“I hate doing this, but I can’t trust anyone else to do it.”
Small business owners are a special breed. They’re usually talented in multiple fields, which allows them to handle everything.
But there is a time, in any business, where one or two people can’t do it all.
That’s when you either need to hire someone or outsource work.
This fear of outsourcing isn’t crazy. There are hundreds of outsourcing horror stories floating around.
However, you don’t usually hear from the small business owners who are happy with their work, because they’re too busy growing their business successfully.
If you use outsourcing well, you won’t sacrifice quality. In fact, you can often find people who can do the work better than you can yourself.
The focus of this guide is to break down how you can use outsourcing to free up your own time, while not sacrificing quality, and doing so at a cost that’s profitable.
- 1 4 Signs You Should Outsource
- 2 Identify Your 20%
- 3 Can You Outsource to a Computer?
- 4 You Get What You Pay For
- 5 Freelancer vs. Agency: Which is Better?
- 6 The Skill That Will Determine Your Success or Failure With Outsourcing
- 7 Where to Find the Best Help to Hire
- 8 Tools to Help You Manage Freelancers Effectively
- 9 Summary
4 Signs You Should Outsource
Outsourcing isn’t a magic bullet. You shouldn’t outsource things just because you can.
What you need to ask is: Can you spend the time that you save from outsourcing to produce more profit for the business than the cost of the outsourcing.
In general, there are four key signs that this is likely going to be the case:
- You’ve identified a high return activity (like sales), but don’t have as much time as you’d like to spend on it
- You hate doing a certain task, and it’s not something that absolutely requires your involvement
- Your business is growing rapidly and your workload is approaching a maximum level; if you get sick or have an emergency, it could be a disaster
- You feel that you can’t do a certain task at the level that you’d like for the business (often, this incorporates things like design). Perhaps it was okay to do it yourself at first, but now your standards have been raised.
It doesn’t really matter what the reason is as long as you have a good one.
Don’t outsource just because you see others doing it, or you feel that you’re supposed to. Have a logical reason that backs up your decision.
Identify Your 20%
So you have a strong suspicion that you could benefit from outsourcing. But the signs aren’t always that clear, or they don’t tell you exactly what to outsource.
That’s where you need to do a bit of analysis.
First, start using software like RescueTime or Harvest for at least a few weeks. These tools allow you to track how you’re using your time. At the end of those few weeks or months, you can view a report of which activities are taking up most of your time.
This is important because there’s no point outsourcing a task that takes you 30 minutes a week. You’ll spend more time than that just hiring and managing the project.
The Pareto Principle in Action
The Pareto Principle states that roughly 80% of a result is caused by 20% of the effort put into it.
In this case, 80% of your time will be taken up by 20% of your activities. These are your prime candidates for outsourcing opportunities.
Consider outsourcing any activity here that meets the following criteria:
- It’s not a competitive advantage: never outsource the thing that makes your company special. For example, Apple outsources manufacturing, but not the thing that it is best known for: design.
- It doesn’t produce much profit or business growth: you should try to spend your time on high-value tasks while outsourcing the lower value tasks. You can tie activities to value through Harvest.
- You don’t enjoy it: If you have no time, but are always working on high impact tasks, outsource the ones you find most boring.
Once you’ve identified a task or two to outsource, there are two final questions to answer:
- Do you need to outsource the entire task? Sometimes there are certain parts of the task that are boring and time-consuming. For example, say you spend a lot of time blogging for your content marketing. If you hate idea generation, that is something you could outsource to save time while still writing.
- Can you break down the task? When you first get started with outsourcing, you don’t want to put your whole business in someone’s hands. Instead, you’ll ideally start with a small, paid assignment to test their quality.
Can You Outsource to a Computer?
Before you go post a wanted ad, there’s one last possibility to consider.
If the task that you want to outsource can be automated, you don’t need to hire anyone at all.
Many SaaS services can automate simple parts of a business. For example, if you’d like to automate your social media posting, you can schedule it on Buffer.
If you can’t find a tool that automates the task and don’t have an in-house developer, you also try using IFTTT or Zapier. Both of these tools work similarly. They allow you to link up multiple apps or services. You specify a trigger, and then an action that should happen when that trigger is met.
If you find yourself spending time posting blog posts to social media, or copying down data from customer email, you could use either tool to automate the process completely.
You Get What You Pay For
The first thing that too many small businesses do when they want to hire someone to outsource a task is to go to Fiverr or Upwork. They see freelancers with great ratings on the sites only asking for a few dollars an hour.
