Outsourcing can be a great way for small businesses and startups to take care of tedious tasks while also boosting productivity and saving money. By outsourcing technology-related necessities, small business owners and employees can focus on more important responsibilities, like sales, customer service and more, without hiring more in-house employees.
However, not every area of the business should be outsourced. Handing off the wrong tasks to a third party can hurt your business more than it can help. Here are the 10 tech tasks experts say small businesses should outsource.
Infrastructure as a service (IaaS) — outsourcing equipment such as hardware, servers and network systems to an infrastructure provider — can save businesses millions of dollars in costs and labor.
Constructing your own infrastructure is neither cheap nor easy. It will require not only a large budget to purchase and house the equipment, but also heavy maintenance by highly skilled IT staff. By outsourcing IaaS, startups and small businesses can cut their budgets, as the infrastructure service provider owns the equipment and is responsible for running and troubleshooting the systems; users simply have to pay on a per-use or subscription basis.
"Transitioning from a data center to an infrastructure-as-a-service provider proved to be one of the best moves we made for our business," said Tim Maliyil, founder and CEO of AlertBoot Mobile Security, a global service provider for mobile device management and end-point protection. IaaS made it easier for AlertBoot to deploy new services without facing a huge financial barrier. Maliyil also estimates that AlertBoot would have saved more than $7 million if IaaS had existed when the company was founded.
Maliyil, who often speaks about how he and his clients handle technology challenges in their companies, added that the transition to IaaS has freed up valuable resources that have helped to grow his business. "This evolution allows our engineering and customer-engagement teams to be more nimble and more focused on improving our product, instead of maintaining a large, cumbersome system," he said.
2. Cloud hosting
Cloud computing allows businesses to access information anywhere, anytime, using any compatible device. Hosting a cloud system in-house is costly, and can pose security risks if the technology is outdated. By outsourcing cloud technology, small businesses can focus on using the cloud, as opposed to maintaining it. Outsourcing cloud services has helped AlertBoot stay competitive, Maliyil said. "In an effort to remain financially independent and profitable, all the technology we use for our operations changed with the times," he noted.
AlertBoot initially hosted its servers via colocation services (where businesses can rent space for servers) but eventually made the transition to cloud infrastructure services, eliminating the need to buy its own servers. The company hasn't purchased its own equipment in years, which has led to a huge savings for a bootstrapped operation that has 30 employees worldwide.
"This move also saves us over $85,000 in monthly hosting expenses," Maliyil said. "I wouldn't host our servers any other way."
3. E-commerce site design
If you're not already seriously skilled at website development, you should definitely consider outsourcing the design of your e-commerce site to ensure that it looks great and runs smoothly and efficiently. Doing so can keep customers from experiencing problems while browsing and purchasing items they like — an issue that could keep customers from returning to your online store.
"The No. 1 tech task small business owners should outsource is their e-commerce website design development," said Lisa Chu, owner of kids' formalwear retailer Black N Bianco. "Designing and developing a professional and reliable modern e-commerce website takes years to learn."
Chu noted that although you may be able to build a functional site yourself, if you
want a legitimate e-commerce business, your website needs to be top-notch.
Chu recommended hiring a separate coder and graphic designer if you choose to outsource your website design.
"You do not want to be reliant on one outsourced freelancer, because if they bail or something goes wrong, you will need to find new freelancers to fix the issue," Chu said. "Not only that, [but] you will be hiring freelancers that specialize in their department, giving your site a more refined result."
4. Website updates
Along with building a well-crafted site in the first place, it's important that businesses keep up with their websites, too, which can be an entirely different job. There's a lot to monitor to ensure that your site stays up to date with the latest tech trends and changes, so outsourcing these tasks can help you maintain a strong Web presence without getting in the way of other important tasks you need to complete, said Michelle Colon-Johnson, founder of book publicity company 2 Dream Productions.
"One of the most important tasks that I suggest that a small business
owner [or] startup outsources is the updating of their websites," Colon-Johnson said. "Every day, people are creating and improving systems to run more efficiently."
While it may seem simple to update your site yourself, problems can arise easily, she said.
"Despite what some seem to believe, it is not as easy as pushing a button to update
your plugins or applications," Colon-Johnson said. "In the event that new applications are not compatible with a template you might have in place, you need to back up and store your systems. These steps and tasks take time. For business owners and startups, time is often something that is very much in demand." [Building Your Own Business Website? 4 Mistakes to Avoid ]
IT service providers will usually tell you that your data is safe, but businesses should also outsource additional cybersecurity, according to Cedric Leighton, founder and president of Cedric Leighton Associates, a strategic risk and leadership management consultancy.
