WORKSHOP: Personal Trainer

Q: I am considering outsourcing a range of services including the publishing and printing of our newsletter.

Can you give me some advice?

A: Nearly all organisations have an element of "outsourcing" such as using external organisations to provide a particular service. For example, most organisations use external companies for audit or legal advice or office cleaning. Some organisations go much further, preferring to concentrate on their core activities and let other organisations provide services under contract.

Handling of print and publication arrangements is one area where organisations sometimes decide to use external companies because they have the availability of a much higher level of professional expertise which is difficult for organisations to provide on their own staff complement. It may be more efficient or cost-effective to outsource.

My own experience of outsourcing has been mixed. For a year ACEVO outsourced its membership data handling but this did not prove too successful. In the end, we decided the handling of this data was such a core activity that we needed to be in control of it ourselves.

In general terms, you should manage your core business yourself. Other activities such as print, conferences or training are worth analysing to see if outsourcing could save you time and money. Outsourcing can be cost efficient and it can free up your time to concentrate on your core tasks.

Some general rules for outsourcing are:

- Be clear why you are going into it. If it is just a way to off-load a problem, you will probably run into trouble.

- Make sure you and the outsource company have a clear shared view of what you want to get out of the contract.

- Check out the contract record. Take up references from companies they have previously done work for.

- Check the finances carefully. You need to know exactly how much the service is costing you and what the costs are.

- Be clear that the external organisation is one you can work with. This will probably be a long-term arrangement.

- Monitor activity, have regular reviews and a feedback system.

- Consider an external evaluation of the need for outsourcing and find out who all the suppliers are. Get advice from experts.

- Ask for advice from colleagues in other organisations which have outsourced.

Stephen Bubb is chief executive of the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations (ACEVO).

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