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SMART ANSWERS
By Karen E. Klein

7.6.99  
How Does an Offshore Programming Shop Grab Their Attention?
Remote work is great, but you need a sales outpost near your clients

Q: I'm an American corporate finance attorney who founded an offshore software-development/programming hotshop that has experience programming for municipal and military applications. We believe if people knew about us, they would use us. But how do we go about finding companies who use or are interested in employing offshore programmers, and how do we meet them? What are some resources we could use?
--R.H., Bucharest, Romania

A: Offshore programming is a fast-growing, though relatively new, niche of the information-technology industry. Fueled by the demand for Year 2000 conversions and the lack of qualified U.S. labor, offshore programming companies -- mostly in developing countries like India -- take on projects for corporate clients, mainly from the U.S. or Europe. And they do so often for 30% to 60% less than it would cost at home.

Typically, companies use the foreign programmers for tedious, labor-intensive programming projects, freeing up their high-priced staff for other priorities. Since you have already got a viable shop overseas, you're in an enviable position. Now, experts say, you need to establish a physical presence in the U.S. or Europe, get your Web page listed on the major search engines, and hire salespeople to start digging up clients. Once you've gotten a couple of jobs and completed them well, word-of-mouth will be your best advertising -- especially if you can truly offer quality and substantial cost-savings.

But, says Russell Kelner, managing director of New York-based Global Advance Inc., "American companies are hesitant to hire overseas companies directly because they fear their projects will be hampered by cultural and language barriers." Kelner's company outsources projects to American programmers who have emigrated to Israel.

By partnering with an American company or setting up even a one-person office in the U.S. or Europe, you can overcome any discomfort clients have working with foreign companies. That way, you'll have a company representative who can answer telephone inquiries, visit clients' headquarters, assess their needs, and reassure them that they have local accountability if the job needs to be changed, takes longer than expected, or isn't completed satisfactorily. "The most effective way to get into the groove with major U.S. corporations is to form a partnership with an existing company that is already on corporate outsourcing lists," says James Dunn, CEO of Strategic Technology Transfer Inc., an offshore programming and business development firm with offices in Atlanta and Hyderabad, India. Dunn has four partner companies in India.

One resource you might check into is the Outsourcing Institute, a professional association founded in 1993 and based in Jericho, N.Y. It serves the outsourcing community with advice, news, and conferences. Their Web site, www.outsourcing.com, offers free research, articles, discussion forums, news, career resources, and advisory services for outsourcing firms. If you have the financial resources to spare, the institute will also help you find clients for fees that start at $10,000. Marketing Services Coordinator Michelle Ragione says that the institute will help match you up with clients by, for example, arranging meetings with senior executives or helping you draft case studies for posting -- along with a hotlink to your Web site -- on the institute's site. GartnerGroup Interactive, based in Stamford, Conn., also has helpful industry information on the Web, including its IT Journal: www.gartnergroup.com.


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