You can’t be an expert in all areas of your business so it’s important to focus on your strengths. And, even if you are an all-rounder, it’s impossible to do everything yourself within the limited hours of the working day.
Whether the issue is lack of direction or lack of time, there’s one easy solution to these age-old problems: outsourcing.
But, just as you wouldn’t employ a new member of staff without rigorous application and interviewing procedures, you shouldn’t engage an outsourcing provider without careful questioning and screening. Otherwise, how else will you know if suppliers possess the requisite skills, knowledge and experience to service your needs properly?
Our self-help guide poses 10 essential questions to ask before you outsource. These questions are intended to allow you to fully evaluate prospective outsourcing providers before you sign any contract(s).
The focus here is outsourced legal cashiering but the questions apply equally to other types of outsourced services too.
1. Who will manage my account?
Your outsourcing provider will effectively take over your entire business function (be it bookkeeping, payroll or another area), so you’ll be working together closely and in contact frequently. The ability to develop first-rate professional relationships is crucial.
Find out if a dedicated individual will be handling your day-to-day tasks as well as if there’s an assigned deputy to pick things up when your cashier’s absent. Also, who heads up the team? It’s highly likely, over time, you’ll need to interact with your cashier, deputy and their supervisor so chat to them over the phone or, better still, meet them face-to-face to decide if you’ll get on well.
Of course, you’re largely relying on your gut instinct here but, after a few conversations with these key personnel, you’ll have a pretty good idea.
“The best thing by far about the service is the relationship we’ve established with our Quill cashier who’s readily available at the end of the phone, has a nice attitude and, we imagine, always smiling!”
Simon Acworth, Partner, Downie & Gadban Solicitors
2. Do you have a proven track record in my industry?
Specialist suppliers to the legal profession will have intricate knowledge of the SRA Handbook, SRA Accounts Rules, Council for Licensed Conveyancers Handbook Accounts Code and other guidelines. They’ll also be certified to at least AAT Level 2 standard and have attained ILFM qualifications. In other words, they’ll be well versed in how you operate and the challenges you face. Their solutions will be designed with you, and your daily struggles, in mind thereby sharing the burden of, for example, regulatory compliance.
Check credentials, ask about service level agreements (this is a minimum service standard guarantee and will detail such items as average response rate) and request reference sites from similar businesses to yours. Speak with a handful of these existing customers for honest feedback about service quality and overall satisfaction. There’s nothing better than peer recommendations when making a purchase decision of this importance. After all, if it works well for them, it could for you as well.
“Quill is known for its legal industry expertise.”
Josie Robinson, Solicitor, Josie Robinson Solicitors
3. What’s the status of your financial health and ownership?
This is potentially the beginning of a long-term partnership (all being well, anyway!) so probe into the supplier’s profitability, stability and longevity. You might want to review their balance sheet at Companies House as a starting point. Successful, independently owned, long-standing businesses are preferable for obvious reasons.
Newer market entrants, large conglomerates and those running a loss are less desirable and high-risk choices as they’re subject to ownership changes, offer lower standards of service and may not still be around in a few years’ time.
Forget the precarious and unreliable; opt for the dependable and safe instead.
“Some of Quill’s competitors are fairly new entrants to the market. They haven’t been around for 35+ years like Quill. Quill’s longevity is encouraging.”
Jawaid Luqmani, Partner, Luqmani Thompson & Partners Solicitors
4. What are the costs to outsource?
Secure detailed pricing up-front to avoid any nasty surprises from hidden costs later on. Do any add-on fees apply for various outsourced service components? What exactly will you get for your money? What happens if your business changes, after all, it might look very different 5 years from now? Will the service (and, therefore, costs) scale up or down alongside you?
Take a critical look at the numbers and try to spot misleading figures. Honesty’s the best policy. Be suspicious of companies reluctant to discuss and break down quotes.
Finally, weigh up the final pricing structure against the in-house alternative – employing staff and purchasing software – to get the total pricing picture. Almost certainly, you’ll save thousands year-on-year by outsourcing.
“In the process of outsourcing to Quill, I’ve saved 60% on my overheads because the cost to outsource is measurably lower.”
Martyn Maund, Managing Director, Acorn Law Northwest Solicitors & Elizabeth Hassall Family Law
5. What are your security measures?
Financial crime, fraud and cyberattacks are subjects never far from the legal (and, indeed, national) news headlines. Your law firm carries your clients’ confidential data and manages their monies – sometimes huge sums of it. You need to know that this is secure in the hands of your outsourcing provider.
Put your technical head on and enquire about encryption, firewalls, password protection, physical data centre anti-intrusion systems, regularity of software updates and back-up procedures.
Of course, even the most airtight techniques are occasionally prone to security breaches as cybercriminals deploy ever-cunning methods to break through. In the rare event of this happening, what’s the provider’s response plan? How exactly will they handle a security incident and rectify any ensuing data or financial losses? Will your business suffer downtime as a result?
