09 Feb How do I Outsource my small business tasks?
Outsourcing can cover everything from web design to answering client emails and everything in between. Outsourcing for your small business will typically fall into one of three categories:
• Highly skilled expertise: This category of outsourcing includes reaching out to expert consultants to get their guidance. Even though you wear all the hats in your small business, you can outsource to a financial expert a few times a month to get CFO level insight into your business books. The same goes for marketing, strategic business building or any other higher level decision making areas.
• Repetitive tasks: As the owner of your own business, you don’t need to spend your weekends adding new social media followers or filing receipts. Repetitive tasks like these can be outsourced to an assistant, virtual or otherwise, to free up your time.
• Specialized skills: You’re excellent at what you do, but there are dozens of other tasks that go into running your business that you aren’t so great at – like web design, copywriting or accounting. These specialized skills should be outsourced so you can get the level of quality that you need to run or market your business.
Yes – virtually anything can be outsourced. But before you start, you need to make some critical decisions about how much you can afford to outsource.
Figuring Out Your Outsourcing Budget Caps
When you’re bootstrapping your small business, the last thing you want to do is spend money that you don’t have to. That’s why the first important step in outsourcing is figuring out your costs – no matter what category of outsourcing you’ll be using.
There are two types of outsourcing needs most small business have – ongoing monthly needs and special project needs. For special projects, like the launch of a new website, you’re going to have to budget for the entire project at once. If you have no idea what the project might cost, get quotes from several providers or run a test project on a freelance job board to see what the standard is (more about those job boards later).
For monthly time saving tasks, you’ll need to figure out how much time you’ll save by outsourcing and compare that to your typical hourly rate. If you’re a business coach charging $100 per hour, and you’re spending five hours per month handling your accounts receivable and payable, then that’s $500 you’re spending on that task. If you can find a bookkeeper to do that all for $65, that’s savings of $175 each and every month – which equals an extra $2100 per year in possible billable time.
Look through your typical business week and figure out where you can save some time. Are you spending a lot of time on customer follow-up? Are you pre-filling social media updates a few hours each week? Are you blogging when you should be coding? All of these tasks can be outsourced to save you more money.
How to Find Good Talent
Once you’ve decided what you need to outsource, and how much budget you have to work with, it’s time to start your search. Finding the right contracts is critical to making outsourcing work for you. There are few different ways you can find the right help:
• Referrals: Ask your professional network. Reach out to a few key contacts and let them know what you’re looking for. Finding a contractor through your existing network should be your first stop. The service provider has a proven track record with your contact, so you know they can be trusted.
• Social Media: Any social media site can connect you with a potential service provider, but LinkedIn is often the best place to start your search because you can get more in depth information about a provider’s experience.
• Freelance Job Boards and Bidding Sites: Posting ads on job boards or using a bidding site like eLance, Guru or oDesk can put you in touch with a number of different providers all at once. You can post your job description and service providers will contact you through the service to give you a quote and show you their experience.
Making the Right Hire
Any of these resources can be a good place to find a service provider, but your intake process is what really makes the difference between an outsourcing nightmare and a great working relationship. Here are some keys to making the right hire for your needs:
• Get to the Point: Making a great hire starts with your job description. In order to get the best price and the best talent, you need to be clear about what you need. Be as descriptive as possible in your request whether you’re emailing a referral or posting a job board. This gives your potential hire a good idea what you’ll need so they can price accordingly.
• Review as Much As Possible: Once you have a few people to get in touch with, or several bids that look promising on a job board, you need to carefully review their past work. If you’re outsourcing designers or copywriters, this is pretty straight forward. But how about an administrative assistant, bookkeeper or marketing coach? They don’t have a portfolio – but they do have referrals. Check out their LinkedIN profile and ask if you can speak to past clients.
• Ask the Right Questions: In addition to reviewing samples and speaking with past and current clients, you need to talk with your potential hire directly. Getting an in person interview with your potential service provider is ideal, but if that doesn’t pan out be sure to get them some questions via email. Here’s a short list of what to include so you can get a feel for their experience, their process and your expected results.
o How long have you been doing _____________(bookkeeping, graphics, content writing, etc)?
