One issue that has recently attained center stage in the business world is the debate over whether outsourcing web development is a good business strategy or not. Proponents point among other things to local shortage of highly qualified web developers and to cost savings. Critics on the other hand remain skeptical and often point to the potential loss of control over some aspects of a company’s business processes that outsourcing requires. To add to the dilemma, some use the term interchangeably with offshoring. So let us begin by defining exactly what outsourcing is and how it differs from offshoring. Outsourcing is a general term used to describe the act of delegating an entire business function or part of a business process to a third party or contractor. Despite its techie-sounding name, the idea of outsourcing, is a very ordinary one. When you don’t have money, you borrow from those that have it and when you lack talent or experience in one area, you seek it from those that have it. That is what outsourcing is all about. Businesses outsource when they determine that they either do not have the expertise they need to accomplish a given objective or, when they just want to maximize benefits and reduce cost. Outsourcing allows businesses to lower costs, take advantage of skilled experts, and to increase productivity and efficiency. Unlike offshoring, it does not imply work done in a different country and therefore does not entail the same risks inherent in offshoring such as project delivery failures due to political unrest, poor communication, and language barriers in the contractor’s country. In this article, we will focus on outsourcing web development as a major business venture that should be carefully planned and executed. Here are 10 guidelines to help you outsource web development successfully. 1. The first thing you need to do before even considering who to partner with for your outsourcing needs is to specify exactly what business objective you want fulfilled with the finished website. Will the website be a fully functional, highly interactive website where people can conduct commercial transactions at all times of the day or will it used to simply list detailed information about the business? Do you expect the website to evolve at some point or will this development be the final rendition? In general, most websites evolve in response to changing business demands. So it is wiser to plan ahead with changes in mind. Having a clear vision of what you want the website to do for you will help the contractor and you to tailor the project to the specific long term goals of your business. 2. After defining the general business objective, consider what functionality you want the website to provide. Will the website or some parts of it require a secure login? If so, what will be the requirements or access levels? Will the website include an online demo or a forum? How about databases and calculations? 3. Specify exactly how you will measure success. The main reason why you would develop a website in the first place is to enable people to do certain tasks at your website. So you need a way to measure this and a means to evaluate success or failure when the contractor completes the project. There are many tools you can use including one free one: Google Analytics. 4. Research similar sites. Visit websites of businesses that have already created sites similar to the one you are envisioning. The goal is not to simply copy or emulate them but to learn from them. Examine the design and functionality of these websites and write your impressions about what you like and what you don’t like about them. You can also request friends or other dis-interested parties to visit these sites and give you their opinions. Additionally, read customer comments (if available) and carefully note what problems users complain about and what they like or do not like about such websites. With this knowledge under your belt, you can then craft a better website that avoids the common pitfalls and incorporates all the features visitors find valuable. This will give you a definitive edge over your competitors. 5. Prioritize your needs. It is not always possible to include all the things you want in a website due to budget, time, and other constraints. It is therefore important to begin by categorizing your needs into “must haves” and “wish to haves.” Then make sure you consider optional features only after you have budgeted for those features that you absolutely must have. 6. Prepare a brief or summary for prospective contractors. This should include a short introduction of your company; what it does; and what its overall goals are. The brief should also include the purpose of the website; who the target audience will be; anticipated functionality (ecommerce, advertising etc…); how you will evaluate success; and who will be responsible for creating and maintaining content. You should also state whether you will be doing maintenance in-house or expect the contractor to do it for you. 7. After you have completed the above steps, it is time to look for a business partner. Make phone calls to several businesses who have the expertise you need and then draw up a list of those that meet the criteria you set in your brief (step #6 above). You can then send your brief to the few you have selected along with a request for a proposal. When you receive a proposal, look over its provisions very carefully. It is more important particularly at this stage to make sure that you get the most important features you identified in step #4. Price is important of course but don’t make the mistake of focusing only on cost. Though cost saving is a major reason for outsourcing, it should never be at the expense of quality. Moreover, a well developed site will save you more money in the long run than a mediocre site. 8. Ask prospective contractors for details about the staff that will be handling your project. If you will be outsourcing the entire web development life cycle, you want to know if subject-matter experts will be managing each phase of the project. In other words, you want to know if the task will be divided in such a way that dedicated web design specialists will be doing the design phase while software developers will handle the nuts and bolts of software development. It should be noted here that there are some web developers who are also excellent web designers and vice versa. This should not be a problem and in fact can be preferable because such an expert can match development to design more easily to create a well-balanced and harmonious website. 9. Discuss a timeline for in-person or electronic progress report. How often will the prospective contractor provide you with a progress report? Does their proposal give a phased outline of what will be accomplished when? If they can’t provide a reasonable response to this, look elsewhere. 10. Finally, ask for references and check them thoroughly. Inquire about their customer service, their task completion history, and their general professionalism. If you follow the above steps faithfully, you will be rewarded with the proven cost-saving benefits of outsourcing. Carefully managed and executed, outsourcing is a strategic business move and a great boon to all types of businesses.