In-House or Outsource: Pros and Cons

Trying to figure out whether outsourcing or bringing work in-house is the best decision for your school? While there are significant pros and cons for each, it’s important to examine the project before deciding whether to contract a third party to complete the job or execute in-house.

When I started as the Director of Communications at Cheshire Academy, I inherited a significant outsourcing operation for photography. It didn’t take long for me to realize that with the money allocated, we could hire an in-house photographer. In addition to having greater flexibility by having a photographer on staff and quicker turnaround times on jobs, the in-house photographer is also able to work on additional projects for the school, including graphic design. By utilizing the outsourcing funding, I was able to gain more production capabilities by adding an in-house staff member.

Assess your capabilities: skillsets, time, and cost.

Does your current team have the time and/or skillset to accommodate the project you need to get done?  If the answer is yes to both of those questions, it’s a no brainer: complete the project internally. However, be realistic with current staffing capabilities. If time or skillsets aren’t truly adequate, bringing work in-house can negatively affect your team and the final product. 

How much would it cost to bring the work in-house?

Assuming your current team cannot accommodate the work adequately, look at what it would take to add a full- or part-time position to your team. What would the workload be like, and how much would a salary look like? If you’re like me and have outsourcing funds currently in use, it’s possible that those funds could be reallocated to support in-house work.

Determine the cost of outsourcing: money, time, quality and control.

Most agencies will offer either a base fee, with an hourly rate above and beyond. That hourly fee is what could get you in trouble. Always ask if there are limits on drafts and revisions that could compromise the quality of the product. If so, how much do those extra revisions cost? Your base price could be perfect, but your job could double or triple in cost if you exceed the requirements.

Another important question to ask: How well does the agency know your school or the school environment? If the agency isn’t familiar with schools in general or your school in particular, this could require additional time and effort on your part. And, this can affect the overall quality of a project which brings us back to the potential for additional fees for revisions.

Do you have a detailed brand style guide to provide the agency for consistency of brand?

Having this tool can make your life much easier by spelling out the details of your brand’s style and message. A style guide also can help you in a situation in which a project that doesn’t adhere to those guidelines in presented, which means it shouldn’t count towards your revisions. Not having this tool means more management and explanation on your part, which translates into more time.

Decide what’s right for you.

After you assess your needs, capabilities and the costs associated with your school’s needs, it’s time to make a decision. In terms of time investment, after assessing your needs, do you have enough work to accommodate either a full- or part-time employee? If not, outsourcing might be right for you. If so, growing your in-house team might be the right way to go.

For my team, I was able to determine that the amount of work currently being outsourced combined with the additional work required, and desired work constantly floating around, was adequate to be covered by a full-time employee.

In terms of finances, this might be a trickier conversation for some schools, but since we already had a significant investment in outsourcing, it was a no-brainer. If we were to reallocate those outsourcing funds and supplement slightly, we could bring the existing outsourced work in-house and accommodate needs not currently being met by the team through adding a new member to the team.

Get approval, if needed.

Once you’ve made your decision, use that same information to get approval to move forward. Make a realistic plan of action to present to the administrators in charge of approving decisions like these. Dream big, but have a realistic plan of action.

My needs pointed towards hiring a new team member. While my dream would be to hire a full-time, experienced designer and photographer to work with my team, more realistically I knew that we could also benefit from an entry-level person with the right skillset for the job. I drew up a job description and worked with my CFO and head of school to get approval. In the end, it was decided that moving forward with a new, entry level, full-time position was the right thing to do.


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Stacy Jagodowski

Stacy has worked in independent schools for more than 10 years, with experience in both communications and admission offices. She currently serves as the Director of Strategic Marketing & Communications at Cheshire Academy, a boarding/day school in Connecticut. Before coming to Cheshire Academy, she was the Director of Communications at Derby Academy in Hingham, MA. She holds a bachelor's degree in journalism and design from Mount Holyoke College, a master's degree in communication and information management from Bay Path College and a certificate in marketing from Cornell University. Stacy leads a team of five, designed to function as an internal marketing agency with specialized skillsets for each team member including writing and editing, photography and design, digital marketing and communications, social media marketing, and more.

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