Outsource or Hire? A few thoughts to help you choose

You may be a small- or medium-sized company, sometimes your technical documentation needs are very big! But are they big enough to hire a full-time writer? Or would it be more cost-effective to outsource your documentation? After all, you call on external resources to design your web site, do your book keeping and resolve legal disputes, right?

Well, both options have their advantages, actually.

When you hire, you’re sure your new employees know your products and are always available to meet your most pressing needs, since they only work for you. And if your needs are big, hiring is probably the most cost-effective solution.

However, doing business with a supplier gives you access to the skills and resources of an entire team. Outsourcing also gives you more freedom: If you aren’t satisfied with the quality of the deliverables, you change suppliers. No need then, unlike with an employee, to jump through the hoops of lay-off and rehiring. Also, you are less dependent on your employee or at risk of being left high and dry if he leaves on short notice.

So, hire or outsource? Here are a few situations where the choice is easy and others where it isn’t quite so simple!

You should probably hire if…

Here are several situations in which hiring is the logical choice.

  • Your needs are great and constant enough to occupy someone full-time: If you’re able to find a good technical writer, it will probably be cheaper to hire despite the costs of having a new employee. (Wondering what to look for in a technical writer? Over here!)
  • Your projects and priorities are in constant flux: In this case, it’s worth having someone 100% available who can very quickly shift from one project to the next at your request.
  • You can’t give a supplier access to your products so your writer needs to be on-site: Whether for practical or security reasons, access to your products may be limited. If this is the case, it’s best to hire someone who can test the various functionalities of your product on-site.

Outsourcing is surely for you if…

  • You always have a little documentation to produce, but not enough to keep someone busy full-time: With a supplier, you will have access to all the services you need when you need them, but without having to pay a salary during slow times. What’s more, if in a few years your needs truly justify hiring a technical writer, you can count on your supplier to facilitate the transition and lend a helping hand if your writer gets overwhelmed.
  • You can’t or don’t want to hire someone: Hiring a new employee means finding a workspace, providing tools, supervising… And then, if your employee’s work doesn’t meet your expectations, you have to replace him or her hoping that this time you’ll happen upon the right person. When you work with an external firm, there are no workspaces or tools to provide. And if you don’t find the right match the first time around, it’s pretty simple to do business with another supplier on the next project. And once you’ve found the subcontractor you love working with who produces awesome technical documentation, you can finally spend less time managing your documentation projects and focus on what you do best!

But sometimes, it’s not quite so simple!

And then, there are these situations where the choice isn’t quite so clear:

  • You have big needs, but only for a short period: You’ve decided to set up a knowledge base for your technical support team? You have to quickly produce all the documentation for your new product? The decision to outsource or to hire depends on the length and number of resources involved to complete your project. If you plan on spreading out production of your documentation over a year, maybe it’s worth hiring someone. But, do you really want to launch the hiring process for just a few months?

And if you’re looking for not one but for several people, you’ll be better off outsourcing even if your project will last over a year. That way, you will do business with a well-functioning team rather than having to build—and supervise—a new team.

  • Your needs call for a variety of skills that are difficult to find in just one person: If your needs justify it, hire someone for the main part of the job and outsource the rest. For example, if you have to produce documentation in several languages, hire a technical writer or two to write in their mother tongue and then outsource to translators who will produce the other versions. Or you could entrust the architecture of your knowledge base to an external firm, but have someone in-house write the content.

Whatever your documentation projects, you will probably need to outsource part of the work. After all, no one is a graphic designer, programmer, integrator, translator, information architect and technical writer!

  • Your products or technology are very complex: If you work in a complex field, a technical writer who works alongside your experts (who are readily available for questions) can be an advantage. This doesn’t mean that you have to hire someone, though. Nothing says you can’t find an external resource able to understand your technology and work effectively with your experts, even remotely. In both cases, you just have to find THE resource (in-house or external) able to understand your technology.

So, before you go looking for a technical writer or a supplier, take a moment to fully assess your needs and expectations. In doing so, you’ll avoid much needless work.