Leighton said it's smarter for businesses to outsource cybersecurity experts than to rely on IT vendors' guarantees, because no single company can truly guarantee data safety.
"IT vendors are not cybersecurity experts," he said. "Their job is to sell you IT services, and you have to remember that many IT networks were built with security as an afterthought."
Simply put, there are IT vendors that provide services, and then there are cybersecurity experts who specialize in anticipating and mitigating threats. Although IT vendors have tight security measures in place, cybersecurity experts provide an extra layer of protection that can prevent disasters and quickly resolve security issues.
6. Two-factor authentication
Two-factor authentication is a type of security that requires users to have two forms of identification in order to access data, bank accounts and other confidential information. Typically, it's in the form of physical identification and a security code, or a combination of two completely separate security codes, such as a password only you know and an access code given to you.
Leighton recommends that anyone who deals with sensitive data, such as bank accounts or patentable technologies, implement two-factor authentication to help IT providers govern access and keep their systems better protected.
"Two-factor authentication is also something that should be set up by a professional who knows the software applications the business wants to protect," Leighton said.
7. QA testing
When your team is spending all of its time developing products and apps, it can be tedious to test every little aspect to make sure it's perfect. Outsourcing is a great way to keep your products and apps the best they can be without burning out your developers.
"Having a third-party firm or contractor help with QA [quality assurance] and test for bugs before the product goes out to a customer is a big opportunity," said Amrit Kirpalani, CEO and founder of marketing personalization platform nectarOM. "A rock star developer doesn't want to spend his or her days writing test cases, even if they are developing for them."
These test cases may not be the most desirable tasks, but they're vital in ensuring your product works, Kirpalani said.
8. Business applications
App development is not cheap. It may seem like a good idea to create apps that are customized to your business operations and staff, but hiring a developer to build business apps requires a considerable investment of time, money and patience. In the meantime, there are plenty of comprehensive business apps available to do just about anything you need to get done.
"There is a good choice of business suites available on the market, like MS Office 365 and Google Apps," said Dmitry Yakovlev, software architect at DataArt, a custom software development firm. "Businesses should outsource these types of infrastructures as much as they can, especially those that don't have IT people in-house."
These are feature-rich applications used by many other businesses, so they are frequently updated with the latest technology to keep your business agile and competitive, and they don't require the extra costs of hiring developers.
9. Projects outside your scope of expertise
IT professionals are not experts in all types of technologies. They may be knowledgeable in a particular area, but it doesn't necessarily mean they can work on a related project without having the requisite training to gain expertise. With this example in mind, consider that if a task requires skills and time that your company just doesn't have in-house, it's time to outsource, Yakovlev said.
"Development projects which are out of the team core expertise are good candidates to be passed to vendors," Yakovlev noted.
Although some projects will require vendor autonomy, many vendors are open to collaboration, which can keep your employees involved in the project while giving them exposure to the new technology and the processes involved.
For businesses to perform quality control and ensure that everyone is on the same page, business owners should have a clear vision of exactly what they want and assign a point person with a vested interest in the project, Yakovlev advised.
"The project should have an accountable stakeholder in-house, well-defined scope and clear acceptance criteria," he said.
10. Anything that can't be automated
If you have tedious tasks to take care of, taking them on yourself can be too time-consuming, and hiring an in-house employee would likely be a waste of resources. In some cases, you may be able to simply automate those tasks, but if not, you should definitely consider outsourcing, said Terra Andersen, CEO and founder of online development and marketing consultancy TCA Media.
"Can it be automated?" Andersen said. "If so, there is likely a piece of software or script that can automate the task that you may initially be thinking of outsourcing. If it cannot be automated, then it is safe to say that it needs to be delegated."
However, if you decide to outsource tasks like this, it's important to be clear about what you need done and how to do it. You need to have proper, detailed documentation and training in place, Andersen said.
"What most outsourcing experts often fail to disclose is that up-front training of these outsourced workers will absolutely require care and effort," Andersen said. "Instead of an overall view of what you need to be done, you must break it down into a very detailed step-by-step training. This will require you to know exactly what you will have your outsourced help working on. Nothing should be vague."
Andersen suggested creating PDF guides and reference videos, as well as staying on top of the training materials and refining them as your outsourced team asks certain questions or struggles in certain areas.
"Your training materials will become just as valuable as your outsourced assistance," Andersen said. "Outsourcing requires patience, but I can attest to the fact that the initial work required is more than worth the cost savings."
Updated Jan. 27, 2016. Additional reporting by Business News Daily staff writer Brittney Helmrich.