This article is titled “7 Tips To Outsource Video Production” but could have been called, “How taking the 4 Hour Workweek at face value led us to botch a client’s project and ruin a profitable relationship”. Far from a practical guide on how video production companies can outsource components of their client’s video production, this is a comical, cautionary tale on how the cost benefits of labor arbitrage are often more appealing in theory than in practice. For similar stories on video production management, see our post on The Golden Rule For Managing A Video Production Company.
Outsourcing vs. Subcontracting
Before diving in, it’s important to note the difference between outsourcing and subcontracting. Video production companies subcontract all the time, it’s how our industry works. You hire a colourist, choreographer or gaffer from the proverbial vending machine of freelancers just as you would a horde of underfed extras fresh from the set of Neighbours.
The key difference between outsourcing and contracting is the amount of control your video production company exercises over the work, and “whether the work could have been performed in-house.” Subcontracting is hiring a cinematographer on the set for your Melbourne corporate video production. Outsourcing is hiring a Bangladeshi child to make an Animated 2D Corporate Short Film for which you don’t have the inclination to perform in-house. Which is exactly what we did.
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Early in 2019 we pulled the trigger on a productivity experiment in which we outsourced an animated 2D explainer video for a corporate client to Bangladesh. Having already impressed the client with a video production project, we wanted to wow them with the scale of our services while also testing new post-production workflows. Fortune favours the bold and, like Vin Diesel bravely agreeing to another instalment of a flailing Fast & The Furious franchise, we decided to abandon any thought of career prospects and drive ahead with our plan.
Here’s what we learnt:
1. Never outsource video production to a freelancer
Freelancer is one step above Fiver and two steps above an unpaid intern. Having trialled Upwork for lead generation, illustrations, website development and even an API build, we thought we could rely on Freelancer’s platform to deliver on our 2D animated explainer video.
If you’re set on outsourcing a component of your video production overseas, entrust it with a digital marketing agency or specialised studio rather than an individual. By doing so you’re increasing their accountability while reducing the likelihood of communication flaws. For example, if the computers at your offshore render farm are suddenly hit by the Y2K virus, at least they’re likely to have redundancy storage; the freelancer, not so much.
2. Expect 4x the amount of time quoted by an outsourcer
The idea of offshoring video editing is a romanticised tale in our industry told more often than the storyline of a Woody Allen film (it’s always the same narrative, just repackaged). But the truth is, outsourced projects are more like a Francis Ford Coppola film than a Woody Allen film. They blow out production dates and budgets faster than you can boot up Adobe Premiere.
When you factor in language barriers, time differences, varying expectations, revisions and the management of other projects, outsourced video production services are almost certain to come in late. If you’re fixated on outsourcing a project, multiply the time allocated for your foreign talent by 400%. This will ensure you’re not facing awkward questions when it’s time to handover the deliverable to your client.
Outsourced projects are more like a Francis Ford Coppola film than a Woody Allen film. They blow out production dates and budgets faster than you can boot up Adobe Premiere.
3. Reviews for outsourcers are rarely accurate
Reviews in life are more a guideline than a truth. For example, who actually leaves reviews on RottenTomatoes, and why does ‘Joker’ have a lower rating than Darran Arranofsky’s shipwreck of a film, ‘Noah’? When Upworkers can pay other Upworkers to fraudulently upvote their profile, you can’t judge the quality of a candidate until you’ve spent time interviewing them and given them a test project.
4. Make english proficiency your highest priority
Google Translate does some incredible things, but it’s yet to master Urdu. If you require another Upworker to translate the feedback from your first Upworker, you have a Monty Python-esque problem. Communication inefficiencies will kill your outsourced project; ensure you place English fluency well above the quality of their portfolio as criteria for selecting a candidate.
5. Establish your ethics
Ethics are the slippery set of moral principles that keep The Batman from killing the Joker, or that which prevent Ben Affleck from making another Batman film. Without going into a philosophical diatribe, ethics are subjective. If you plan to outsource a part of a client’s video production, know how you’ll respond if something goes wrong and your client pulls you up on it.
Under our moral code, after our Bangladeshi blowout we were transparent with our client in Melbourne. Adopting the “don’t ask don’t tell” approach to outsourcing, we believed that the client was paying a rate they had deemed fair for that project; regardless of the specifics on how and where it was made. Only after being asked if we’d outsourced the project did we concede the details.
Ethics also dictate who you will and won’t hire. Will you hire someone for less than the Australia minimum wage? Will you hire someone under the age of 18?
6. Don’t outsource something you can’t do in-house
While it seems counterintuitive, what happens if an outsourced video marketing project goes terribly wrong? If you lack the language to articulate what you want, the experience to know how long something should take, or the ability to fix the project if it goes sour, you’re setting yourself up for the same failure we experienced.
7. Have an exit strategy
To save your production from becoming the unanticipated sequel to ‘Apocalypse Now’, establish some guardrails on the project. “How long will I give them before I pull out and find another contractor?” is a good question to ask yourself in advance. Similarly, it pays to be on the lookout for red flags. When your contractor refuses to join you on a video conference call, that’s a red flag. In such a situation, how do you know they’re not a dog with dextrous paws? Whatever happens, own the outcome and move on.
Now, rather than outsource to Bangladesh we hand the project to our internal team of animators. But to the victor go the spoils; the valuable lessons we distilled here would never have been learnt if we hadn’t thrown caution to the wind. To sustain the growth of both you and your video production company, it’s important to test, iterate and improve the processes to find what works for you.
“It’s better to beg for forgiveness than ask for permission” ― Grace Hopper
Searching for a video production company in Melbourne? Enamoured Iris is a creative video production company producing online video content for lifestyle brands in the Travel, Apparel and Entertainment industries. The company’s head office is known as “The Owlery” and is based in Melbourne, Australia.