Unless your company still uses a fax machine you’ll probably be aware that outsourcing work to freelancers can facilitate business growth.
“Freelancers add value to the UK economy. These entail enabling of firm growth and innovation through a workforce model that is lean, agile and flexible, providing access to expertise beyond the confidence of core employees and on a variable cost model which enables risk management and lower financial requirements.”
Now that’s all well and good, but if you’re running a small business or trying to get a start-up off the ground you’ll be trying to do everything and learning as you go.
The thought of having to find time to simply think about what to handover yet alone actually let go of a part of your business to someone else may seem like a hassle you can do without.
I spoke with a number of small business owners who generously took time out of their busy week to share their experience of working with freelancers. With the aim of helping make the process easier for others.
Founder of Tendo which was created to support business owners just like you to build the right business. A business which will allow you the freedom to choose when, where and how you work.
During our chat, Gary shared his experience and gave some great advice. If you have any further questions for Gary, get in touch he’s the type of bloke who’s happy to help.
Where most business owners go wrong in the early stages is that they try and do everything. They feel like nobody can do it as well as they can. People also feel like they can’t afford or justify outsourcing,
For me, one of the biggest turning points in my career was outsourcing admin to someone who was clearly more effective and more passionate about it than I was.
“It absolutely transformed my business overnight.”
What advice would you give to people who feel like they can’t afford to outsource?
Take the risk. I started with a small budget of say £100.
I thought, right what can I get for £100? 5 hours of PA work at the time. So I applied the logic, in those five hours that I free up, can I earn £100 or more to justify it? So I got super focused on generating more than £100 revenue to pay the PA and have a bit leftover. The following month I upped it to £150 budget, then £200 and so on.
How did you go about deciding what to outsource and who to outsource to?
I evaluated what was on my to do list and how much time I was spending on each of those items. I set my timer on my phone to 30 minutes, when the time was up I just put a little tick against the activity I’d spent most of that 30 minutes doing.
I assessed what activities were taking up what time and I put them in a kind of league table. Admin activity was at the top of the league!
What did you consider when you were choosing your PA?
Somebody that was more passionate about doing it more than I was and who shared my values, particularly attention to detail and customer service.
How did you integrate the PA into your business?
I spent time on the telephone and face to face getting to know them. Understanding someone’s value alignment isn’t just asking them, have you got a high attention to detail? It’s about do you connect with them, do you have a similar sense of humour. Do you get on, and trust them to do the things you’re hesitant to let go of.
Once I was sure she was the right person. I gave her 5 hours of simple things that were virtually impossible to mess up and evaluated at the end of the five hours whether they’d met the commitments.
Also, did I hold up my side of the bargain? Had I managed to spend more time with my family? Or had I managed to earn the extra money to offset the cost?
Have you got any tips for communicating virtually?
Be clear about what you are asking for, in what format and when you want it. Bear in mind it’s never going to be perfect on day one it takes time for them to get to know your systems, and how you want things to be done. It also takes time for you to get to know how they work.
“Be patient and trust that it’s going to work.“
Do you outsource anything else other than your admin?
I outsource everything! I outsource content writing, marketing, social media, video production. Everything that is not one-to-one delivery, which is what I set up a business to do.
What made you choose a virtual team?
I’ve never had employees since I’ve been running my own business. I decided to opt for the freelance model because I wanted to keep the overheads low.
The benefit of an outsource resource you can turn it on and off. If it’s a quiet month, I can just say I want fewer hours from you this month. It meant that I didn’t need a place for them to sit, a computer or a phone.
A person specialising in something doesn’t need their hand holding because they know how those things work, whereas taking on a junior / graduate PA, it’s going to take me three months to train them.
How do you find a person to outsource to?
I would go to someone I trust implicitly and shares my values and my way of working and I would ask them to refer me the person that they are working with.
A personal recommendation from someone that has worked with them and not someone who just wants a referral for a networking group.
Why is outsourcing to Freelancers such a powerful option?
As well as allowing you to spend more time doing what you love, being in front of customers and supporting them, it gives you maximum flexibility in terms of growth and control.
Outsourcing everything that is none core means you can spend maximum time serving clients and working on your business rather than having to deal with team issues.
As your business grows, so do your overheads which reduces flexibility as a team needs managing and training, they have legal rights if you don’t need them and can be inflexible as your business evolves.
An outsourced model allows you to resource up and down and change the freelancers in-line with your demands as you need to grow, contract or change direction.
