Market research, customer research, planning a new marketing strategy, creating a new campaign, redesigning a website, building a landing page, designing a new flyer or brochure, creating a newsletter, building an advertising campaign, or writing content. These are all marketing activities that many businesses don't have the resources to handle internally.
And since most small businesses and startups are not blessed with unlimited funds, the question of off-shoring services to try and reduce the cost of some of these activities can be a consideration. However, the answer to off-shore or not is never straight forward, consequently leading into much more in-depth conversations.
Having consulted and advised companies in North America, South America, Europe, Australia, and Asia, and having used off-shore resources on many occasions, we've gained valuable experience that will hopefully help you make these types of decisions.
More specifically, we will argue for and against the use of off-shore resources in each significant activity in marketing.
Market & Customer Research
In many ways, market and customer research is the most important activity for any entrepreneur, because the outcome of your market, customer, and competitor research will often drive your most important decision - should you or shouldn't you invest years of your life into this new startup venture.
Therefore, market and customer research is not where you cut corners or try to save money. The importance of this activity cannot be overstated, so you should only work with experts with intimate knowledge of your industry, market niche, and your target customers.
Asking low-cost off-shore resources to "Google" your industry, competitors, and possible customers is not called research.
And considering most new startups fail because of "no market need," do you really want to rely on low-cost off-shore research?
Irrespective if you are a startup or an established business looking to launch a new product or expand into a new market - customer research is the foundation of all your future efforts, so use the most qualified experts in your region.
The underlying goal of any strategy is to make sure that everyone is rowing in the same direction. Also, how you will get from A (current state) to B (future state) by clearly articulating your vision, goals, and tactics.
While the concept is simple, creating a great strategy is challenging. If you've ever been in strategic meetings that impact multiple departments, or an entire company, you will understand that getting everyone to agree is as much art as it is science.
Therefore, when hiring an expert to help you with a strategy you should focus on their experience, knowledge, and people skills. Not their geo-location. However, it's difficult to demonstrate relevant knowledge and experience if it's not in your specific region; hence why having a strategist in your geo-location is a big plus. Also, many critical aspects of a strategy are most effective when done in person, so keep that in mind.
Many businesses don't have the time or resources to produce new content consistently (to support their content marketing efforts). The good news is, there is no shortage of qualified freelance writers that can help you with content needs.
However, the question is, should your copywriter be from the same country your business is in, or is it ok to hire off-shore freelancers?
Let's start with the following premise; your copywriter must have the experience in your specific market - this is your core requirement. However, being in the same geo-location is not as critical. For example, many experts have spent decades working in the US, but are now working remotely in another country. It would be foolish to disregard all that experience and knowledge because they currently don't reside in the US.
When looking for a copywriter, experience in your specific industry and region is the critical requirement and not where they are currently located.
UX & Visual Design
Unsurprisingly, off-shoring User Experience (UX) and Visual Design is not common, because it's extremely difficult to design a great customer experience without a deep understanding of customers' culture and values; therefore, if your customers are in the United States, then your design team should be in the US as well. Even countries with similar cultures and values like Canada, Australia, the US, and England have enough cultural differences to significantly impact the design.
Furthermore, unlike copywriting, UX and Visual Design trends are continually evolving, so this is why we don't recommend using off-shore designers. Not because you cannot find great designers across the globe, because you can, but because designing a great user experience requires an extensive understanding of the culture, trends, and customer behavior in general; hence, UX and visual design should be performed by designers that live in the same country you are doing business in.
Technical Expertise (Development)
The popularity of off-shore development has exploded over the years because technical experts are much more affordable in the developing world.
The issue with hiring off-shore developers often surfaces when a) you do not hire the right person, or b) your solution requires cutting edge technology. The first issue can be resolved by hiring an overqualified person. For example, if you are redesigning your website, you should hire a senior developer (not just any developer). If you are asking them to build a custom solution, then hire a software architect (not a senior developer).
The second issue, "if you need cutting edge technology/solution" is much harder to resolve. This is typically when the off-shore development model falls short. For example, data plays an integral part in today's marketing, and finding a high-quality off-shore data scientist or machine learning expert to turn data into actionable insights is difficult.
In summary, if your development solution doesn't require cutting edge technology, then you should consider off-shoring parts of your development needs because the pros often outweigh the cons.
Should you off-shore any tasks that require access to sensitive information? The answer is no! Irrespective of how convincing the reasoning is or how high the ROI is, the risk is too great.
Different countries have different privacy laws and security standards. For example, how you can encrypt data, who can access it, and how secure the infrastructure is - these are all factors that greatly vary from country to country; therefore, we do not recommend you off-shore any activities that require access to sensitive information—for example, credit card details, financial records, health records, and so on.
Not all testing is created equal, so it depends. For example, testing for website defects or landing page defects is essential, but not as important as user testing - how customers will use your website, landing page, newsletter, etc.
We do not recommend you off-shore user testing, because customer experience is a crucial part of your business, but defect testing is an excellent example of something that can be assigned to an off-shore team. Also, repetitive testing is a good candidate to off-shore.
Today's marketing teams are frequently responsible for customer retention, so they have to pay close attention to customer activity after the sale. And because support is often your company's canary in the coal mine (it will give you early warnings), we do not recommend you outsource or use off-shore teams for support.
To really learn what your customers think about your product or service, you need to pay close attention to your support requests. Based on our experience, the closer your support team is to your leadership team, the better your customer retention will be. Moving support outside of your company or off-shoring it to another country will create too many layers in between you and your customers.
As you can see, the decision to off-shore marketing activities or activities that directly impact your customers is never black and white. It certainly depends on what your goals are and what you are trying to achieve.
In general, our advice is to keep your strategy, research, and design activities in the same geo-location, because they are too important to your business. However, off-shoring some aspects of your marketing can and does make sense, as long as you evaluate all pros and cons before making your final decision.
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