Oh, wow. There is a lot in this, isn't there? Let's unpack it right at the start, We have had the same doubts ourselves many times: Our team can learn to do so many things, so why not just upskill them to do something rather than contracting someone external? How can I trust the external company anyway, and won't they just try to keep us dependent on their services? And this whole "gig economy" things is surely not something we really want to promote, because building team and talent in-house is the socially and strategically responsible thing to do.
All valid, and understandable. Like all things, however, there are shades of grey here, and other ways to look at the situation. We are reminded of a colleague of ours who is opening a new café business. In May 2022 they took possession of the premises and decided to keep costs low by doing all of the decor and renovation themselves. They had to learn how to sand floors and plaster walls, and all on top of an already busy life.
Instead of opening in July 2022 to catch the peak tourist season, they are on track to open in November, after paying rent for 6 months with no revenue. They worked out that had they paid professionals to do the work in May and June, the café would have been open on time and generating business throughout the summer months. Of course hindsight is always crystal clear, but there is a lesson in there, so let's deal with these doubts one by one.
Yes to this, but with a word of caution. Developing the skills and know-how of your team is essential to a fulfilling personal development approach, and also makes good business sense, but what does it take to get there? A team that is already overstretched may not have time to build that capacity in the timescale you need it to happen, and developing new skills may dilute the time they can spend on consolidating core skills. It is never straightforward.
Externalising parts of your process can actually help free them up to do this. Say, for example, you are operating with a limited CRM, or with an M&R process that is not fluid and automated. Getting someone in with a fresh perspective to streamline efficiency, is something that will pay dividends over and over again. The ROI here is having your team freed from the onerous burden of production-line tasks that a well-designed workflow can handle.
There is also the argument of core skills. Say, for example, you want to add a community building approach to your M&R. What are the core skill areas that really add value to your team in the long term- designing and building the structures or actually managing and developing them? The former is a one-off task, whereas the latter is a long-term iterative process built on the foundations of a well-designed process. Externalise the first, and focus your team on the second.
Lastly, a bit of honest self reflection is important here. We work in education M&R and know how versatile our colleagues are at so many aspects of the business. We cannot, however, be experts in everything. Our colleagues who opened the café will be the first to tell you, "don't look too closely at the walls"! They may have done an adequate job, but they are experts in food and drink, hospitality and strategy, not plastering.
Though things like CRM process design can seem a closely related field to what we do in M&R, the truth is that it is a specialisation. Getting things right first time means relying on expertise that may lie outside your team, and that's ok. Our café colleagues have managed to hang pictures over the worst bits in their walls, but errors in your M&R automation, community building, brand voice or whatever else could cause far more damage and cost a whole lot more to cover up.
We're not moving into giving relationship advice here, but we have to recognise that this is a major issue. We have been there ourselves. How do we trust the integrity of our brand and the quality of our service to someone who is outside the team and culture? How do we contract someone to solve a problem for us in a way that (a) does not leave us dependent on them every single time we need to iterate that solution and (b) will be there for us if we really do need them, without disappearing into the distance as soon as the invoice clears?
This is why we are very deliberate in becoming a marketing consultancy and not an agency. We have seen time and again the agency who holds the keys to a website, to data insights, to editing rights on a CRM. The agency, which drip-feeds services at premium prices, when it knows that you absolutely will need these to scale and grow from the initial service package.
Sorry to make this all about us here, but this is something we feel passionately about. It may seem counterintuitive in our sector, but we mean what we say: our work is a success when we are no longer needed. We focus not only on solving problems for education providers, but on training and capacity building so that your team can have full control over what comes next. We are around if needed, and happy to return for the next big shift in processes or services, but essentially we aim to build solutions that design us out of the picture.
Trust is important to us too, and that is why we have said no to so many offers of collaboration. Values matter, people matter, integrity matters, and we have to start somewhere. It takes time, and means staying small and personal, but reputations are built on this. Just ask any of our clients and partners what they think, and we know what they will say. You won't see a 5-storey NEO HQ in Manhattan (ever), but there are 5 stories on our testimonials page that matter more.
We will end it here, because this is the most we have talked about ourselves in any article, and as extroverted introverts, we need a rest after that. Suffice to say that the "gig economy" is only good or bad depending on choice. Forcing people to work on short term, unstable contracts when you could and should hire them is clearly a bad thing.
We, however, as with so many others, have consciously chosen the freedom of freelancing. Gen Alpha, the metaverse, online learning, new skills demand and so many other factors are keeping us constantly busy learning new things and adapting the way we work to serve our community best. We can't do that in a fixed role, and we would never want to. We know what we are experts at, and we know how we can help you. If we can't, we'll tell you, and recommend someone else.
So if you are nervous about externalising some work, then we understand. Be careful, be cautious, but also be realistic about what you really need and why, and please don't end up with the false economy of trying to do everything in house. The café will do ok in the end, but our sector is too competitive for just OK. Get in touch if you want to chat about where we can ease pressure, free you up, or just re-plaster the whole thing. We're here for the relationship, not the transaction.