One thing that will change is for larger corporate businesses to reduce their huge inflexible wage bills in favour of a more flexible freelance model which will make them more future-proof.
The outsourced admin model worked so well for Gary that he set up a business with his PA, Gem so he could support his clients with the same offering. Your Hidden Gem is now two years old.
Netsells Marketing Director, Speaker and Podcast Host. Netsells help start-up, scale-up and established businesses succeed by developing innovative technology solutions through long-term partnerships.
What do you feel are the advantages of outsourcing?
I think specifically as someone who has built a career leading marketing departments, outsourcing is an excellent way of augmenting my team’s expertise and mine.
Marketing is a broad discipline and while it’s important to have knowledge of all area, it would be impossible to be an expert in them. This is where bringing in subject specialists comes in handy as we can pull in expertise on an as-need basis and tailor any external partners to the strengths and weaknesses of the existing team.
I’m also a big believer that there’s value to be gained from having an external point of view come into your business and challenge your ways of thinking. It’s so easy to get tunnel vision, especially if you’re working on your own business and are susceptible to “beautiful baby” syndrome (everyone thinks their child is the most wonderful thing ever).
I value working with freelancers who have a clear communication roadmap which identifies where various sign-offs and communications will be needed throughout the process, especially if the work is project-based.
Like all best laid plans, this may not always work in reality, but at least I have an idea of where my input will be needed and when I need to ensure a quick response is given to allow deadlines to be met.
By clarifying timelines up-front and working out preferred communication channels (for example, if you want something quickly it’s best to phone me, if it can wait a day you will get a more considered response over email), you set those expectations on both sides.
Director at Think Colour. Think Colour was established in 2008 to fill the gap between digital and B2 printing formats. With a combined 115 years experience, their aim is to be approachable, friendly and honest.
What do you consider when outsourcing?
It’s important to recognise the reason why you need to outsource?
> Do you need a skill that you do not have the capability to provide in house?
> Do you have enough of that particular type of business to employ someone full time
> Do you need a skill that will give you an entry into the market?
> Do you need to reduce overheads by sending work out, to increase profit and improve cash flow
What advice do you have for those looking to outsource for the first time?
Ensure that the freelancer the same attitude, standards and preferably humour.
Cheap is not always better. Damage to reputation is often more expensive.
Be clear, take time to create a common understanding, and communication frequently.
Only outsource when it has a strategic or financial benefit. And only outsource tasks that you don’t have the capability to do yourself.
Field Chief Technologist at Pivot3. Pivot3 was founded by several industry veterans of Compaq, VMware, and Adaptec with a vision to simplify the datacenter by collapsing storage, compute and network resources onto a powerful, easy-to-deploy solution that would reduce cost, operational risks, and ease overall system management.
Why do you outsource?
For me, it was a combination of efficiency improvements and time savings. I’m more of a consultant than an SMB/SME but one of the main reasons I work with Gem (Virtual Assistant) is to produce internal facing reports for my own clients, which is laborious and quite frankly dull.
I also travel an extraordinary amount with work (around 200k miles a year globally) so struggle to find time to sit and create reports from scratch.
With such a busy schedule, how do you make it work?
So, it’s pretty simple with Gem– We schedule an hour or two’s call time while I’m driving or in my hotel room and I talk her through the report for each internal client I have. She magnificently makes sense my ramblings, profanity then makes the report management facing, inserts it into a smart looking template we created and it gets submitted.
It got to the point where the report to one department head was so good (and his belief that I created it so patently false) that Gem ended up sending him the report directly!
How did you find Gem?
I was lucky with Gem, I knew her personally before she set up her Portfolio PA so we had a much shallower learning curve when it comes to style, communication and expectations.
If you know someone branching out into the freelance world (and get on well with them), give them first crack, since they’re a new business and could definitely use the support, and the learning curve will be shallower for you both as well which will lead to better and faster results.
How did you decide what to outsource?
That comes down to a number of things, but for me, it was the necessary, but least valuable and enjoyable part of what I do… Getting that off my plate made a world of difference in how I enjoy my role. If you can identify a weakness in your own business process, I guarantee there will be someone to whom it is the simplest thing in the world. We can’t be amazing at everything!
Thank you to everyone who has taken the time to share their advice on outsourcing. In the words of Peter Drucker…
“Do what you do best and outsource the rest”.
Everyday People is a free service that makes it easy to connect with great Yorkshire-based freelancers. Get quotes, contact details and references without the legwork.