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Maneesha Manges

By: Maneesha Manges on December 19th, 2019

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What are the Pros and Cons of Outsourcing for Associations?

Association Insights | Association Management

We all need a helping hand from time to time. In fact, 81% of associations outsource at least 1 service. For associations, this usually happens when you’re looking at a challenging project, like implementing a marketing automation platform. 

The challenge is knowing when to ask for help. How do you know when you need outsourced help? To guide your decision, we will analyze the pros and cons of outsourcing. Our goal with this article is to help you determine if outsourcing might be a good fit for your association.  

Advantages of Outsourcing

There are a few clear benefits of working with a trusted strategic partner, such as:

You can start ambitious projects right away

In the long-term, you’ll want to build up your team through training and hiring. But that’s the long term. What about projects that you need to deliver right now?

Speed is the biggest incentive for outsourcing, because you can pick up the phone and get an experienced consultant working on your projects right away. They’ll have the skills and experience to get to work immediately, and you’ll start seeing results before you know it. 

What’s more, a strategic partner with association experience can help you navigate the kind of pitfalls and mistakes that lead to costly delays. With this additional guidance, you’ll be able to get your project across the finish line much quicker.

It’s cheaper than hiring someone

Quality outsourcing isn’t cheap by any means. You’ll pay a substantial hourly fee for the expert support and advice you receive. You may also need to pay for services such as configuring new software systems. 

However, that pales in comparison to the cost of hiring someone. In the US, it costs an average of over $4,000 just to recruit somebody. You then have to pay their salary during several weeks of training before they become productive (and someone from the team has to give up their productive time to deliver that training.) Hiring costs balance out in the long-term, but outsourcing is generally much cheaper in the short-term. 

You can easily change consultants if necessary

Another problem with full-time hiring: what if you hire the wrong person? You could waste months winding down their contract and going through the recruitment process again. 

When you outsource with a  partner that you trust, you have more options. They will assign some people to work with you. If any of those individuals aren’t an ideal fit, then you can go back to your partner and ask for someone else. If the worst comes to worst, you can look at switching to a different strategic partner. 

Your consultant is focused on the task at hand

Everyone struggles with distraction at work. All day, you’re bombarded with emails, phone calls and requests to attend meetings. Managers, in particular, find themselves putting out fires all day rather than focusing on improvement projects. 

A consultant isn’t subject to any of that. They aren’t employed by the association, so they can’t get dragged off elsewhere. Their own employer won’t distract them from important client work. They are entirely focused on the project at hand, and nothing else. 

Independent outsourcers are unbiased

Be warned: some outsourcers are tied to specific software vendors. They will help you find solutions to your problems, but those solutions will always involve buying some new software. 

The good news is that there are plenty of independent consultancies out there who can give impartial advice on your project. These consultants will scope out your objectives, review your existing tech stack, and put together a roadmap that benefits you.

Disadvantages of Outsourcing

Outsourcing is great in most situations, but that doesn’t mean it’s a cure-all for organizational woes. There can be some issues that arise from working with an outsourcer and it’s important to be aware of these before you reach out for help. 

There’s a steep learning curve

Outsourcing is rarely a plug-and-play arrangement, especially on complex projects. That’s why many agencies prefer to call it a strategic partnership, as this very much is a collaborative partnership that requires a lot of communication. 

While your strategic partner can help get you up to speed, you’ll still need to do a lot of work in terms of getting documents together, granting system access and bringing everyone else on the team up to speed. Most of this time is spent at the beginning of the partnership, although you will need to stay in touch with each other until project completion. 

You have to represent any outsourced employees because they don’t have a voice internally

Every project is subject to unforeseen circumstances. Such circumstances will be discussed at meetings, and everyone will agree on a new course of action. For your strategic partner, there’s one problem with this system: they’re not at the meeting. 

Outsourced consultants don’t know anything about what’s going on in the association other than what you tell them. They certainly can’t speak up at meetings if a decision is likely to impact their work. It’s up to you, as their representative, to give them a voice and communicate any relevant information. 

