Outsource or Insource... Which makes more sense?

by Tom Snyder on Feb 15, 1998

In my continuing attempt to help you use the Web and your resources most wisely, today I’ll answer a question we’ve encountered lately… should a company do their own Web site development and updating, or should they outsource it?

With the advent of Microsoft Front Page, Adobe PageMill, and other relatively easy-to-use Web page editors, (and the propaganda that proclaims they make it so simple to design a “knockout” Web site), many small- to medium-sized businesses are seriously weighing whether they ought to prepare their company’s Web pages in-house.

While there are some possible advantages (supposed money savings, greater control over the final product and anticipated ease in updating), there are also several disadvantages that need to be considered. If you can’t spare the key people necessary to learn HTML and graphics to the level of excellence needed, don’t have the money to spend on the necessary tools or have staff members who are competent to develop Internet marketing strategies without outside help, then outsourcing may be for you.

The first thing you need to understand is that the new software tools are deceptively simple. As is the case with most “do-it yourself” software solutions, there are decreased choices and limited access to the basic code level. Sure, it’s easier to do an OK job, but it’s nearly impossible to do an excellent job. The illusion remains that the program can compensate for the user’s inexperience. From personal experience we can tell you that, although tools like FrontPage make building a simple Web “page” easy, we spend more time manually doing the things FrontPage can’t do, than we do actually in FrontPage.

The biggest drawback is the false notion that the HTML tools can make up for a lack of experience, talent, and knowledge. Those of us who have been in the graphics and media business for a while are getting a feeling of Deja Vu when we see the attempts that novices are making to produce web content. We remember when desktop publishing programs first came out. Suddenly everyone was a “desktop publishing expert.”

One other common pitfall is the reliance on claims by the IS or IT departments that they are capable of developing and managing a Web site. However, business Web pages are not a computer thing, they are a communications thing. The stereotypical computer guru often doesn’t have much graphics sense OR marketing savvy. Presenting your company’s image on the Web needs a careful blend of graphic skill and taste, marketing savvy, and communication skill. Too often, the individuals who might possess a combination of these skills are already too busy with core business needs to spare the time, and for some businesses the time investment in a team approach is prohibitive.

Rare is the small business which has all the skills in-house. An outside Web page designer becomes part of that team, bringing skills and experience in disciplines vital to the overall success of the project.

Let’s examine money-saving for a moment. A small, professionally-produced Web site from a company like mine can cost as little as $1,000. What might it cost you to do it yourself?

The old joke goes, “If your competitor seems to be pulling past you, give him a computer. And if you really want to put him out of commission, give him a free connection to the World Wide Web.” An ad in a computer magazine claims you can learn HTML in 2 hours. Even if that was true (and it’s not) you also need to assemble and learn to use the essential software tools: an FTP program, a graphics program, and, in your spare time, get a grasp of some basic UNIX commands. You also need a user-friendly cgi script that transforms forms input into e-mail messages. (By the way… “user-friendly cgi script” is an oxymoron.)

Back to the tools. After you’ve spent the $149 for FrontPage and $30 for a good FTP program, one of the most important tools you’ll need is Adobe Photoshop, which sells for about $650. Without it, you’re just fooling yourself… your graphics will be lacking (and we’re not even talking about the hours of instruction or self-education to learn how to use it). Other costs are for increased memory to run a quality graphics program ($100-200), a color scanner ($399), etc. What’s your total investment so far?

You also need to understand the Web well enough to develop an effective Web marketing strategy. That only comes with broad experience. The Web is already littered with the bones of thousands of small business Web sites that don’t have a prayer of being effective in growing the business.

The Web is a great leveler. A small business of a few employees can compete on the Web head-to-head with the Fortune 500’s of this world. But only if they look as good and professional and ready-to-do-business as the big guys. And, without professional assistance, you simply won’t even come close.

I am amazed at how often I go into a bookstore, the library, or a computer store and get to talking to people browsing in the HTML/Web sections. So many of them are there because they’ve just been given the “honor” of being responsible for the company Web site and they have no idea where to start. A word of advice? Don’t do that to your employees OR your Web site!

Yes…I understand being a small company with even smaller budget. But is working on a Web site the best use of your unique talents to help your business? We’ve worked with dozens of companies to help them determine when to outsource and when to do it themselves. We’ll help you do an inventory of your specialized skills, equipment, and in-house experience. We’ll evaluate your quality standards. And we’ll help you determine the best way to leverage your limited dollars and time.

Our solution may very well include you doing some, or all of the work yourself. But now that you know all of the facts, doesn’t it make sense to have an expert at least help you make the right decision? You owe it to your business!

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