February 8, 2018 Shawn Stewart

4 Questions to Ask Before You Outsource

How do you know when to hire an outside vendor for help or keep it in house?

The decision feels tough as you try to steward resources and make good decisions on behalf of your church. I’ve been there, too. And, I felt the pressure as these very real concerns filled my mind: 

  • Will we be overcharged?
  • Will we be sold a solution that fits us, or taken advantage of because we lack specific experience?
  • Will my staff feel devalued if I bring in outside vendor for help?
  • How do I articulate our needs and priorities? How much do I share?
  • If we do hire an outside contractor or vendor, will we be at their mercy and locked in to their product?

If you are considering hiring an outside vendor to provide a service of any kind (i.e., design, communications, brand identity, web, finances, architecture, signage, etc.), there are a few simple questions to ask that can greatly reduce that stress and give you confidence as you approach vendors or contractors for project estimates.

It’s critical to know as much about your project as possible before beginning the selection process. And the more you know about what you need (and don’t need), the sharper your vendor’s ability to develop a clear, precise scope of work that’s right-sized to your budget.

Think of it in terms of a kitchen remodel; the more your contractors know about your space, the better. You wouldn’t call a contractor with a vague request like, “I think I need some sort of kitchen remodel.” Instead, you’d be prepared with specific information about your space. You’d want to tell them:

  • What’s working and not working
  • What’s necessary versus nice to have
  • What’s open for discussion
  • How much space you have to work with
  • How you will use the space when the project is done
  • How much you want to spend

In short, you’d want to paint a picture for them of what success looks like to you. Here’s some questions I use to paint that picture of success internally before I get budget approvals and reach out to contractors:

  1. What’s the problem we’re trying to fix?

The first step is to frame the problem. Let’s say you’ve decided your church needs a new website. Maybe you do, but to be sure, you need to outline a few things about your current site.

  • What’s not working?
  • Why is this a problem now?
  • How are people using our site?
  • What should our site be doing differently?

You may find that your site is simply outdated and needs a visual redesign, or you may decide it’s time to build a heftier framework with a more powerful search engine. The more you’re able to frame what the problem is (and identify if there’s a problem behind the problem), the more likely you are to stay on track with your project goals going forward.

  1. Why does the problem matter now?

It’s important to find out why this issue matters and needs to be remedied now. It’s also helpful to identify why you haven’t yet addressed the problem.

Just because your team identifies a problem doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a problem you need to prioritize. You may have other, more pressing issues that need to be addressed now instead. At the same time, you may decide this is a project that should’ve been started yesterday; being able to articulate why you feel a sense of urgency around the issue is always helpful for your team and any vendor you partner with.

  1. What are we currently doing about it?

Next, your team should evaluate what you’re already doing to address the issues in-house. Is there someone on your staff who can remedy the problem? On the flip side, have you already tried to address the issue in-house – with little or no success? Or do you find yourselves fixing the same problem over and over?

There might be someone on your team who has the capability to do it, but they don’t have the bandwidth to do it in a timely manner. Or maybe you don’t have anyone on your team who can help. Does this problem keeps resurfacing? Have any of your in-house stakeholders been able to effectively solve it yet? That realization that they haven’t yet should boost everyone’s confidence in the decision to hire an outside specialist for help with a breakthrough. Leveraging outside specialists to solve perpetual problems can free your team members to do what they do best and focus on their areas of expertise within the church.

  1. Where do we need the most help?

Once you’ve evaluated what you’re doing about the issue at hand, talk about what your expectations of an outside vendor might be. What does success look like to your team? What do you see when you envision this problem being fixed? If you can clearly communicate your vision of success to your vendor, they’re more likely to be able to help you achieve that vision without wasting resources or time.

The bottom line about outside vendors? It’s an investment, not a cost.

A website that works well and helps visitors get information efficiently is a pretty high priority to church growth and engagement. However, many churches hold back on hiring outside help because they look at it as a cost versus an investment. We blind ourselves to the real cost of poor communication and missed opportunities with our surrounding community. Hiring a professional to clean up your communications, fix your books, rebuild your website, or any number of possible projects will get your church back on track and help you communicate your true value to your community.


We want to help you feel empowered and hopeful as you explore outside vendor help. Download and use this free tool to steward your spending decisions better. It’s a simple matrix that will help help you create stronger internal clarity around your outside needs and alignment around your inside projects.

Protip: it works best to use this tool before hiring outside staff, consultants, or contractors. But it still works its magic after those hires have been made, as well. Enjoy!

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Shawn Stewart

Shawn Stewart

Shawn is the Director of Strategy at PlainJoe Studios. Previously, he was national brand strategy and brand management lead at Kaiser Permanente, a multibillion-dollar health care provider and not-for-profit health plan serving 10 million members nationwide. Shawn has served as a youth pastor and associate pastor within the local church, and a strategic consultant with hundreds of senior and executive pastors in both small and mega church contexts. His education and background is in visual communications and he is a recent graduate of the AIGA Executive Management Program for Creative Leaders at Yale University.
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