development projects fails due to a lack of effective communication, which has a direct impact on trust of course. Hiding a vital piece of information like the outsourcing part of it also falls under this banner. As Paul shared with me his valuable insights on this aspect:
Communication is the biggest point of failure in any project, we know that from project management studies and product management. Business owners not properly talking to their users, clients not talking to the developers, product managers not talking customers. That happens across the whole spectrum of businesses, where getting clarity on communication is key.
If, for whatever reason, the flow of communications stops or breaks down, the level of trust in your agency and its ability to provide the right solutions will start to decrease in your client's mind, shaking the whole environment in which all parties engage. And that could open the door to misunderstandings, unexpected issues, and even a working relationship going awry.
So how could you craft the perfect communications and overall message flow to inform your clients that you might be working with outsourced developers, all without undermining your work (and price)?
It might sound naive, but the answer is telling them in detail all about your value. Here’s how to do that.
Tell the client openly what's the real value they're getting from you
I get it: you're worried that if you tell your clients you're working with outsourced developers, they'll expect a lower end price from you or simply go away because they don't trust your business.
If we set aside the trusting issue, you're left with a client possibly demanding a lower price because some of the developers involved aren't your employees and, in your client's mind, they all work from remote countries for insanely low hourly rates.
But if you look at it a bit closer, you'll start noticing that being afraid of telling about outsourced developers is closer to having to deal with clients demanding discounted price rather than a higher-level business matter.
As you've been dealing and handling client requests about price since day 1 in your business, you should be less concerned because you've been doing this your whole business life. You just didn't realize it before.
So, what's the best way to explain - justify, if you want - your price to a client? Yep, showing your value. Overwhelm them with details and examples of how your business, and even you directly, can take care of their requests. As Paul elaborates:
A real professional will be able to communicate to a client what their skill set is, how they can help their client, how they will take care of their project management or product management aspects. For example, I'd say: 'My skills set is determining what your pain points are and coming up with the next steps to follow, so running and doing what's known as the discovery process. Then, once we know what I need, I know where to go and find the best developers and I know how to communicate with them and I know how to create a good brief.
Your focus should be on highlighting the things that you as the agency owner/professional are able to put in place and deliver. Is that an in-depth experience in developing WooCommerce extensions? Maybe it's your eye and background as a former UX designer? Maybe it is that you're a great Project Manager and can coordinate all subjects involved minimizing frictions, not matter if in-house, outsourced or both.
The idea here is to share this type of information pertaining to your business up front so that you make it understandable to your clients. It is of utmost importance that you take the client on board and clearly mention what your competencies but also limitations are. This avoids any hassles and disagreements over the course of the project collaboration.
Not every client is going to be your client (and that's good for you)
Of course, there will always be clients that are never satisfied whatever you might do. And these clients are not advisable to work with, and you should try to anticipate them and lower the chances for your business to engage with them, whether through a list of defining questions, a discovery call, some automated funnel. Anything. As Paul points out:
There is always a percentage of clients, no matter how well you do, who won't understand and appreciate your value. You can't simply please everybody. And there is a small portion as well that goes bad no matter how good you are. Cut that off ahead of the curve and pick up those risk signals and act on them immediately.
To tell, or not to tell, that is the question:
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind of an agency owner...
Transparency always trumps obscurity. And in a business world that gravitates around Open Source software, that's the perfect - even though not mandatory - approach an agency owner should be embracing.
It's even more than that, no matter if outsourced developers are even involved or mentioned. It's a business law: when engaging with a client, you should focus on building trust and a cooperative flow of clear communication among parties, all the times.
By focusing and explaining your true value, the way the outsourced developers will play an important role in the client's project, you'll be shifting your focus on getting better at managing client expectations, rather than finding ways (and excuses) to keep them in the dark.
Besides that, it's a matter of how good you are at finding the right outsourced developer for a given type of project and how good they are at delivering quality work for your agency.
But that's something you need to get better at, not your clients.
This blog post features Paul Cohen, a hands-on technology strategy consultant with 20+ years international experience on a variety of projects including WordPress, Enterprise IT, web/mobile applications, eLearning simulations, educational apps/games in teams of all sizes. He’s also a creative technologist who understands the business, product, project, design, and development aspects involved in taking ideas from concept to realization.