Brian Swift: Outsource For Good, Not Just Profit Margin
(Editor’s Note: PPAI Media’s Voices series introduces the opinions, experience and advice of promo industry influencers. The opinions and ideas belong to the individual writer.)
When I created a promotional products business from my father’s retail product business, the company’s growth plan didn’t include having an international presence. I certainly never imagined that I would eventually build two offices overseas and that a significant part of my operations would be outsourced.
But through luck, fate or both, my business is now international, with offices in Miami, Atlanta, St. Louis and The Philippines. And the journey from second-generation business owner to offshore expert has been one of the most transformational of my life.
I was an accidental outsourcer, originally, with a need that had to be addressed. I’d hired domestic employees for several administrative positions, but the turnover was high. Finding the right fit seemed impossible.
So, I started exploring options. Then a friend introduced me to impact investing.
Similar to angel investing, impact investing provides money for a business but then takes the investment a step further by integrating social and environmental concerns so the venture generates positive, measurable social and environmental impact alongside a financial return.
The concept appealed to me because I’m very conscious of how many overseas workers are exploited in the pursuit of profit. I knew that if I chose to explore an overseas option, the approach must come from a place of empowerment.
Rather than looking for ways to save a buck, I sought out opportunities where my investment could lift people up. This people-first tactic is the foundation of my philosophy when hiring overseas: outsource for good.
The strategy worked. What began with hiring my first outsourced worker has turned into an incredible partnership. As we’ve grown, so has the staff. Today, I have an overseas team of 19. Some of them support the promotional products side of my business while others service our staffing clients that are outside of the promotional products industry.
Being able to help people from multiple communities feed their families is an incredible feeling, and this fuels me to continue making this kind of impact through all of my business endeavors.
Discovering The Need
When I first met my business partner in The Philippines, I simply needed some work to be completed at an affordable rate. But after getting to know him and learning about life there, I felt called to do more.
Both of our fathers were entrepreneurs, and I greatly value the multi-generational entrepreneurial journeys we both share with our fathers.
Mine created his business in 1969 with a focus on servicing the Black sorority and fraternity community. My partner’s father owns and operates jeepneys – a popular form of public transport created from repurposed Jeeps that were abandoned on old U.S. military bases. Watching our fathers’ struggles and successes gave both of us a unique perspective on how we look for opportunities, and this outlook would serve us well as we found our way together.
Getting up and going to work in America is quite different from most work in the Philippines. Overseas workers who are employed by U.S. firms typically work nights so they’re available during America’s daytime business hours. What’s more, many Filipino workers have to walk, ride a bike or take public transportation at night to their place of employment, and a long commute is common.
One day, my partner was sharing just how difficult it was for many to get to work. That’s when he said, “We should construct a building on my family’s land. It could have office space and an apartment for me to live in.”
My initial reaction was that there was no way I could afford to build an office. I was thinking like an American about what it would cost to build here, but the economics in The Philippines are so vastly different. Creating an office space was actually a reality there.
Today, we have two buildings that include office space, plus residential apartments. I’ll never forget the first time I walked into our two multi-story buildings in a small town and met my employees who have made it their home away from home.
Because the American dollar goes so much further, I can create more opportunities and make a more significant impact in lives than I could otherwise. I also strive to honor their culture and expertise, staying true to the values of outsourcing for good.
Developing The Opportunity
When my partner and I first began working together, I asked him what his goals were, and he said that he’d always wanted to build a thriving business and manage a team. This set the foundation for our growth plan.
There are several restrictions regarding how Americans can own a business or property in The Philippines, so it has worked out well that my partner owns and operates the company while I provide the financial backing and leadership direction.
Once we built the office from the ground up, I was able to provide the computers, desks, tables and everything else they needed to operate efficiently and interact seamlessly with vendors and customers in the U.S.
I wanted my partner to feel empowered to grow the business, so we’ve built an incentive plan around milestones and goals. Regular retreats and dinners are scheduled to develop and nurture team building, and there’s also a financial lending program that helps employees have access to funds when something unexpected happens.
While their compensation packages are less than what employees are paid in America, we ensure their earnings are above typical Filipino wages. We always want our overseas crew to feel like they are being well compensated and not taken advantage of – that’s part of the principle behind outsourcing for good.
Since a number of promotional products companies have workers in The Philippines, we’re also looking at ways to connect these overseas promo pros. If you’ve ever been to an industry event, you know how energizing it is to be around other like-minded professionals. Being able to facilitate this kind of camaraderie is an exciting opportunity for us to make an even broader impact.
By developing the overseas operation just like we do with our domestic team, we can create a richer work experience, encourage employee growth and development, and have higher employee engagement.
Collaborating For Mutual Benefit
One of the hardest things for an entrepreneur to do is let go of all the little things it took to originally establish the business. It’s easy to think, I’m the only one who can do this. But this isn’t true. For growth to occur, letting go is non-negotiable.
Outsourcing to an overseas team means letting go of tasks to employees who aren’t native English speakers. Additionally, not all work cultures are as fast-paced as America. And that’s OK. By improving communication and implementing realistic expectations and deadlines, it is possible to outsource with ease.
Building an overseas business has been one of the biggest blessings of my life, and that’s why I am so passionate about outsourcing for good. Not only have I been able to make a profound difference in the team members’ lives, but they’ve also had an even greater impact on mine.
Technology has enabled a global marketplace where work can be done from anywhere. If you read the business headlines, it’s clear that growth is happening internationally, and this opportunity is not limited to multinational conglomerates.
It is possible for typical promotional products companies – not only the largest players – to enjoy the benefits of outsourcing while expanding their teams responsibly.
When I was leaving the airport in Manila after my last visit, my partner hugged me as we said our goodbyes. He told me how empowered he felt through our work together. I feel equally empowered.
Together, he and I have created something truly remarkable, and that’s the power of outsourcing when done for good.
Swift is president of Miami, Florida-based Swift Sourcing (PPAI 230767, D3) and a former PPAI board member. He is a graduate of the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses program and currently participates in the EY Entrepreneurs Access Network (EAN) program for Black and Hispanic/Latino entrepreneurs seeking to put their businesses on a path for broad-scale growth.