Owners of new businesses always make the same mistake. They begin by doing everything themselves. They build their own websites — often using a template service that produces a site that’s effective but not particularly attractive. They handle the production themselves, even to the point of packing the boxes and handing them to the mailman. They spend hours each month writing the invoices and doing the books. And they do all of that dull stuff while still holding on to their full-time job and trying to build a secondary business that they’re supposed to love. Owners of successful businesses, however, do none of those things. Instead of handling every part of the business themselves, they look for people they can trust and outsource the mundane tasks while they focus on the enjoyable, profitable bits. So what should you be outsourcing and what aspects of your new business should you be keeping for yourself?
For some experts, the answer is simple: everything that could be outsourced should be outsourced. For Tim Ferriss, for example, author of The 4-Hour Workweek, the aim is to reduce the work week to less than an hour a day, while spending the rest of the time traveling around the world, dancing in competitions and living a million-dollar lifestyle without the hard work involved in making a million dollars. That outsourcing even extends as far as dating: Ferriss famously outsourced the task of answering the emails he received on a singles site to an Indian call center.
More usually though, growing businesses outsource two kinds of tasks and they do it with an aim that’s less precise than the creation of a four-hour work week. Owners of small businesses want to make more money and have a better time doing it. That tends to mean outsourcing two kinds of work:
1. Outsource the Dull Stuff
The first is the kind of tasks that make eyes glaze and fingers ache. They’re the chores that persuade people to leave day jobs and look for something — anything — that requires more creativity, more thought, more rewards and less routine.
In a small business, that might mean the production process. Factory work is no one’s idea of a dream job, even when the items that you’re putting together in your garage factory are products that you’ve designed yourself. Designing is always fun and creation is a thrill the first time. But when you’re fulfilling your 353rd order, you’d really like someone else to be doing the sticking and soldering.
Paola Navarro, an enthusiast of amigurumi, a kind of crocheted dollmaking, took a unique approach to outsourcing production when she created her website DeliciousCrochet.com. Instead of outsourcing the crocheting and stuffing to other crafters or doing the work herself, she sells the plans and outsources the work to the customers. It’s the same principle involved in the sale of kit cars: when there’s a pleasure to be drawn from some small scale production, letting the customer do it will both save work and allow you to focus on the more enjoyable design tasks.
Other mundane chores that are easily farmed out can include the shipping and packing, as well as the day-to-day administrative tasks. Virtual Assistants, for example, help small entrepreneurs by doing things that range from planning sales trips and writing social media posts to converting documents and even personal shopping. If it’s something you don’t enjoy and someone easy to find is willing to do it for a small fee, then it’s worth passing the work on so that you can focus on the work you do enjoy.
2. Outsource the Specialized Work
Putting products in boxes or booking plane tickets isn’t difficult but it is dull and time-consuming, and the costs of finding someone to do it for you are usually fairly small; virtual assistants charge around $25 per hour and can be hired for just a few hours each month. A bigger challenge though is outsourcing the specialized work. Web design, for example, requires both skill and talent. Cold calling leads is a horror for many small business owners but a thrill for sales types who know how to keep a lead on the phone and batter down the objections. Copywriting can keep a business owner staring at a blank page for hours while a professional writer would know how to produce a headline and fill in the narrative before the coffee gets cold.
But that kind of outsourcing is expensive. Web designers charge more than $100 an hour; professional copywriters about the same. Hiring anyone whose skills would have required undergoing a course or building up professional experience is not going to be cheap.
The alternative though isn’t cheap either. Learning even basic Web design will take time, and that time would be more lucratively spent on your specialization. The result, too, is usually sub-standard, a level that could cost you customers.
The good news though is that this kind of outsourcing doesn’t always have to be done all the time. Once the site is up, it can stay up. And as many of these tasks become less specialized and more routine, so the price is falling too. Virtual assistants now offer search engine optimization as part of their package, alongside social media and mailing.
Choosing what to outsource then shouldn’t be too big a problem: if it’s time-consuming, dull, prevents you from making your own unique contribution to the growth of your business and someone else can do it better, then you should be looking to hire them to do it for you. A tougher question is when you should hire them. Although the easy answer is “as early as possible,” in practice, outsourcing happens when the business owner is confident enough in his ability to pay the staff and believes that he’s going to see that money coming back.
Outsourcing then isn’t just a good business practice. It’s also a sign that you feel you’ve got a good business.