Onshore, offshore, hybrid, oh, my! Vendors are coming up with various collaborative methods to serve you better without shaking your comfort zone. But it is natural to feel jittery about outsourcing. After all, there is nothing simple about transferring your content (i.e., asset) to another person who is tens of thousands of miles away.

So take a deep breath. Here are 12 practical steps to get you started on your vendor selection journey:

  1. Know yourself. This is an area that is often overlooked. Before you even start looking for vendors, you must know why you want to outsource. If you are thinking more of efficiency and value-added services, you are on the right track. But if you are only after cost savings, then you are not going to be happy for long, since cost will eventually go up. Next question: what do you want to outsource, and how do you want to do it? The entire A-to-Z process of a project? Piecemeal? Or only basic composition or conversion?
  2. Find the fit. Often, each vendor has its core services. Make sure their expertise fits your project, unless you have time to train and develop the production team. Domain expertise is crucial: if you are a journal publisher, you want a vendor who is familiar with journal production and is able to walk you through the whole workflow and recommend lots of automation tools.
  3. Visit the facility. A walk around the production floor can reveal many tangible and intangible aspects of the operation. For instance, if the workspace is chaotic and unkempt, how can you expect your project to be taken care of systematically?
  4. Check up on reliability. This is not something you can easily tell before testing your project. But if the vendor is not responding promptly, if at all, to your inquiry, or transfers your request from one executive to another, that's a bad sign. In the content services industry, longevity in the business counts a lot. It provides a rich portfolio and ample experience with different types of projects. So you may want to choose stable, established vendors.
  5. Ensure scalability and flexibility. You need to know if the vendor is able to deliver even during peak seasons, when everything is on rush mode. The vendor must have the capability to ramp up production on short notice and without compromising quality.
  6. Insist on common standards. Make sure any proprietary tools and software developed by the vendor use common standards. While we don't suggest that you look for the exit even before signing on the dotted line with the new vendor, you must make sure your projects are readily transferable to any other vendor.
  7. Track and review progress. With a slew of communication technologies out there, you must be able to reach and talk to your vendor or project manager any time. And you should be able to track your projects in real time or at least with regular updates (via e-mail). Remember, out of sight, out of mind.
  8. Try out the vendor. Have a pilot project ready to go. You need to find out if the vendor can deliver whatever is promised and do it well. Do not rely on only a portfolio or sample projects to make the decision for you.
  9. Build in get-out clauses. Make sure these are included in the agreement so that you can stop a project and get out if things are not going the way you want them. Demand quarterly reviews. Have your wiggle room.
  10. Ensure business understanding. Often, a partnership fails because the vendor does not truly understand the client's business. They may understand all the complex technologies and are capable of implementing them at the snap of your fingers, but if they don't understand your business it will come to naught.
  11. Check out disaster recovery. In these uncertain times of natural disasters and geopolitical issues, it is prudent to make sure your vendors are fully prepared with secondary storage and backup operations.
  12. Trust your gut. You may find the vendor that fulfills all your requirements, but can you trust them? If the vibe is not good, then move on. Sometimes, vendor selection can be a simple, intuitive process. But this approach is only workable if you are not looking for every little problem and waiting to trip up the other party.

Last but not least, don't forget to do your due diligence. Get a Dunn & Bradstreet check if possible, and obtain references of clients past and present.

Good luck with your search!