In today’s global economy, outsourcing web design and development to India or other countries with significantly lower labor costs than the US or many Western European countries is an attractive option. Finding relevant companies and individuals to outsource to is just a matter of searching on upwork.com (formerly elance and odesk) or one of the other freelancing sites.
In my own experience, after presenting clients with a fair price for building them their dream website, they’ll sometimes respond by saying that they can probably outsource the job overseas for a fraction of the cost. I’ll usually wish them the best of luck and move on, but not before offering them some facts they’ll need to know to be successful at their plan.
I’m a big believer in getting things done as inexpensively as possible. So if you can build your website for free or through outsourcing or through your nephew whose a junior in high school, by all means go for it and be proud of your achievement!
But if you choose to outsource overseas, you must understand the advantages and disadvantages of outsourcing to come out smiling.
For the purposes of this post, I’m going to use India as my outsourcing example, since that’s where I’ve gained my battle scars. You can probably draw comparisons with neighboring countries, like Pakistan, that are similar to India in work culture and business etiquette. Outsourcing to Eastern Europe is also a popular option which I’m not familiar with, but some of the pros and cons most likely apply there too.
Pros and Cons of Outsourcing to India
So here are the pros and cons of outsourcing web design and development to India. (some of these might apply equally to other outsourcing projects)
If you just look at pricing without taking anything else into account (like quality or timeliness), then India is one of the cheapest outsourcing alternatives. You can get a website built for hundreds of dollars and a mobile app for not that much more. The pricing is enough to make anyone consider taking the outsourcing route, and rightfully so. Seriously, why spend $5,000 on something that you can get done for $500?
I recently submitted a detailed proposal to a potential client for an ecommerce website I estimated at around $15,000. A week later the company’s marketing director apologetically informed us that his bosses, the owners of the company, told him that they had always intended to outsource the project to developers in India for a fraction of the cost but that they had wanted to first get some proposals to be able to use to send to the developers as a guide. They even went as far as to tell the marketing director to ask us if we would resend them the proposal without the prices! He refused.
But the truth is, while their business ethics might leave much to be desired, if they can get the same quality of website for a fraction of the cost, then they’d be bad businessmen (and really stupid) not to outsource.
The other pro for outsourcing to India is that they seem to have an unlimited workforce waiting to do your project whereas locally, it’s often hard to find good (or not so good) people who are available.
The combination of cheap prices and seemingly endless availability is quite appealing to the average business owner.
1. Specs and Dreams
When I meet with clients, they usually have a very general idea of what they’re looking for. I listen to everything they tell me and try to understand their business and marketing objectives. Then I choose a platform (usually WordPress), create their site architecture, determine what content they’ll require and create it or edit their existing content (or both), organize their information, create designs and functionality. In short, I use my experience and expertise to create the best site possible for my client. I do the thinking, planning and strategizing for them.
From my experience, if you outsource to India, you MUST provide detailed specs of exactly what you want. They will follow those specs to the letter. If you miss something, that’s your problem. If you want someone to help guide you or do the thinking and planning for you, then it isn’t going to go well for you. Writing up a brief paragraph describing your idea in general terms will almost never get you the finished product you’ll be happy with. I’ll give you a couple of solutions for how to deal with it later in this post.
I did a project where I used a developer in Colombia (South America) and a development company in India. They each worked on totally separate aspects of the project. I provided each with detailed specs. The Colombian developer came back to me with suggestions on how to improve my product. I appreciated the initiative and accepted his improvements. The Indian developers followed my specs exactly. And as I uncovered issues with my product (or as issues arose) I told them and they fixed them.
The point of my story is that when you hire a professional, in any field, you expect him to offer his expertise and experience to help you improve your product and avoid mistakes. The Indians followed my instructions to the letter, but did not offer any guidance for improvement.
Maybe this was an exception and I just had a bad experience? From what I’ve heard, it’s more like the norm.
Building a website consists of design and development (which primarily consists of coding and tech issues). From my experience, development is the strong suite of the Indian resources you’ll be outsourcing to (although this article might think differently). Designing for the US market isn’t.
I know, I’m generalizing and there are probably many fine designers in India. But I can only speak from personal experience (and from what I hear from many others). Unless you provide a website design for them to copy, the design results you’ll get from the low cost providers you’re looking for will not be up to par (to be fair, the same will probably be true if you use dirt cheap designers in the US). As a result, many companies that do outsource to India will only outsource the coding and do the design inhouse or closer to home.
As an example from my own story, the font that my Indian developers used on my app screens was clearly too small, misaligned and spaced badly. It was clear to everyone except the developers. When I called them on it they told me that their designers had designed the screens – – and they refused to change it. I was able to prevail and get them to make the needed changes, but I learned my lesson. Point made.
For the most part anyone you deal with in India will speak English. But because of heavy accents, you might not understand them, and visa versa. I’d suggest keeping the brunt of your communication in writing, via email and chat, in order to minimize the chance of miscommunication and to have a paper trail that you can refer back to in the event that things go wrong. This makes sense wherever you do business, but especially when you’re at the opposite sides of the globe.
Like I said before, the Indians will follow your instructions to the letter, so you need to make sure that they are clear on what you want. Doing that verbally is not going to work. In the event that they get it wrong, you won’t have any way of proving it. If you have everything in writing, you do. Makes sense.
However you choose to communicate with your India based team, there’s one important cultural quirk that you need to be aware of: Indian’s will not say NO. They consider it impolite as well as a matter of “saving face”. This can be a huge problem when you ask them to do something they can’t do or when you ask them if your site will be ready by a certain date. Since they won’t say NO, they’ll say stuff that might make you think you’re getting a “yes”. But the answer is really “no”. You can read more about how to tell if your Indian developer is saying no in this article by Steve Mezak.
You’ve heard the saying, “timing is everything”? Well, it doesn’t necessarily apply to India. If you have a hard deadline in mind for your project, make sure you leave a few months of leeway. Enough said.
I didn’t write this post to tell you never to outsource projects to India. If you decide to go that route, make sure you understand the pros and cons and the risks involved.
There are a couple of ways to outsource without most of the related risk.
1. US Outsourcing Company
Many US based web development companies outsource work to India and other overseas locations to save money. These companies are hopefully passing some of their savings on to their customers. If you choose this type of company, make sure that your project is being managed locally. That means when you have questions, concerns or ideas, you are communicating directly with someone on this side of the ocean who can answer your questions and address your issues. If it’s just a sales person who will need to pass along your questions to India for answers, then you might as well just deal directly with India and cut out the middleman.
Since we’re on this subject, many Indian companies have sales offices in the US, which makes them appear to be US based companies when you’re searching on outsourcing sites. The truth, however, is that all of the work is done in India and, except for the initial sales call to close the deal, you’ll be communicating directly with a project manager or developer in India.
2. US based project manager
Hire or retain a person or company to help you flesh out your idea, write up your detailed specs and requirements, and manage the outsourcing process for you. If you can do all that yourself, go for it!
For the record, my intention in this post was in no way to disparage Indian professionals. It was simply to inform you, based on my own experience, of the pros and cons involved in outsourcing your web design and development to India. If you have the expertise or resources to clearly spec out your project in writing and to manage the entire development process, then it’s a cost effective option you shouldn’t ignore. Otherwise, beware.
If you need help making your decision please feel free to contact us.