In December of 2009, after experiencing significant growth in the business, Will Schneider, President of WarehousingAndFulfillment.com decided that outsourcing the company’s online marketing would help take the company to the next level. “We had so many opportunities presenting themselves that we needed more hands on deck – and the thought was that outsourcing our SEO with experts would not only allow our internal staff to focus on high priority work, but also put the marketing in the hands of people far more experienced than us,” he noted.
Like many small business owners, Mr. Schneider took to the internet to search for the best SEO firm. He was presented with thousands of search results, and scoured countless websites – all claiming they could get his website to the top of the search engines. Because of his previous experience running WarehousingAndFulfillment.com (a website that thoroughly screens fulfillment companies), Mr. Schneider took great caution in speaking with numerous firms, talking to references, and even checking a handful of SEO “ranking” sites. Eventually, he chose what he thought would be the best option.
But 6 months later, the SEO company failed to deliver the expected results. Frustrated by spending nearly $20,000 and only generating an additional $500 in revenue from the investment, Mr. Schneider switched to a second, and finally, third SEO firm. And then it happened….just as the results were starting to get better, his website was hit by Penguin, a new algorithm update by Google that caused his traffic to evaporate overnight. “We were absolutely devastated, having lost well over $100,000 in marketing expenses,” Mr. Schneider said. “But the devastation turned to a cause when we realized that all three vendors we used weren’t implementing trusted practices, causing our site to lose its rankings. We realized that ‘vendor frogs’ were likely a significant problem in any business service. If we could experience great difficulties finding an outsourced provider, think of the challenges that other small businesses might face in overcoming the lack of transparency on the web.”
Fortunately, this significant failure had a silver lining – the company opened up a new site that screens SEO companies and ended up finding a great SEO company that has since pushed the company to new heights. Despite the rash of lower performing firms, the good news is that there are great outsourced providers that operate at an extremely high level. But because most business to business verticals are also filled with a high concentration of lackluster and below average companies, it’s increasingly difficult to avoid kissing a vendor frog. Some of the challenges that companies encounter when looking for an outsourced provider are as follows:
- Many business categories are largely unregulated, so website owners can say nearly anything that they want and stretch the truth on their sites
- Many “ranking” sites falsely project the quality of their vendors
- Small businesses tend to choose low price over high quality
- Lack of knowledge of a particular outsourced service further enhances the ability to deceive, as it’s easier to convince someone when they know very little about the service
So what would the owner of a vendor selection company say you should do to avoid ‘kissing the proverbial outsourced vendor frog?’ “It’s really quite simple,” says Mr. Schneider, “but takes some time to sort through fiction to get to the truth.”
- Learn about the outsourced service. Whether it’s online marketing services, bookkeeping, fulfillment, payroll, website design, or countless others, make sure that you do plenty of research about the industry and understand the basics, in the very least. Would you ever expect to adequately manage a staff member without a thorough knowledge of what their job entails? Don’t make this same mistake with outsourced vendors.
- Be extremely careful of online sources – as credible as they may appear. A wave of “matchmaking” and “ranking” sites have populated the net, but nearly all of these sites promote the companies that pay them the most money in advertising revenues. And to boot, many of these “unbiased” sites are actually owned by companies offering the very services that they’re ranking!
- Be suspect of vendor’s claims on their websites. Even the ugliest of frogs can be made to look like the Rolls Royce of their respective industry by building a fancy website.
- Always run a thorough return on investment analysis on any outsourced project, and compare these results with in house operations. Numbers don’t lie. Check your ROI.
- Put together a sound plan of accountability. Just like managing your employees, you’ve got to leverage your understanding of the service into the formulation of a set of measurable metrics that are used to hold the service provider accountable. And having these metrics handy in the selection process arms you with the ammunition needed to ask extremely probing questions that will help you narrow down the choices.
- Realize that you get what you pay for – and if it seems too good to be true it probably is!
We all know that if you kiss a frog in the real world, chances are they won’t instantly morph into a handsome price. But in essence, this is what many small business owners do when choosing a vendor – blindly selecting an outsourced partner and then crossing their fingers with hopeful expectation that they’ll provide them with stellar service. Finding the right vendor is far less about magic than it is about hard work, perseverance, patience, and accountability – the same principles that propel small businesses to success.
When asked what he wants people to know, Will Schneider stated, “Do your due diligence. And remember, if our company, which specializes in finding quality vendors, had difficulty finding a vendor, then those with less knowledge in the industry have to pay even more attention to potential partners so they don’t end up kissing a frog.” While it sometime takes kissing a few frogs before you find a prince, knowing the extent of the deception and doing your due diligence can help you avoid quite a bit of trouble.
This guest post is courtesy Carrie Welborn.
Image courtesy of Salvatore Vuono / FreeDigitalPhotos.net