How to Outsource Effectively and Earn Back Your Time
As an entrepreneur, you wear several hats. Some of them might even look good on you.
But there will inevitably be some parts of starting and running a business that fall outside your expertise.
On top of that, you’re one person: You’ve only got 2 hands and 24 hours in a day.
Just because you carry the weight of your business on your shoulders, doesn’t mean you need to shoulder all the responsibility alone.
Delegating responsibilities to other capable hands frees you up to focus on your vision and the things only you can do, whether it’s growing your business or even spending more time with your family.
The Pros and Cons of Outsourcing
Contrary to some definitions, outsourcing doesn’t necessarily mean contracting work out to someone in another country. Instead, look at it as handing off or “farming out” work to a third party that specializes in its execution.
It's easy to become a control freak (in a good way) when you care deeply about your business, but that can make it hard to let go of aspects of your business in fear that someone else won’t do as good a job as you or won’t execute your vision exactly as you see it.
On the flip side, delegating too much or for the wrong price can increase your operating costs unnecessarily.
Effective outsourcing gives you back the time and energy you need to focus on higher impact things and maintain a good balance between life and work.
When contracting out a role or task you’ll need to consider:
- Essential vs. nonessential tasks: Perhaps the most important thing to consider is whether what you’re outsourcing demands your attention and if that attention could be better spent on more essential tasks elsewhere (e.g. business development activities like creating strategic partnerships)
- Long-term relationships vs. one-time needs: Outsourcing a process in the long-term requires that you build a good relationship with the contractor or agency you’re working with, so that they know your business enough to work better with you over time.
- Your personal expertise and workflow: Look at outsourcing essential tasks where you don’t have the expertise to ensure quality work and find ways to offload nonessential tasks that consume a big chunk of your workday.
- Look at automation and “botsourcing” first: Some things are far cheaper and more efficient to automate than to outsource (more on that later).
- Costs: In many cases, you’ll choose outsourcing because it’s a cheaper alternative to hiring an employee full or part time. But consider whether you have the cash flow to support outsourcing costs and the potential return on investment (more revenue or time to focus on other things) that justifies it.
When in doubt, ask yourself how much your time is really worth. The simplest way to calculate the value of your time is based on the total number of hours you dedicate to work divided by the income you generate per hour you work. Then ask yourself if it’s worth paying someone to have that time back and what you would invest it on instead.
Learn how the founder of Bottle Cutting Inc. significantly reduced his work week on this episode of Shopify Masters.
Delegating: An Essential Skill for Every Endeavour
“As all entrepreneurs know, you live and die by your ability to prioritize. You must focus on the most important, mission-critical tasks each day and night, and then share, delegate, delay or skip the rest.”
— Jessica Jackley, Co-founder of Kiva
The first time I farmed something out—a logo—I didn’t get what I wanted at all at first. It wasn’t the freelancer’s fault (they had a history of 5 star ratings). It was because I made the mistake of not communicating what I had in mind.
It’s easy to blame hired help for delivering poor work, but you should be mindful that the person you’re dealing with doesn’t necessarily understand your business, your processes or your vision.
Always appreciate the “curse of knowledge”— you know exactly what you want, but the people you’re working with don’t. Communication is key.
Here are some tips for effective delegation:
- Define a clear outcome: Describe the result you want (and don’t want). If it’s a measurable result, then agree upon a way to quantify it. Make sure your requirements are clear and, if relevant, that your instructions account for obstacles ("If this happens, then do this instead...").
- Over-communicate: Explain why you want it done and what your venture is about. There’s no such thing as too much context or information around a task, so make sure you're both on the same page.
- Set deadlines: If there’s a clear deliverable at the end (e.g. a logo design) make sure both you and the contractor are clear about when it’s expected. If you specify a date but no time, the assumption is that it’s due at the end of that day (midnight). For creative tasks, be sure you leave enough time to account for revisions.
- Be wary of time zone differences: When you’re working with remote help, it’s important to be aware of differences in working hours when establishing deadlines or meetings.
- Establish a line of communication: Make it easy for both you and the contractor to get in touch with one another if the need arises. Email is usually fine for communicating, but consider using Skype or Google Hangouts since they let you send instant messages, make calls and share what’s on your screen. For more complex, long-term remote teams, employ a tool like Trello or Slack to better facilitate the flow of necessary information.
Help Isn’t Hard to Find: How and Where to Look For Talent Online
Today’s gig economy—for better or for worse—has made it easier to source talent online.
But that doesn’t mean all the challenges are gone.
There’s a lot of debate (among both contractors and business owners) when it comes to pricing. Should you pay per hour or per word (for writers), pay a fixed rate per project, a fixed rate paid out partially as certain milestones are met, or a combination?
It really depends on the contractor, complexity of your project and the nature of the work you need done.
Regardless, scope out complex projects or roles fully before you agree upon a price.
One of the worst things that can happen when outsourcing a complex project is “scope creep”—having the needs of the project change as it develops, usually due to unforeseen circumstances or some misunderstanding with the initial agreement. Make sure there’s a clear record of the requirements of the role or project and establish a price according to that agreement.
With that out of the way, here are some ways you can find talent and places you can look.
Finding and vetting talent through your personal network
For many people, their first instinct when they need talent is to tap into their personal networks to find it based on the recommendation of a friend.
A mutual friend or connection could make it easier to establish a long-term relationship with a contractor. You can post your requirements on LinkedIn or search through your network for a mutual connection with the skills you need.