You’ll lose some control over what’s happening

If you like to peer over people’s shoulders and check on their work, you may find outsourcing a real culture shock. The person or team that you’re working with will rarely be on-site, so you’ll just have to trust that they’re working hard in their office. 

You may not be able to see a full update whenever you feel like checking in. While you can ask for a progress report, you’ll generally have to wait until project delivery to get a proper look at the work being done for you. 

Issues of trust can arise

Trust is essential in a strategic partnership. You have to trust that your partner can deliver what they promise, that they can hit their deadlines and that their work will enable you to hit your marketing goals. 

However, things may happen to make you wonder if you’ve really picked the right partner. It’s hard to be sure until the project is complete, and the wait in-between can be nerve-wracking. 

When might outsourcing be right for my association?

So, how do you know when it’s time to reach out and ask for help? There are a few conditions that need to be in place if outsourcing is to be successful:

You’re launching a one-off project

Outsourcing isn’t an ideal long-term solution. Instead, it’s better used to handle something with a limited timeframe. For example, you might use an outsourced resource when:

  • You want to upgrade your MarTech stack
  • You want to launch a single marketing campaign
  • You need help bringing your full-time team up to speed
  • You need to review your existing processes and find out what’s going wrong
  • You want to improve the way you use your current technology
  • You want to try a new marketing initiative or pilot program to build the case for internal buy-in

This kind of closed-ended, one-off project is ideal for outside assistance.  

In-house training is not an option

It’s better, where possible, to use the existing resources within your association. This may require a little team reorganization and retraining. If you can do this and hit your deadlines, great. If not, you may need help from an outsourcer. 

Remember, outsourced assistance can help with training and development. They can deliver a short-term project while showing your full-time team how to make the most of marketing technology. 

You have budget to afford to outsource

Getting an association management board to sign off on expenditure is always tricky. Outsourcing can be pricey, and the board will ask – quite reasonably – if the expense is justified. 

Make sure you have full budget sign-off before you start working with an outsourcer. If the board is difficult to convince, go through the project objectives and show how this expenditure will ultimately pay for itself, through increased recruitment, retention and member engagement. 

You have cultural support

Everyone needs to buy into what you’re doing: the board, the marketing team, the other department heads, and anyone who is impacted by the project. If there’s cultural resistance, it may slow things down, and your project may not deliver the expected results. 

Cultural support is usually a matter of communication. Talk to everyone about your goals and how working with an outsourcer will help achieve those goals. Make sure you clarify how success will benefit them personally – by creating a stronger, more member-centric association that’s prepared for the future. 

You have a strategic partner that you trust and that understands you

There are outsourcers who know technology. There are outsourcers who know associations. There aren’t many who understand both, although HighRoad Solution is proof that such outsourcers do exist. 

Make sure you find a strategic partner that really understands your unique needs. Outsourcers from the for-profit sector, for example, may not understand why you need to launch an email campaign late at night because a bill is coming before the House. Find a partner that understands what you do and is ready to support you.  

You’re ready to give control to someone else

The partnership element is essential when working with a trusted strategic partner. You have to give the outsourcer the support and information that they need to succeed. 

Equally, you need to trust them to deliver what they promise. Sometimes, this means sitting tight for a few days and waiting for a project update. This will be tough if you’re used to overseeing every little detail. 

Next Steps

Sometimes, outsourcing isn’t the answer. You might be better relying on your in-house team, or waiting until circumstances are more suited to project success. 

But when outsourcing is the right answer, you should make the decision as quickly as possible. Don’t wait for a project to go wrong before you ask for help. Get a consultant in right at the beginning and deliver your project, successfully and on time.

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About Maneesha Manges

Maneesha Manges is a seasoned digital marketing professional with over 15 years of experience working in multiple markets and global companies. She currently leads HighRoad's Client Services team after having spent three years helping to develop and launch ExxonMobil’s Next Generation digital marketing properties in the US, Russia and China markets. Her prior experience includes consulting roles in digital marketing strategy, data analysis, field marketing and social media. Maneesha holds a Master of Business Administration degree in High-Tech Marketing from American University’s Kogod School of Business and a Bachelor of Arts degree in Economics from Concordia University in Montreal.