This is the second post in a series on “In-house or Outsource?”
It used to be that digital skills were relatively rare. It’s how I got my start—nineteen years ago I was one of just a few people who could do this new thing called “HTML.”
Today, workplaces are teeming with people who know how to write code, create web images, and handle the multitude of technology platforms used for digital marketing and communications work. Meanwhile a plethora of self-service resources make it possible to implement many digital projects with little professional skill.
I touched on this last week in When Does It Work To Do It Yourself? In that post, about the challenges of determining what work to manage internally vs. what to outsource to vendors or paid services, I mention that having in-house expertise at the ready can be a compelling reason to manage a project in-house. While this comes up for many types of work, it is especially common for digital projects. A major factor is how common these skills have become.
But when you’re considering leaning on in-house resources instead of hiring an outsider, there are tradeoffs, and a number of ways to get it wrong. Here are some you’ll want to watch out for:
1. Confusing Ability with Professional Skill
There are some tasks it would appear that “anyone can do”— writing or photography, for example. But professionals have training, tools and experience that most of us lack. They utilize specialized methods, provide comprehensive services such as editing or packaging, and know how to accurately predict timelines and dependencies. If your in-house resources can’t perform at a professional level, you risk tradeoffs on the quality and reliability of the work.
2. Confusing Skill with Experience
Knowing how to do something is not the same as knowing how to do it well. An employee who studied something in school, or did it once or a while ago, is not going to have the depth of experience of a professional. They may not know how to solve unusual problems, or be able to warn of potential issues, and they may take much longer to complete the work.
3. Confusing Personal with Business
So you’ve got an employee with a massive following on their personal Twitter handle, should you put them in charge of your company social media? Would someone who just planned their daughter’s wedding be a great fit for putting together your symposium? Possibly not. Although many of the skills are similar, someone who has only performed in a personal capacity will lack essential business-specific knowledge and could get in over their head.
4. Confusing Tools with Expertise
Knowing how to use Microsoft Excel does not make someone an analyst, nor does HTML knowledge make a web developer. Professionals get very, very good at their tools but that is a very small share of what they bring to the job. Someone can be an expert at Adobe Illustrator, but if they don’t also have expertise in brand and design, don’t expect them to produce an effective, attractive logo.
5. Overlooking Context
A very skilled application developer can do poor work building a website. Most journalists are not naturally good at writing ad copy. Sure, people can and do pivot within their professions, but doing so requires thoughtful evolution of skill, it’s not a quick one-time thing.
6. Mistaking Self-Service for Service
There are scores of apps and sites out there claiming to give you everything you need to create your own logo, website, social media plan… you name it. The truth is, all these sites can offer you is a simplified version of the tools professionals use, they can’t replace the advice and perspective of a real live expert focused on your business.
7. Missing the Chance to Be Selective
When you hire agencies and freelancers you get your pick, and can choose the one that is the right match for you. If you are only using in-house resources you’re likely to settle for whoever you’ve got who might be able to do the job. If their style or approach turn out to be wrong for you, you’ll end up going in a different direction than you would have.
One Way to Get It Right
Honestly assess your team’s abilities, then strategically hire external resources to compliment, collaborate, and fill in gaps. I’ll dig in on this more in next week’s post.