While there is an abundance of outsourcing companies and freelancers in North America, sometimes, for more economical quality work, you may find your small business considering offshore contractors to fill your needs. When choosing to do business offshore, you need to consider the public relations implications. Some of your customers may find out that you use offshore resources, and this may in turn cause them to reconsider doing business with you.

Whether it is having your website designed and built overseas, or having your call centre located in places like the Philippines, Jamaica or India, the cost savings for you and the customers you are serving can be great. Choosing the right provider in the right country is important, because some of the traditional offshore providers are no longer the least expensive option – and could even end up costing you more than what it would in local or other world markets.

There are some very important considerations when choosing to deal with an offshore company for your small business needs. You have to take into consideration potential cultural or language barriers that could interrupt workflow or cause misunderstandings of the work itself. Also, because you are dealing with a company half way around the world, you have to remember what time zone they are in, and when is the best local time to reach them.

You need to check your customer contracts and agreements to ensure that there are no hidden clauses or penalties for using offshore resources that your customer does not approve of. This is especially true if you are sharing their data on a potentially non-secure computer or server in another country that you do not have full control over. The security of your data and the trust of your customers far outweighs the potential cost savings of using an offshore company to entrust with your data.

No matter if the offshore company you are looking at is manufacturing components or delivering a service to your business, be sure to make an actual trip to visit them and their facilities. Seeing photos or videos of a plant or an office space can be deceiving – or may not be the actual place that you are expecting your work to be done in. Next, do not just plan to meet with one potential offshore vendor; plan to meet with a few on the same trip. Let each potential vendor know that you will be meeting with other competitors. This could help in the pricing what they offer you in order to be competitive.

Just like when you rent an office space or even a virtual office, seeing is believing. Ask to see the entire facility and not just the areas they have planned for you to see. The front office might look nice, but it may also be just a front, and not where the real work is done. If you are using the offshore company as your call centre, be sure to see the call centre floor. If you are using the facility for data work, ask to see the server room and the location of where your data drive will be in their racks.

Do not just meet with the ‘suits’ from the company. Ask to meet some of the workers on the front lines. If you tell them in advance you want to meet the workers or team members who will be working on your project or products, it is best to bring it up while you are physically meeting with them, so they do not bring in ‘ringers’ in advance.

If you are having products manufactured or components built, be sure to inspect the facility for safety concerns and any evidence of potential use of child labour. Remember, many large companies you deal with here in North America have penalties imposed for breaking a contract if they find that even part of what you are supplying was made by child labour.

Lastly, prepare a set of policies and procedures that you expect them to follow. This will not only ensure the job is done to your specifications, but will provide you with a legal ‘safety net’ in terms of the contract. You may even want to consult a lawyer who is familiar with your offshore suppliers’ local laws to help you prepare your contract and your policies manual that you expect them to follow.