This gives you some insight into how experienced they are in their chosen field.
o Why did you decide to become a ____________?
This is a good question to learn about their background and judge their enthusiasm for their field.
o What are your primary skills that you’d say you’re best at?
Avoid anyone who says “everything.” All professional service providers have something their best at doing – and are proud to share it.
o What other skills do you have that can do but aren’t doing much of right now?
As your small business needs expand, you’ll probably need them to do more tasks for you. This gives you a good idea of how you can proceed.
o How many clients do you currently have on your active roster?
This gives you an idea of their workload and whether or not they’ll have the time to devote to your work.
o What is your process like?
A great service provider has a specific way that they work in order to be efficient and effective.
o What are your typical working hours?
This is very important if you’re hiring a virtual assistant or someone you’ll need to be in live contact with frequently.
o Do you work on a retainer or a project basis?
This is essential to know ahead of time. Many VAs charge upfront retainers each month. Be sure you know how much work you’ll need before you hire.
• Depending on the nature of your project, and the type of service provider you’re looking for, these questions may need to be adapted. Use them as springboard for your own list of questions.
Tips for Risk-Free Outsourcing
• Get Recommendations: Before you entrust a stranger (or even an acquaintance!) with your source of livelihood, make sure you have proof of the person’s professional ethics. Inquire with other clients about important issues like keeping a deadline, task performance, reliability and availability.
• Collect Several Offers: It’s always a good idea to ask around and get more than one offer. Be in touch with several professionals and ask them to give you their estimates rather than stating your budget right away. You won’t necessarily choose to work with the person who gave the lowest bid (you do often get what you pay for….), but price is still an important factor.
• Sign a Contract: Even if it’s only a short-term project, you need to protect yourself legally and financially. Make sure that both you and the contractor understand the contract before signing.
• Write a Precise Brief: Once you found someone you trust, make sure you communicate the task to them in a clear and detailed manner. If available, add examples or sources of inspiration. Don’t leave anything to chance.
• Deadline: You must be very specific about the project’s deadline. The deadline should be clearly mentioned in the contract and in the brief. It’s a good idea to occasionally check up on your contractor and get a progress report. Do this in a polite and professional manner – no need to obsessively call and nag.
• Room for Revisions: When outsourcing a project, you often find yourself asking for tweaks and revisions. This is perfectly common and should probably be anchored in the contract you sign. It’s best to ask the contractor to provide you with a draft at a certain deadline, so you can give useful feedback and guarantee maximum results.
• Be Fair: If you want to receive high-quality service and enjoy excellent results, you need to treat your contractors with respect. They may be highly experienced and well-connected professionals, so your interest is to have them on your side. Being fair and cordial will pay off if you ever need their help with another project.
Get Started with Your New Provider
Let’s say you’ve found just the person you need – they have the skill set and the referrals, and they passed your interview process with flying colors. Now it’s time to dump a bunch of work on them, right? Wrong. No matter how great a provider looks on paper, you need to start small. Test them out with a smaller project to see how you work together. This will give you a better idea of their style. If you’re working with a virtual assistant, hire them for a specific set of tasks and see how they work. If it’s a graphic or web designer you’re testing out, have them work on a small ad or social media background before handing over a larger project. The same goes for writers – test out an article or two before you have them create a content marketing campaign.
You don’t have to start small with just one provider though. Why not test two or three at once to narrow down your choices even faster? If you need three articles written, select three different content creators and see how the process works. It will let you test out their responsiveness, attention to detail and directly compare their work.
Before you start working with your new hires, you’ll also need a contract to cover everything that you and your client will do together. There are dozens of freelance contractor agreements that will work with a few adaptations. No matter what you select, be sure a lawyer looks over the final version so you can be sure you’re covered. The contract should cover the type of work to be completed, the amount you’ll pay and important milestones.
With signed contract in hand, and a small project in mind, you can hire your new service provider and let them make your life easier. If they knock the ball out of the park, start giving them more work to boost your profitability and save some time.