Figuring out the low cost, low-risk approach to outsourcing web development

Figuring out the low cost, low-risk approach to outsourcing web development
Chris Goodfellow
Chris GoodfellowInkwell

Posted: Wed 24th Apr 2019

Outsourcing allows you to keep up with demand and access skills you don't have on your team. Commissioning website development work or social media management can make a big difference, but you need to approach them effectively.

Jason Nichols, New Kings Coffee founder and Enterprise Nation member, said there are three main reasons for outsourcing; founders can't do everything, money's tight and there's stuff he doesn't want to do.

"Outsource the stuff that's less critical. Doing it yourself takes time and that means you're not doing something else," he said when justifying the spend.

So, how do you get started? We talked to a developer, chief technical officer and small business owners about their experience. This article covers when to engage freelancers, creating briefs and everything you need to get started.

When should small businesses outsource web development?

Knowing when it's time to outsource and what to start with is complicated. Start by thinking about the individual milestones you need to reach and your own abilities. What do you need help with and what will make a big impact?

Jamie Hewitt, Enterprise Nation member and founder of boutique WordPress agency RocketshipWP, gave a number of common reasons why people start outsourcing web development:

  • The website is a small part of the business but it's taking up a significant amount of their time

  • Companies undergoing a rebrand and start thinking about their digital brand holistically

  • When businesses are building something that has functionality beyond a simple website

"If it's a simple five-page website with images and text there's no reason why people can't give it a go themselves," he added.

Start small and work in increments

Commissioning work on an incremental basis reduces the strain on your company's cashflow and the risk of working with a new partner. Gains in website conversion and SEO don't need to happen overnight and often can't. It's about making a series of changes that add up to a big impact.

"It's easy to be bamboozled by how amazing everything is online," said Enterprise Nation CTO Billy Johal. "You're never going to get it right straight away. The key is to iterate because it's an evolution. Think of things in bite-sized chunks, deliver, test the water and keep iterating."

Starting small reduces the risk involved too. Nichols said outsourcing sales leads required a lot of clarification. Starting with a small volume allowed him to provide feedback that dramatically increased the quality of the work.

Where to find freelance developers

The growth of the gig economy means highly-skilled freelancers are available on a flexible basis. Websites like PeoplePerHour and Fiverr allow you to quickly get quotes.

There are sites to find developers for specific technology too. For example, Codeable offers small business owners a WordPress-specific search. You provide a brief and can chat with developers before commissioning a project.

Enterprise Nation members can access free consultations with experts by using the people search (click here to find out more about becoming a member).

Hewitt stresses the need to know the scope of the project before outsourcing and suggested going for a coffee with a developer if you're not sure.

There's a trade-off between using a freelance developer and an agency. Agencies have more resources in house and will be able to take on bigger projects, but often cost more.

The requirement for due diligence increases with the amount you are spending. You can use a tech recruiter to vet potential candidates for big projects. It's possible to set a coding challenge in the interview process too (sites like HackerRank can help non-technical founders to this).

Watch this video with Billy Johal, Enterprise Nation CTO, sharing tips on creating a successful website for your small business.

It's possible to do it on the cheap

Nichols from New Kings Coffee remembers Enterprise Nation's founder Emma Jones' advice to "beg, borrow and barter" to get things done. Here's a round-up of the opportunities to save money when outsourcing:

  • Look for new freelancers: Professionals who are starting out will want to generate testimonials and build their portfolio. They may work on a time-limited project for free or at a low cost.

  • Approach training organisations: Students often need projects to practice on and may provide a way to work with people at a low cost. For example, Digital Mums provides social media managers and General Assembly and Makers Academy offer access to new developers.

  • Hire an intern: Many universities have internship programmes that provide funding for small businesses that want to take on young people on a short-term basis.

Communicate clearly to get the best results

It's important to be clear about what you want when you're outsourcing. Hewitt has lots of experience providing outsourced development and provided these tips:

  • Pick one method of communication and stick to it.

  • Make sure the assets they need are available when the project begins. This can include images, specifications and mock-ups of websites. DropboxGoogle Drive and WeTransfer are useful tools for sharing files. WeTransfer Plus allows you to send files with no limits on size. Enterprise Nation members can sign up for free and save £100 here.

  • Make sure you've done the necessary reflection and know what the project involves.

  • Get a contract in place.

  • Make sure you have ownership of any images you use.

Knowing who owns the intellectual property (IP) is crucial. Don't assume it's owned by your company simply because you are paying for the work; your contract should specify that it transfers to you from the freelancer.

Utilise the power of off-the-shelf tools

Today's business owners have access to an incredible array of online tools. Whether you want to set up an ecommerce store or online community you can do a huge amount with online software.

Enterprise Nation's Johal recommended small business owners look at what's possible with existing tools before outsourcing.

"You want to maximise what's out there. For example, if you're using WordPress there's a wide variety of templates available. Really push those to the absolute limit before you look to engage with a developer," he said.

Talk to other business owners that have worked on similar projects. Look at customer reviews, tutorials and example sites to see what's possible.

What do companies outsource?

In an ideal world, small business owners would only work on the mission-critical elements of the business, the areas where they can have the most impact. The reality is a bit messier than that and you've probably found yourself doing just about everything.

The trick with outsourcing is to pick the elements of the business you aren't good at or can't bring value to.

Nichols faced the dilemma on whether or not to outsource sales, which he knows is critical to the business but finds daunting. He likes creative work but knows tweaking the website won't have the biggest impact.

He settled on a hybrid model. Outsourcing sales to a segment that has a simpler business development process and lead generation. That has freed up his time to concentrate on more valuable clients.

Think about the flexible and low cost, low-risk options if you're starting to outsource. It doesn't need to be an expensive or daunting process and your business won't develop if you try and do everything yourself!

Want more resources to help you build a strong brand?

Enterprise Nation members can access in-depth advice on branding, marketing plans, social media and attracting new customers.

Discover the full range of member benefits

Chris Goodfellow
Chris GoodfellowInkwell
Chris has over a decade of experience writing about small businesses and startups. He runs Inkwell, a content agency that helps companies that sell to small business owners grow their audiences through content marketing. You can find him on Twitter at @CPGoodfellow.

You might also like…

Get business support right to your inbox

Subscribe to our newsletter to receive business tips, learn about new funding programmes, join upcoming events, take e-learning courses, and more.