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How to outsource your e-business efforts Add to ...

Companies that lack in-house expertise often outsource e-business efforts to free up time, money and resources for other operations. If you choose this route, there are 4 main types of work you might decide to hand to outside specialists: e-strategy, web hosting, website construction and customer-service support.

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Your e-business strategy sets out the business objectives you want to achieve online. BDC Consulting can help you develop an effective strategy and action plan.

For web hosting, you'll be looking for an Internet service provider (ISP) and host that can provide you with reliability, flexibility and excellent service for the right price. Industry Canada's e-biz enable website offers a list of e-business suppliers. Be wary of inexpensive hosting packages that could leave you vulnerable to frequent service failures.

When building a website, you should first assess the hardware, software and connectivity that will be required for it to operate effectively. Make sure your supplier can provide the services you need, such as shopping cart and other e-commerce technologies, web-based tools for site maintenance and configuration, and technical support.

Be sure your host is located in a facility that is physically secure and has firewalls and other measures in place to protect servers and their networks from disasters like fires, floods and power failures.

Although computer hardware usually comes with a warranty, your company may not be able to afford the downtime during repairs. Have a contingency plan with backup systems and extra technicians who can be called in if there is a failure.

Plan for upgrades

Remember that your site may experience increasing amounts of traffic. In turn, this increases the load on your server and can degrade site performance, resulting in slower response times and even server failure. Be proactive and put an upgrade plan in place before you experience problems.

More traffic will require more bandwidth, which means higher costs. In most cases, your hosting plan will include a flat monthly transfer rate (measured in gigabytes) with any additional bandwidth used charged at a premium rate. The monthly rate will be higher if you upgrade your contract to provide more bandwidth, but this is still cheaper than buying bandwidth on an as-needed basis.

Plan to relocate your site

Always have a contingency plan for relocating your website to another provider. Even if your hosting company is reliable, you need to keep doors open to other suppliers.

Website construction

The rule of thumb here is to ensure that your website is user-friendly, has a professional look and is easily maintained. You may want to consider hiring a professional developer or web designer.

Get a savvy supplier

Make sure you're working with somebody who is highly familiar with the web. Don't let your designer overwhelm you with high-tech talk. You and your consultant need to understand one another. Ask to see their client portfolio, and work with companies that use the latest design technologies.

Supplier agreements and budgets

Make sure the agreement with your supplier spells out what the site will do, its technological requirements and the security safeguards and credit verification procedures you require. Changes at a later date could be costly.

Know what is billable and what is covered under the supplier's guarantee. Errors in setting up a website would typically be covered by your contract, for example, while content updates are normally considered billable. Be sure to negotiate technical support ahead of time.

Work with a clear timeline and budget, including specific payment milestones as the site is developed.

Clarify intellectual property issues, such as the ownership of software code, visual design and content. Any aspects of your site that were developed by an outside company may have intellectual property restrictions. In such cases, the web development firm usually retains intellectual property rights to the software code they wrote. This means you are paying for a license to use the software. (Some firms may allow you to purchase these rights but at a significant cost.) As well, agencies may stipulate that web visual designs cannot be used for publication in other media, such as print.

Clarify confidentiality issues - concerning use of customer information, for example. It may be necessary to have your supplier sign a confidentiality agreement.

Site maintenance

Your site should be designed to be updated easily. Ensure employees are trained by the developer to use and maintain the needed software. Alternatively, you may decide that having your employees maintain the site is costlier than outsourcing maintenance. Ensure there is a well-defined process for maintenance and corrective measures. Some companies charge an hourly rate, while others offer monthly contracts.

Customer support

Many small businesses outsource certain elements of their customer support such as logistics simply because they don't have the in-house resources to handle it themselves. If you're considering outsourcing your customer service support, be sure the company is committed to protecting your image, name and reputation. Choose a company that has a proven track record, can provide you a full back-end solution and will have a backup plan if your volume exceeds capacity.

Content in this section is provided in partnership with the Business Development Bank of Canada. BDC provides entrepreneurs with financing, venture capital and consulting services. To find out more go to BDC.ca.

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