For creative roles like writing, video creation, and design, you can also reach out to people whose work you like to see if they’re willing to offer their services on a freelance basis.
However, this takes longer and could consume a lot of time, so it might be best to use a marketplace if you want to move faster.
Finding and vetting talent through a marketplace
Marketplaces have streamlined the way we objectively consider aspects like price, quality of work, customer reviews, turnaround time, and trustworthiness when evaluating talent.
While the inherent competition in a marketplace drives costs down across the board, you might not get to establish the same kind of relationship you would when hiring a solo contractor through their own platform.
However this is offset by the quick access you get to a diverse pool of talent with a fast turnaround that fits your specific needs.
Most marketplaces also handle payments via “escrow”—your payment is held by a third party account until both you and the contractor agree that the work was done. This gives both you and the contractor peace of mind throughout your relationship.
With a general marketplace like Fiverr, you get a really fast turnaround and a wide range of gigs on offer for almost anything you can imagine (get someone to make you a song or share your product in a list of forums). The gigs also offer more flexible pricing delivered in tiers, so can start for as low as $5 (hence the name, Fiverr) with the ability to upgrade your gig to get more as you see fit.
Upwork is a bit more expensive than Fiverr and offers less variety, but the talent is higher quality and more relevant to the needs of starting or running a business.
Some niche marketplaces take a crowdsourcing approach like 99designs (for infographics, logos, etc.), and Wooshii (for product videos and engaging short films) to harness competition, so you get more choices as to the creative direction of a logo or video. You'll get higher quality results but for a higher price.
Shopify store owners can also check out Shopify Experts for developers, designers and store setup experts .
Finding content writers and copywriters
I often hear that writers are hard to hire. Mostly because you need to account for not just whether you want a copywriter or a content writer, but also whether they’ve got the expertise and experience to work within your niche and brand’s voice.
If you want a writer you can work with long-term as the need arises, you can start by looking for existing content you would want on your own blog or website, and then reach out to those writers directly (find them on Twitter, LinkedIn or their Facebook page).
When you're evaluating a content writer, especially how much you want to pay them, it's worth looking at not just how engaging their work is but whether they have their own audience.
A writer with an audience might also promote the content they create for you within their own networks, expanding the reach of your blog. Or you can ask for ghostwriting services to publish under your own name, to build your own personal brand, instead.
If you need to produce a larger quantity of written content or copy that’s optimized for SEO, consider a marketplace like Crowd Content as it can integrate with and publish content directly to popular platforms like Shopify, Twitter, WordPress, and Facebook.
Setting up third party warehousing and fulfillment
Third party warehousing and fulfillment probably won’t be a good option for younger ecommerce businesses.
Even with the cash flow to justify it, there are logistics that must be considered when outsourcing an offline process that is core to your business’ operation.
If this topic interests you, I recommend you read Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Third Party Warehousing and Fulfillment to explore it in greater depth or read our Ultimate Guide to Dropshipping.
Read The Ultimate Guide to Dropshipping or find products with Oberlo today
Hiring a virtual assistant for administrative tasks
Virtual assistants are a varied bunch. Some of them are great for handling administrative tasks, research, cold calling, and data entry. The best ones might even provide skills like writing, proofreading or design.
It depends on what sort of day-to-day tasks you want to take off your hands.
Zirtual is a popular solution for dedicated, highly useful VAs that are perfect for startups.
Fancy Hands, alternatively, is a much lighter subscription-based VA service that’s great for time-consuming research, finding quotes, posting to forums and directories, and even staying on the phone to negotiate your phone bill on your behalf.
Employing a virtual assistant isn't just useful for an extra pair of hands—it's also a great way to practice the art of delegating as you learn how to let go of tasks and clearly communicate your wants on an ongoing basis.
Automating and "botsourcing" to support or replace outsourcing
Automation is a cost-effective way to supplement or even replace outsourcing. I mention automation here, because outsourcing isn’t just about finding talent—it’s about having more time on your hands to re-invest elsewhere.
With If This Then That (IFTTT) and Zapier you can created automated processes to streamline parts of your business, so you can either make your internal processes more efficient or streamline the workflow between you and a regular freelancer.
For example, if you regularly order social media images off of Fiver, you can have them automatically sent to a Dropbox folder.
Here are some recommended readings if you’re looking to learn more about automation:
- 7+ Ways to Streamline Your Ecommerce Business With Zapier
- 9 Clever Ways to Automate Your Small Business with IFTTT
Also, if you’re a Shopify store owner, be sure to check out the App Store—there are a ton of apps to build more integrated processes across your business.
"Botsourcing" lets you offload the execution of daily tasks to a virtual employee.
Hire Kit—your own virtual Shopify employee bot starting at $10/month!!
Chat with Kit via SMS, Facebook Messenger or Telegram to send personalized "Thank You" emails to customers or even run Facebook ads.
And Now, Over to You
Many entrepreneurs fled the 40-hour work week to pursue the freedom to live the life they want. So they started businesses of their own. However, running a business is no small feat and it’s not uncommon for many to end up investing a lot more hours in its day-to-day operation.
There’s always something to do, some way you can grow your business, and when your attention is always on the details of execution that keep your business going, you might lose focus on the things that will help you take it to the next level.
If you haven't thought about letting go of tasks and making more time for yourself, then hopefully this has got you thinking what you can get off your plate.