The recommended standard is ISO 27001, and a business continuity and disaster recovery plan is a must. The former is peace of mind that accreditations are in force. The latter provides a sound basis for emergency response, resumption and recovery to minimise the effect on your business.
“Quill’s data security measures comply fully with the global ISO 27001 standard.”
Sarah Goulbourne, Co-Founder, Gunnercooke
6. How quickly can I get up and running?
In the early stages of negotiations, you’ll want to know how long it’ll take to set up and configure your database in order to make the switchover to outsourced support. Likewise, for the supporting software package (if provided), what time period’s required for granting access and delivering end-user training? Along the way, is there a migration plan to ensure a smooth transition?
As a guide, allow approximately six weeks from start to finish. Anything longer is excessive. But there’s no point rushing things too much and being ill-prepared when your go-live date arrives. The more hand-holding you’re given in these preliminary stages, the easier the move is for you.
Referring back to question 4, are there additional costs for data conversion and implementation support? Find out at the outset so you’re not thrown a hefty bill further down the line.
“The beauty of Quill is that you can switch on its services at once. This provision immediacy is a huge selling point.”
Martin Bridge, Solicitor, Bridge & Co Solicitors
7. What are my minimum contract terms and how do I terminate?
While this may sound pessimistic and defeatist, life happens, circumstances alter and cancellation can become a necessity. This is a two-way street. Typically it’s you, the client, who’ll make this decision because of re-structuring, personnel changes or (worst case scenario) if your provider fails to live up to expectations. In rare situations, it’s your service provider but this would result from something serious such as non-payment or dishonest behaviour on your part.
Whatever the reason, should this happen, what’s your escape strategy and who owns your data? Read the standard contract small print so you know exactly how long, as a minimum, you’re committing yourself to at the outset. Your provider should act as custodians, not owners, of your data so ensure you’re offered transitional assistance with data provided in an appropriate format for your retention if the relationship comes to an end.
“I’ve been a Quill client since 1996 when I began practising as a sole practitioner and needed a cashier who specialised in solicitors’ accounts. Fortunately I was recommended to Quill and I understand that I was one of the earliest clients to use Pinpoint. I’m very happy with the service provided to date which has satisfied all of my legal cashiering requirements and hope to continue our relationship for many years to come.”
Stuart Murphy, Principal, Stuart Q Murphy Solicitors
8. What happens if I have a problem out of hours or receive notification of a compliance visit?
Small to medium-sized businesses, particularly, are renowned for working all hours and expect the same out-of-hours service from their suppliers. The norm is 9am-5pm support with 24/7 system access for your accounts and matter data (because your complementary software will probably be cloud hosted). If more support is available, there may be a premium to pay.
If you’re informed of a compliance visit from a governing body, can you contact your provider for assistance preparing reports and other documentation? And, are they available during the visit itself should any queries arise? Any self-respecting provider should be willing and able to provide this type of back up, even if it’s over-and-above the normal call of duty.
“Our earlier audits were fairly lengthy affairs. Now, with our Quill cashier behind us and all the accurate account details easily to hand, our auditor’s here for just ½ day instead of 2 days.”
Justin Selig, Founder, The Law Department
9. What other outsourcing services do you offer?
Some outsourcing providers will have an extended range of offerings so that you can take advantage of optimum outsourced support. For example, outsourced payroll and pension management services.
If they offer software too, better still. That well-used phrase ‘one-stop-shop’ applies in these circumstances. This really does take convenience to a whole new league because you have one point of contact for your every need.
“As a combined cashiering and payroll Quill client, we have complete back office support.”
Helen Johnson, Partner, Rosemary Smith & Co Solicitors.
10. Why should I outsource anyway?
If your in-house employees are doing their jobs well; if you’re never troubled by skeleton staff during peak holiday season or illness outbreaks; if you’ve never been left in the lurch by the unexpected departure of staff members; if you’ve never found yourself suddenly short staffed due to jury service, maternity, paternity or other causes; if none of your current workforce are nearing retirement age; and if you generally feel that you have no cause to contemplate how your business might improve by outsourcing, then fair enough!
However, if one (or all) of these ring true and if you’re just a tiny bit curious what positive impact outsourcing may have on your business (and, let’s face it, which business owner today can afford not to?), then begin your enquiries. Outsourcing isn’t always the answer but imagine the possibilities if it is.
“I recommend Quill’s outsourced cashiering service to law firms who find themselves in our position with a departing in-house cashier. Outsourcing is, by far, the best option.”
Mary Stacey, Practice Manager, Butters David Grey LLP
If our article has whetted your appetite for more, read our earlier guides on “How outsourced cashiering works” – for an introduction to the concept of outsourcing and simplified 5-step approach to the outsourcing process – and “Ten reasons to outsource your cashiering” – for more information on the extensive business benefits of outsourcing which range from assisted business growth to strengthened risk management.
Julian Bryan joined Quill Pinpoint as Managing Director in 2012 and is also the Chair of the Legal Software Suppliers Association. Quill is the UK’s largest outsourced legal cashiering provider with 35 years’ experience supplying outsourced services and software to the legal profession.