How to Outsource on an As-Needed Basis

by Tom Ewer 6 Minutes

Help WantedThere’s a certain stigma that comes with outsourcing. However, I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again: outsourcing is not a dirty word.

When done well, outsourcing can be the best thing that’s ever happened to your business. By calling in help from outside sources, you can reap a wealth of potential benefits, including — but in no way limited to — more time to spend doing what you love.

But there are a few misconceptions you’ll have to get over before you’ll really be able to reap the benefits of outsourcing work. Namely that once you choose to start outsourcing, you can never stop. Not true. Outsourcing doesn’t have to be permanent to be effective.

Outsourcing Only When You Need To

The core mistake many of us make when we decide to outsource work is we think we’re hiring permanent employees. That’s simply not the case. By definition, outsourcing is when you “obtain goods or services from an outside source.” Meaning, anything that doesn’t come directly from you is something you’ve outsourced to someone else.

When you choose to order a meal at a local diner, you’ve outsourced work to a chef, a server, and a clean-up crew. Does this mean you’ve hired them on as permanent employees? Of course not. You’re only employing them for long enough to prepare a meal for you — something you either can’t or don’t want to do yourself. It’s outsourcing at its very finest!

When you choose to hire subcontractors for your business, I recommend taking on a similar outlook. You’re not looking for a soulmate here, you’re just looking for someone who can perform a job (like cook you a great meal, or design the perfect logo for your brand) in the time it takes to do said job. Nothing more, nothing less.

Not to mention, the benefits of outsourcing — even if they’re on a short-term, temporary basis — are pretty darn amazing:

  • Fresh ideas. By bringing in a new person (or people), you’ll also be gaining a new perspective. Issues that have been plaguing your business that you just can’t quite figure out how to solve will get a fresh pair of eyes on them. Blog posts that have gone unwritten because you’ve “run out of ideas” will suddenly have topics.
  • Cut costs. Working takes time. Training to learn how to do your work also takes time. And time is money. The more time you spend doing something, the more money you potentially waste. By outsourcing, you’ll gain back some of your time; therefore, you’ll also save some of your earnings.
  • Flexible hours. Unlike regular employees, subcontractors (outsourced freelancers) tend to have more flexible hours. If your hours are also flexible — as a business owner or fellow freelancer — you can effectively sync your work hours with theirs, creating a truly efficient work schedule. (It can sometimes feel like you have more than 24 hours per day at your disposal!).
  • Specialization. By hiring someone to do the tasks you either don’t want to do or don’t know how to do, you’ll be making room in your life to do what you do best. No professional wants to get slapped with the “Jack of All Trades (Master of None)” label. By outsourcing the aspects of your business that you’ve been struggling to do on your own, you’ll be able to relax and start specializing. Your services will then have a higher value (because you’ll have more time to dedicate to performing them well) and you’ll be able to command higher rates.

But which tasks should you hand over to a subcontractor, you ask?

The Aspects of Your Business That Can be Outsourced

It can be hard, at first, to relinquish any of your business to someone else. Even if it’s something small, you may feel that twinge of “But this is my business. I worked hard for this.”

So let’s get something out of the way right off the bat: it’s still your business. That is, so long as you don’t outsource the core purpose of your business.

For instance, if you got into business so you could design logos, you should at least still have a hand in the final design decisions of any logos your company produces. Outsourcing, at its finest, should be used to enhance your own skills — give you time to really shine! — not render you useless.

That said, some aspects of your business that can be outsourced to your benefit are:

  • E-mails. Try setting up some “canned” responses your your VA (virtual assistant) that can work as responses to common questions. Chances are, many, if not most, of the e-mails you receive each day don’t require a personal response from you. Let someone else take over.
  • Social media. Networking is important, but social media outlets can be a major time suck. Let someone else post “on brand” updates on your accounts and respond to comments. If something really important happens, they’ll let you know. Until then, sit back and watch the “likes” roll in.
  • Writing. Not everyone likes or has time to write. And yet, when your audience is clamoring for fresh content, writing becomes a necessity. Even if you don’t maintain a blog, finely-tuned copywriting is needed to create an effective sales page (or About page or Services page or product descriptions). If you don’t have the chops, or the time, to do your own writing, it’s best to hire someone else to do it for you. Alternatively, you can subcontract someone to proofread or edit what you’ve written. (Research for articles can also be outsourced!).
  • Design. I love my website, but I didn’t design it myself. No, I outsourced that work to a very talented designer courtesy of 99 Designs (more on them later). And, unless graphic design is your forte, I would highly suggest you do the same. There are few things that look worse — and turn off potential customers more — than a terribly-designed website.
  • Tech stuff.  Unless you’re an IT genius, outsourcing your tech issues is one of the wisest choices you can make for your business. Most of us don’t have, or maintain, our own servers. Things like web hosting and malware protection is best left to the professionals.
  • Data entry. Data entry is just an example of one of the many repetitive (often tedious) tasks that “needs” to be done — those little things that keep your business running smoothly — that can be outsourced to someone else. These tasks don’t take an abundance of specialized skills, but they do take up more than their fair share of time.

Even if you cannot bear to relinquish any of your business-related power to someone else, outsourcing can still serve to better your life. Personal tasks such as cleaning, laundry, yard work, grocery shopping, driving, and trips to the post office can all be outsourced to save you valuable time.

If you try to go it all on your own, you’ll burn out. Whether you choose to outsource parts of your business, or outsource parts of your personal life (to make more time for running your business), expect to feel that initial sense of unease wiped away once the relaxation sets in.

5 Tips to Get the Most Out of Outsourcing

Outsourcing is going to look different for everyone; however, here are 5 tips that work pretty well across the board:

  1. Have a contract. Be clear — in writing — who’s responsible for what, and when it’s due.
  2. Work with someone you know. You don’t have to be best friends with your subcontractor, but you should “know” them well enough to trust that they’re going to do a good job. If you don’t know someone personally, get a referral from a trusted source.
  3. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Meaning, hire more than one subcontractor. There are two reasons for doing this. One, if whoever you hire flakes on you, you’ll want a back-up. Two, you don’t want to risk burning out whoever you hire by overburdening them with too much work.
  4. Play nice. When you outsource/subcontract work, you’re coming a freelancer’s client. (That’s right, even if you’re a freelancer yourself!). Be a good client. Treat them as you’d want to be treated.
  5. Double-check the work. Even if it’s just a quick glance, double-check any important work you’ve outsourced. After all, it’s ultimately still your business and you’re the one who’s responsible for its final outcome.

My personal favorite outsourcing outlets are:

  • 99designs. My go-to resource graphic design.
  • oDesk. I use oDesk to find researchers for blogs posts; however you can outsource just about anything here — for seriously cheap rates.
  • Fiverr. Anything you can possibly imagine…for $5 a gig! I’ve used Fiverr for everything from research, to graphic design, to video editing.

What are some of the tasks you wish you didn’t have to do on your own?

Try outsourcing a small task today. And remember: it doesn’t have to be permanent.

Image by djayo.

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by Tom Ewer
Tom Ewer and the WordCandy team have clocked some serious mileage as freelancers, agency employees and even agency owners over the years, and they love sharing their combined expertise here on the Bidsketch blog.