Professional Development

5 Success Steps For Finance Outsourcing

By Russ Harju

In my post last week, I encouraged you to try out freelancing for some of your projects. Hopefully, you’re now feeling inspired to take the plunge. (If my writing didn’t convince you, then check out this article from Forbes; an interesting write up on Microsoft’s outsourcing program for its employees.)

Now that you are ready to give it a try, I’ll share the 5 – S step process, to help ensure the engagement is a success.

#1 Scope the Project

This first step requires a bit of introspection, necessary before any work starts. Questions that need to be answered include:

  • What is the final deliverable for completion?
  • Why are we doing this?
  • Who is it for?
  • When do we need it by?
  • What are the ongoing time requirements of the work after its initial completion?
  • What will the deliverable enable?
  • How must it be completed?
  • What are the drawbacks of not outsourcing this work?

Take time to put pen to paper, or keystroke to screen as you think through all of these. The answers will be essential as you think through the next steps.

Don’t be afraid to think small if this is your first-time outsourcing projects like this. It’s great to get a feel for the entire process with something less critical.  That way if one part of the process turns into a “learning opportunity,” your feet won’t be held to the fire.  This also helps you find some favorites so that when something urgent or critical comes up, you have your team already assembled.

As an example, I tested out a freelancer with getting some help on a complex Excel formula I was struggling with. It wasn’t an item with high-level scrutiny, and the urgency wasn’t great. Its completion gave me great confidence as we began work on our high visibility project.

#2 Select the Network

Where do you find the right person for the project that you’ve scoped? A few options and their specialties are:

  • Fiverr
    • The work on Fiverr tends to be more transactional and has a niche in offering design work. (Yes, design can be useful in Finance! Think of those dry presentations, featuring chart after chart that could use a bit of tweaking!)
    • You’ll even see prices so low you might think you can have all your work done for less than $10. Yes, some things are exceptionally cheap. However, remember, even with freelancing, you do get what you pay for.  This can be great for testing multiple freelancers if you want a few options at the end. Simply order the same project from three freelancers, and choose to continue editing with your favorites!  Many promise free unlimited revisions until it is right.
  • Upwork
    • Upwork is like Fiverr with greater scope and quality. You’ll also see more Finance professionals here. It’s a better avenue if you’re looking to spend a few more dollars and do work that might take a few days or weeks to complete.
    • Some categories include business writing, legal, administrative assistance, IT, engineering, you name it!
  • Catalant
    • Catalant is less ideal for quick short projects but may be a great match for larger projects, many of which may require on-site work and can turn into full-time engagements. 
    • The process to select an expert is much more in-depth, and Catalant representatives are involved to ensure a good match is made. You start with a job posting, applications with work samples, and even a phone interview before hiring to ensure you are getting a qualified professional.
  • Finance-Focused Platforms
    • At least two Finance centric freelancing platforms have also emerged.
    • On these sites, the platform serves as a gatekeeper. The platforms will interview and test possible freelancers before they allow them on their network. These could serve as best options for people who are very nervous about outsourcing, have a substantial budget, and are interested in long-term engagements.  This can also reduce your possible pool of experts if your project involves an adjacent industry or emerging technology.

All of these platforms have their freelancers sign an NDA (Non-disclosure Agreement) as a part of operating on the network. The odds are good that this blanket disclosure will cover most items you send for outsourcing. Use common sense though regarding the type of data you are sharing, and get internal team alignment on the processes and adequacy of the platform’s standard NDA.

Now that you know what medium you’ll be using to complete the work, it’s time to think about the specific task you’re trying to achieve.

#3 Set Expectations

When you write the job description on your selected network, make your expectations very clear. You can utilize the questions you answered in Step #1 of the process. Do all those answers need to be shared? No, but it may help give the worker a clearer picture of how their work will be used. It could even prompt them to solicit ideas you weren’t expecting.

For example, in a previous role, my team was working on a customer profitability report, requested by C-suite leadership. Once our freelancer heard this was going to the C-suite, he provided examples from his prior work that also included reporting of profitability to executives. (They redacted all sensitive data.)

If your project involves anything formula-driven, be clear that your expectation is not to receive a file with flat values, but well-structured formulas that can be applied again with new figures.

With clear expectations set and the prospect of doing valuable and meaningful work, you should have several people submitting for the opportunity. So, how do you go about picking the right one for the role?

#4 Select Freelancer

Admittedly this area is a bit more subjective and will vary based on the project at hand. However, the following guidelines have served me well over the past several years.

  • I would not work with anyone who doesn’t already have reviews from prior outsourcing arrangements.
    • The experience requirement is especially true if you are new to the getting outsourced help game. Having two newcomers to outsourcing creates an increased likelihood of misunderstandings and poor work relationships.
  • Have a back and forth conversation with the potential hire. It’ll give you both a chance to make sure there is a fit, and you’re able to engage with one another quickly and with minimal conflicts.
  • If applicable, know what level of languages barriers you’re comfortable working with. Comfort levels will vary from person to person, and project to project. As you work with overseas talent on a more regular basis, your ability to work through language gaps will improve dramatically.
  • Obtain examples of similar work you’re looking for. Part of the perks of outsourcing is getting known expertise. You don’t want to pay for on-the-job training.

If you’re not impressed by the individuals that apply for your role, you can search for freelancers that possess the skills you are seeking. Don’t be afraid to ask them to apply for the opportunity. By taking the first step in complementing their talents, you’ll earn a bit of goodwill from them upfront.

Now that you’ve picked your expert, one step remains.

#5 Set the Table

As you get ready to kick the work off, you have just a few more things to do:

  • Reconfirm that the freelancer knows all background information, and has all data required.  Any back and forth to acquire assets may shift your timeline of completion back. 
  • If you can find examples online of what you would like to see in your end deliverable, even better. Ensure to be explicit in exactly what you like about each example when sharing.
  • Give a deadline that is substantially earlier than when you need to use the completed product to allow for revision cycles- especially for the first engagement with a new freelancer.
  • Establish incremental check-in dates with clear progress goals.
  • Verify all aspects of the deliverable are known and agreed to by both parties.

In next week’s post, I’ll discuss requirements during the project to make sure it continues to go well, and how to wrap it up smoothly.