3 February 2014

Outsource, or keep the work in-house?

When you have staff who are photography enthusiasts or who are dabbling in graphic design as a hobby, it makes perfect sense to ask them to do some related work for your business as well. They might need a bit of training, or perhaps some reference to Youtube self-help videos, and they can get started. Or can they?

Ellery Chua, Founder, Ellery Chua Photography, notes that picking up professional-level skills can be a hit-and-miss affair. While he uses photography as an example, the same arguments actually go for any service which is professionally offered, but not the core competency of the employees or the business.

Learning from Youtube or doing a course may not be ideal, Chua said. “Many of the‘how-to’ Youtube videos are put up by people who will sell you training videos, online courses and workshops to teach you how to do this or that aspect of photography, all to pro levels without having to go through Photography 101,” Chua said. His comments easily extend to graphic design, website design or any number of skills that employees may be developing on their own time.

Practising taichi moves in Taipei
“It’s like the Chinese kungfu show where the master shows how it done and the student is expected to watch, memorise and understand. 

"There are literally thousands of trainers out there who will to take your money but how much you can learn is limited by your basic understanding and native talent and by how much are they going to teach you.

“If you get someone who only knows six steps of an eight-step process, you can expect at the most to learn six or fewer steps. Some trainers may keep material back for advanced courses or simply because they do not want share everything they know with you,” Chua noted.

To take the photography analogy further, Chua acknowledged that talented but inexperienced staff may do an excellent job, but at the cost of time that could be spent more productively elsewhere.

“Most new camera owners would use PhotoShop to correct or enhance  problem images. How well they do and how long they spend is a point that escapes most people. It is too easy to over-do it and retouch a human face till it looks unnatural, or to do an excellent job but take an unproductively long time. What a professional does in 15 to 40 minutes, the tyro might take a day  or two to complete.”

Chua listed three questions that all businesses should ask themselves before deciding whether to outsource to a professional or to do it in-house:

1. Do you have the time for this process to work?
2. Can the result come close to what you need? And more importantly,
3. How much will this cost you at the end?