Outsourcing is a tempting option for many businesses, both big and small. You can reduce your overhead without overextending your staff, among other benefits. But if you’re thinking about outsourcing certain services, make sure to learn from those who have gone before you.

We’ve compiled five valuable lessons—both good and bad—from companies and individuals who have outsourced.

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Be Selective in Your Outsourcing

While it’s obvious that your company does not have to outsource everything (or keep everything in house), you should take some time to consider what makes the most sense to outsource. Entrepreneur magazine advises that you think about your business’s core competencies—what does your company do well? And be specific. Not all marketing services need to be outsourced, for example. You could hire a contractor to maintain your company blog while monitoring social media accounts in house.

Additionally, automation can be just as effective as outsourcing, and you can keep that service in house. Invoices, direct marketing, and social media marketing are all things that can be automated.

Do Your Research

Do not let the cost be the deciding factor here. A cheap vendor may produce subpar work, and if you end up having to fix it, what you saved in money you will lose in time and frustration. When selecting a vendor, ask around for referrals and request examples of past projects. Elance and other online marketplaces are good locations to start—you can easily see reviews on these sites.

It is also a good idea to start small. See how a company handles one project before you make them your long-term vendor. “See the early stages as a honeymoon period since over time a great experience can turn into something quite different,” advises business writer Jeff Haden in an article for CBS News. “Turn over a portion of the function and let your outsourcing partner earn a greater share.”

Make Sure Cultures Are Compatible

Some vendors might do excellent work, but they just might not work well for your company. Per Forbes (ellipses mine):

Labor rates are lower in some countries, but culture and language match are the real keys to productivity … The outsourcing team will always try to adapt to your situation, but success depends on their cultural work ethics, time constraints, social status, language quirks, and an overall attitude. Adapting to culture goes both ways, and training is the key. Recognize and embrace differences.

If your outsourcing involves offshoring, make sure you can work around language and time zone barriers.

This compatibility refers to work culture as well. Freelancers are often drawn to freelancing because they can set their own schedules. Be clear on when you need them to be available, so you don’t have any lapses in communication.

Be Clear about What You Want

Contractors hate hearing, “Oh, just do what you want; you know best!” It signifies to them that you don’t know what you want, which is never a good position to be in. Make sure you give clear, concrete instructions for each project or service. Written documentation is ideal, so vendors can refer to it throughout the process.

Similarly, you have to understand the work you are asking your vendors to complete. It’s the only way to effectively manage the projects and ensure the result is what you need.

Check the Quality

While you should do your due diligence and hire reputable, reliable vendors, you also need to have an in-house process to ensure they’re doing quality work, before the work is ready. For example, have in-house staff review any written work from the vendor before it gets published. You should also have regular follow-up meetings to make sure there are no big surprises when the project or other deliverable comes due.

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