At some point, we all need the expertise of others whether to free up time or do jobs we don’t have the skills to do. Local business owners share their outsourcing experience and expertise.
What should I consider when outsourcing?
Why you need to outsource
From blogging to bookkeeping, design to diary management and social media to smart website design, more and more companies are realising what they can outsource and what it can deliver.
Benefits of outsourcing:
Do what brings you joy: Not every part of running your business is going to bring you joy, and that’s OK. But if you find you’re spending less time on the things that excite you, and more time on the things that don’t, you should probably rethink how you’re working. You can do this by outsourcing your least favourite jobs, so you can focus on the work that you enjoy, and recapture the spark that inspired you to start this business in the first place.
‘Can do’ doesn’t mean ‘should do’: Maybe you can do a job, but are you sure you’re the right person for it? Persevering with something you’re not an expert in can end up being more costly in the long run – both in terms of time and money.
Stop being all things to all people: As a business owner, you have to wear a lot of hats (manager, accountant, marketer, cleaner), but this brings a lot of pressure that you probably can’t sustain forever. Outsourcing allows you to let go of some of these roles and focus on what you’re best at.
Offer extra services: Perhaps there are some services you would like to offer your clients, but you can’t because you don’t have the skills or the time to set them up. Outsourcing these services will let you offer more to your clients and give you the confidence to grow your business.
Be more flexible: Workflow is often unpredictable, so when plans change, can you handle it, or do you miss out because you can’t respond quickly enough? Outsourcing can make your business more agile and responsive, because when something unexpected happens, the people who can help you will always be there, at your fingertips.
Decrease risk: Many business owners are brimming with exciting, innovative ideas, but they may not put them into action because they are worried about hiring new, permanent employees for a venture that may not work out. Outsourcing does away with this fear – you can experiment with new ideas without having to risk the security of your staff.
Manage Cash Flow: Business owners are sometimes concerned about how much outsourcing might cost, but it can actually be much cheaper and more flexible than directly employing a member of staff. Passing on time-consuming tasks can also free up business owners’ time to really add value and actually generate more cash for the business.
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.
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.
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.
Outsourcing is an excellent way of adding value to a team’s expertise. 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.
What to outsource
When considering what to outsource, 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!
It transformed my business. 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.
It can be really tough trying to juggle it all, especially when you don’t want to say “no” to work! My recommendation would be to consider what type of outsourcing would help your business the most – not just for any busy periods, but long-term too.
If there’s a consistent level of new work, one option is to make a commitment to a regular service, such as a set number of hours a month from a virtual assistant (VA). Different VAs have a huge variety of specialisms and bring a fresh perspective too – I’ve worked with them to research SEO keywords and write first-draft copy for clients, which I’ve then refined as needed. I’ve also asked VAs to do market research on the feasibility of new business opportunities. A win-win all round!
If you feel that you can’t afford to outsource, take the risk. I started with a small budget of £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.
If you’re worried about the cost of outsourcing, try skill swapping with another professional to begin with. This is a great way to get started with outsourcing, without spending money that you may not have in the early days of your business.
What you want to achieve
As a freelance writer/blogger I’d say make sure you know your audience, what they need and what you want them to do. The person you outsource to should be able to ask all the right questions to understand this – but they need to ensure what they produce is right for your brand/audience, not simply what you (the outsourcer) likes.
Make sure what you say holds true. Startups in particular often find the focus shifts on what services or products they’re offering. But your outsourcer will be basing their work on what you’ve told them. Any “we’ve been thinking” changes or “can you just” requests could end up costing more time and therefore money.
Have a clear idea of what you want them to do before you bring them in. Even if you want them to help shape a strategy or plan – a clear objective or outcome is important. Also, I would say you need to give them freedom – obviously, within the parameters of your brand – they might come up with an approach that you haven’t considered.
Before you think about handing over that project ponder on the following:
• What aspect of the project are you struggling with?
• Can your freelancer/agency have space to actually deliver without interference?
• Do you know what you need to achieve?
•Do you have the budget required to pay for the right solution?
If you can articulate an answer for each of these that could be shared and understood, then you are well on the way to getting that help you desire.
My experience so far (from both sides of the desk) is that if an organisation is prepared to put work in advance to really scope out the requirements before they pass on a project, they get better results. This isn’t to say that you have to do all the work in advance, far from it, but if there is a clear objective and requirement to deliver then your freelancer or agency can do so at pace and soar!
Outsourcing is a Collaborative Process.
You can even start this process by speaking to the person you’ve got in mind to outsource to (including yours truly!) to really get to the heart of what you want and need. They can help you get on the right track and a step closer to handing over that project.
Your system and processes
Have good processes, systems and a strategy in place before outsourcing. I’d recommend having Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) for all areas of your business. As a business owner, you have to take the business out of your own head and get a framework in place. If you don’t have any systems and processes, a good project management system is a great place to start.
Be prepared; have processes, platforms and passwords to hand and have communications systems in place for maximum clarity and understanding.
The best person for the job
In my experience (editorial/content writing), it’s really important to have freelancers on hand with strong knowledge of the worlds that different clients operate in, eg manufacturing or pharma, as well as just having the right skills.
That means they can write in the language the clients speak themselves and saves everyone time and budget on getting to grips with new topics.
Arrange a 1-2-1 to find out if you get on with each other and if they can deliver what you’re asking. Trust is hugely important when outsourcing, especially for micro and small businesses – if it doesn’t feel right that’s ok.
I tend to do a test before I hand over a bulk of work. I outsource to people who have similar values and ethics to me, understand the industry, have a proven track record and more importantly, have excellent customer service.
When choosing my PA I chose somebody that was more passionate about doing it than I was and who shared my values, particularly attention to detail and customer service.
To find the right person, 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.
How you’d like to work
Check if they can meet your needs. Are they available when you need them, how do they communicate, are they flexible etc? You’ll be able to find this out not only from the 1-2-1 but also their terms and conditions.
I value working with freelancers who have a clear communication roadmap that identifies where various sign-offs and communications will be needed throughout the process, especially if the work is project-based. 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.
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 high attention to detail? Do you connect with them? Do you have a similar sense of humour? Do you 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?
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.
We’ve had a brilliant response to our first ‘you ask, our community answers‘ question. There’s decades of experience and a wide range of expertise all together in one post. Massive thanks to everybody who took the time to share their insights to help others.
Sam Agnew, Everyday People
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