Maintaining Brand and Reputation While Outsourcing
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Tom Stimson
February 18, 2022
A hand points a pen at a blue graph about reputation on a laptop screen in front a large window framing a setting sun.

If your business made the pandemic pivot, one thing is clear: outsourcing is your friend. But how do you control your brand when subcontracting jobs to freelancers and other suppliers?

I get a lot of pushback from owners about this. After all, it is their brand we’re talking about. They’re right to worry about it. It’s easier to trust when you keep most of the control.

When all services come from inside the company, controlling the brand is easier. Owners aren’t comfortable giving up control over this important aspect of their business. Their reputation is at stake.

On the other hand, ask yourself this: Have 100% of your employees represented your brand the way you want them too? If you’re being honest, the answer is probably not.

The goal of maintaining your brand and reputation when outsourcing is a valid one. But you have to outsource if you want to stay competitive. You can no longer rely on a limitless bench of employees who are infused with your culture and know how to represent your business.

Outsourcing while protecting your brand is a necessary skill set.

You can start building this skill set by realizing that good suppliers WANT to represent you well. It’s in their best interest.

Successful subcontractors are chameleons. They have to be. They work with a diverse client base, and they have a reputation to protect, just like you do. They get it.

Freelancers, for example, understand that each client works differently from the next. The successful freelancer works to accommodate those differences. They know better than to try to force their style on you. If they do, they’ll lose you as a client.

Once you understand this, there’s no need to impose your style on them either. They are there to oblige. This holds true for subcontracted companies as well.

A Failure to Communicate

There’s a reason the 1967 movie Cool Hand Luke is considered a classic. The most memorable line in the film, “What we have here is a failure to communicate,” captures the essence of the whole story. It also captures the essence of outsourcing.

We all have a horror story about “that guy,” the person who showed up on the job and made us deeply regret hiring them. The “my way or the highway” control freak. There was no opportunity to collaborate here, no way to truly communicate, so you just put your head down and got the job done.

And you swore you wouldn’t make the same mistake twice.

Suppliers have been there too. They have their own horror stories. Like you, they probably put their heads down and got the job done because they were professionals.

The lesson is this: bad actors tend to be poor communicators. They value control over persuasion.

Times have changed. Suppliers can now turn away buyers who are a headache to work with. And oppressive buyers won’t find a willing talent pool to work for them or suppliers who want to do business with them.

You can avoid adding more horror stories to your library of experience by realizing that strong communication skills help to protect and promote your brand.

5 Principles to Uphold Your Brand

Communication pays off in dividends. Use the following principles as a guide to uphold your brand when outsourcing.

1. Are They Willing to ‘Wear Your Shirt’?

Remember, successful subcontractors are like chameleons. You can probably tell by the way they communicate if they’ll be a good fit for your company. Do they ask questions related to your brand? Do they want to know how your company works?

Of course, you need to ask them questions as well. One of your first questions should be, “Are you willing to wear my company’s shirt while you’re working with me?”

In other words, will they take on the responsibility of representing your brand as if they belonged to your company?

If a supplier responds with, “We’re just going to do it the way we do it,” then that’s probably not a supplier you want to be working with.

2. Communicate Your Expectations

The supplier is at a huge disadvantage if they don’t know what you expect. You don’t want to leave them guessing.

You need to be able to clearly articulate your expectations. Explain to the supplier how you want the job to unfold and what will happen if they meet the expectations.

Say you and your crew show up at 7:45 in the morning for an 8 a.m. gig. If you take the time to let them know how you want the day to go, everyone starts on the same page. “If we do this, we can have a break at 10 a.m. If we do this, we can be out of here by five this afternoon.”

When everyone starts on the same page, it’s much easier to end in a place where everyone is satisfied: you, your employees, your suppliers, and your client.

3. Accept Feedback From Suppliers

I have many stories of freelancers I’ve worked with who were generous with their feedback. They helped me make the company I was managing better.

This is the golden dividend of good communication. If my company improves, so will my brand.

Oftentimes suppliers see the things that you don’t. They have ideas, skills, and resources you may not be aware of, and a fresh, outside perspective. If the channels of communication are open, they’ll feel comfortable sharing feedback with you on certain aspects in your operation.

Having that relationship and trust between yourself and the supplier is critical for getting honest feedback.

A good supplier can strengthen your operation and make you a better supplier to your customer.

4. Embrace the Value of Partnership

This principle somewhat happens on its own when the first three principles are working together.

When you collaborate with a supplier, find you communicate well, and get the job done together, it benefits you both.

Outsourcing doesn’t have to be one and done. A positive engagement can set the stage for collaborating on future projects. No man is an island. No company is either.

When you value productive partnerships, they can provide excellent opportunities for extended supplier relationships that represent your brand well.

5. Be Prepared to Pay More

Recognizing the value of your supply chain is important. Because suppliers who represent you well are valuable, you have to be prepared to pay more to land the good ones.

Remember, this is your BRAND we’re talking about. Don’t put your company’s reputation in the hands of the lowest bidder.

About Tom Stimson
Tom Stimson MBA, CTS is an authority on business and strategy for small- to medium-sized companies. He is an expert on project-based selling and a thought leader for innovative business processes.
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