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Community with a side of Outsourcing | Steps to secure a vendor

Okay, so you’ve made your community poppin. It’s lively with conversational threads, emojis, and even user generated content. You’ve got steady metrics that directly & beautifully relate to your objectives & key results [OKRs]. It’s time my friend, to level up. You’re finding that with the ascension of your community being able to low key function on its own, you have more time to sit 30K feet above it & view the tableau with a wider lens. Congratulations on lessening your task management & seeing project management in your near future!

So, what am I saying?

I’m saying, within your realm as community manager, you may one day find yourself associating with a third party service provider, to amplify some of the aspects of your community experience that you either can’t do yourself or don’t want to waste your own precious doing. These types of third party situations span: gamification software, analytics consolidators [unsure if this is the term], learning management software [LMS], customer retention management [CRM] and so on, you get the picture.

With any of these additions to your community backend atmosphere [congratulations on your increased budget okayyyy!!], there will be a heavy initial lift before the convenience & seamlessness follow. The lift varies, it may be lots of back and forth communication, it may be learning new tools quickly [no surprise], it may be cross cultural collaboration, it may be reading through weird documents, and of course, it may be honing your standard operating procedures [SOPs] so you know what the hell you’re talking about!

Picture of z virtual meeting and cup of coffee
Photo by Chris Montgomery on Unsplash

Although there may be a tried & true way that these sort of processes work in marketing, sales, product or tech teams → this is certainly not always the case for community [teams, LOL]. Often, we’re left to fend for ourselves & it takes a perspective shift to adjust how we view this quickly changing landscape within the community industry. Being left to our own devices in figuring out how to tend to our communities allows for inspiration from our creativity, curiosity, and willingness to take risks. So allow me to help you along the way in dealing with your first third party service provider, especially if you’re a small or standalone community team. Here are 8 steps to secure a vendor and get you started:

The Demo

Whether you reached out to this company or they cold outreached you, a demonstration is in order. Without question, you will need to have some account manager set up a time at your convenience to walk you through what a customization could look like for your community. This is the time when you get crystal clear about your needs & ask if there are any examples they have, which are similar to your community. If they have no examples, this might be an orange flag if your gut is telling you this isn’t right. If your gut isn’t screaming at you & what they’re offering sounds like some sort of fit, consider progressing.

Asking for Next Steps

Ensure you inquire about expectations going forward. What are the next few steps in this process as well as the timeline for each of those steps. You need this for your own understanding of the project, of course, and you’ll need this info when you relay all this to your team / decision makers.

Discussing with your Internal Stakeholders

Maybe you’re a team of one & you received a shocking message noting that you were approved the budget for this wild idea you had about using another company to handle your community gamification. Lit. You will have to do all the information gathering & full, complete understanding of this before presenting it to whomever gave you this budget. This could be your heads of marketing, people, or anyone in the C Suite. You can simply compile all the info you understood into an agenda & have it ready for a digital call and/or you can set up a quick slide deck to visually share the details. Either way, the people that you need to be on board for this initiative ... need to be on board. It’s your job to have these people see what you see as well as even, have their minds running about all that excellence that’s written between the lines [like, increased ROI or engagement].

Cultural Inclusivity

This often goes unspoken, but let’s face it, between remote work, digital nomadding, and massive intercultural teams → this is pretty vital. So, what I don’t mean here is having persons of color on your team or looking for a Black or Latinx third party organization [which are still delicious ideas]. What I do mean is knowing who makes up the team that you will be working closely with as you begin collaborating on your desired project outcome. You may have had a demo from their Canadian or Aussie team, but their account managers or developers are located in Sri Lanka or South Africa. It can go an extremely long way if you dig around a bit to find out how those cultures work in professional spheres & consider adjusting to their style until the project is done. Think about it: there’s 1→4 of you on your team with possibly 4→8 on their team. Their team has more cultural weight in the project & as such, it would be in your best interest to learn their style in order to communicate better. Better communication = deadlines often adhered to easier. Win, Win.

Country Comparison chart

It’s the age old discussion of when people move from one country with one language, to another with an additional language. When you take the time to learn the other language, custom, or cuisine, you’re often seen as more open, respectful, and willing to be part of their community. This acknowledgement begins the journey of cross cultural understanding & sensitivity, which are things in my estimation, have been lost even with the amplification of digital nomads living all over the world in significantly different communities than they’ve ever known.

A great place to start, at bare minimum, is Hofstede’s professional country comparison. A second place to lean is creating a document sharing your own working style & requesting the same in return.

Reading & Signing the Docs

After you receive the green light from your decision makers & the contracting company, it’s time to get handsy with those documents. It could be a straight up contract with a statement of work [SOW], it might be a memorandum of understanding [MOU], or possibly a service level agreement [SLA]. All of these basically tell you what the contracting company will deliver, how to formulate your own expectations, as well as a timeline. At least! If you’ve received these at 1600 on a weekday or anytime on a Friday, leave it until the next working day. I suggest having a fresh mind to read through possibly legal jargon, ensuring your own mental clarity when delving into their deliverables with the timeline and of course that blossoming fee. You will be in charge of overseeing these two imperative aspects; what that really means is that you will be in charge of reining their team in when they get a little ambitious to whipping them into shape when they lose track of time. Neither of these things may happen, but if they do, you need to be prepared with a solidly clear layout of what expectations were on both ends.

Project Management Collaboration

Will you get a link to their Asana board, will you share your own Trello, will you have a standing weekly call with an agenda that you create, or ... what? You need to be clear on how this project will be handled on a task basis & how much visibility you have into those processes. If a ticketing system will be added for your members → who will manage that? Keep a list of running questions like this, starting even from the demo stage.

Visual Expression in a Digital World

Back to the cultural inclusivity mindset, there are also industry cultures. I found this to be most true when I was a community manager at a health start up that was hoping to outsource our member gamification & activity dashboard. We’d have a standing call once weekly, videos off, and discuss goings on, agenda items, and user experience flow. It took me a few weeks to recognize that although their team was saying yes to everything & noted their comprehension, the outcomes always fell short. So I reached out to someone on my internal product team to relay my frustrations & also ask, what am I missing? He told me, the wireframe. It’s a new word for an old idea. Make whatever you’re trying to say, visual. So instead of this long google doc we had that had strikethroughs everywhere & honestly was butt ugly, I migrated to a slide deck. For each step of what I was talking about, I made a new slide.

For example, there may be five steps within an onboarding process including two emails, one invitation to a platform, one call to action, & a request to post in a channel. Instead of writing those steps in bullet points, assuming they knew what I had in my own head → I used my atrocious design skills from those clip art days to make five literal slides with what each of these steps would look like. I used arrows, circles, & call outs of all sorts. You know what happened. Things started to get finished before their deadlines, collaborating made more sense, their team asked more clarifying questions → it really made a whopping difference.

Course Correct

Lastly, no pressure but, the outcome of this project is probably on you. So, there’s a few things to say here. Including that in community, almost everything is a test that requires patience & fortitude. LOL. But seriously. Secondly, although money is involved, somethings things really just don’t work & you’ll have to determine when it’s time to pull the plug on a project. Consistent conversations with your stakeholders along with gut checks are necessities.

Take a moment to reflect on the fact that, if you didn’t have experience in any of the above steps, you now have eight new marketable skills. You’re Lit. If you did have experience, now you’ve continued to hone & refine your knowledge through continued practice & execution. These are big deals & if no one else gives you a friggen pat on the back, I AM! If you have any questions or would like to schedule time with me, please do so here!


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