So they post a job posting, hire one of these freelancers, and then make a thread on a forum or Reddit a few weeks sharing their horror story.
Now, there are definitely some great freelancers on sites like those, but they are rare.
And if you hire someone overseas, expect communication issues. They might be very skilled, but if they can’t understand what you’re trying to achieve, you’ll never be happy.
I’ve been on both sides of this situation, and I highly recommend paying for a high-quality freelancer or agency. You’ll get what you ask for, on time, and with little micromanaging needed.
If you’d like to take a big risk to save a few dollars, that’s your call.
So what should you expect to pay a top freelancer?
It does depend on the location and skill level, but here are a few general guidelines:
|High cost of living area||Low cost of living area|
Don’t treat those rates as gospel, but they should give you an expectation of what reasonable outsourcing costs will be for you.
Keep in mind that experienced freelancers are often much faster than you at a task they specialize in.
Freelancer vs. Agency: Which is Better?
The biggest difference between outsourcing to a freelancer and an agency is scale.
- Agencies are designed to handle higher volume, as they have a full staff supporting them
- Freelancers have to handle your work by themselves, and often have to balance you with other clients.
Keep in mind that an agency has more overhead, and will cost more for the same quality of work.
If the task(s) that you’re trying to outsource requires a high volume of work, or has a tight turnaround, go with an agency. Conversely, if your task isn’t too time sensitive (doesn’t need a full team working on it), or is a low, steady volume, a freelancer is the best choice.
The Skill That Will Determine Your Success or Failure With Outsourcing
Knowing exactly what you want and explaining it clearly is the most important key to outsourcing by far.
It sounds obvious, but I still witness poor communication from businesses trying to outsource work all the time.
Let’s break this down.
1. What is your desired outcome?
If you have a result in mind, you need to spell it out.
What’s obvious for you, is not obvious to anyone else.
For example, you might ask for someone to “redesign my website and modernize it.”
There is not a freelancer in the world who could execute that to your satisfaction. It will only attract proposals from low-quality freelancers who are desperate.
Be clear. Have a list of requirements or examples of similar work. If your task is design related, create wireframes or illustrations.
2. How would you like your outcome achieved?
Another common mistake is asking only for a result, without giving any guidance.
As an obvious example, imagine asking someone to design a landing page for your business. Then, when they deliver, you find out they used a landing page creation tool instead of coding it from scratch (which you wanted, but didn’t say).
So at the end, you’re both frustrated and unhappy with the situation.
Always include any specific requirements or processes that you have:
- Any tools that you want used
- Any review process that you have in place
- Programming languages or frameworks, if applicable.
And so on. More detail is better than less.
3. How would you like to stay updated?
When starting a new job of any kind, you always need to ask questions, because you’re going to run into many problems.
Freelancing is no different.
You can’t just hire someone and then go dark, and be unhappy when the product isn’t what you had in mind. You need to specify which communication channels you want to use, as well as how often you’re available.
If it’s a big project, you might want daily, weekly, or monthly updates. It’s usually up to you, but you need to be clear upfront.
Where to Find the Best Help to Hire
If cheap freelancer sites are out of the question, where can you find good help to hire?
It’s not easy, mainly because the best freelancers never even look for work — it comes to them.
If possible, start by asking friends and business partners for referrals. That’s the only way you’ll ever reach the very best freelancers.
After that, try niche-specific job boards. Here are the big ones for common areas of outsourcing:
- Writing – ProBlogger, AllFreelanceWriting
- Developing – TopTal, StackOverflow
- Design – 99Designs, Crew.
There are others, but these are just a few job boards that have reputations for attracting high-quality freelancers.
Tools to Help You Manage Freelancers Effectively
There’s a great article also on this site with a complete list of the best tools to manage freelancers.
I’m not going to rehash that here, but instead quickly outline the types of tools you should consider using:
- A communications tool: ensure you and whoever you hire can quickly communicate with each other as necessary. Email is okay, but Skype or Slack can speed up responses on each side.
- A project planning tool: Trello or Google Docs can allow you to lay out your project clearly, and let your freelancer keep you updated of problems or progress.
- A screen recording tool: this isn’t necessary if you hired a reputable freelancer. But if you went for a cheap option, a screen recording tool will make sure there are no mishaps with timesheets.
Outsourcing can be amazing or disastrous depending on how you go about it. If you take into consideration everything in this guide, you’ll have a much better chance at finding success.
Providing you outsource the right work, explain your requirements clearly, and ensure that you communicate, there’s no reason why you can’t cut your workload without losing the things that make your business unique.