How to Outsource on an As-Needed Basis

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.

About 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.

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Penelope Silvers

I love Fiverr! My go-to gal has done an awesome job on my Amazon Kindle book covers–even when I got created them myself and eventually gave up. She saved the day. There are some seriously talented people there. Thanks for the heads up on the other sites. Will give them a try.

Mauricio Cosio

Tom, you wrote an excellent article, up to the point where you mention the services you use, specifically 99designs. There’s a difference between outsourcing and crowdsourcing. The second is all about speculative work that ends up damaging not only single freelancers but whole industries. Hope you can elaborate on this difference.

Best regards.

Tom Ewer

Hey Mauricio,

While I appreciate what you’re trying to say, I would argue that using 99Designs is more outsourcing than crowd sourcing. However, I’d hope that you don’t want to debate semantics. Personally, I believe in free market economics and have no problem with the likes of 99designs.

Cheers,

Tom

TK

Tom, I truly enjoy your articles but I have to agree with Mauricio Cosio. I liked this article right up until the end when you mentioned those services including oDesk and Fiverr. It’s been made pretty clear in the industry to stay away from those services because they’re ruining our value as freelancers. We as freelancers and designers need to stand against such services. There’s nothing wrong with outsourcing to other freelancers that we’ve built reputations with and who charge fairly for their services to contribute with ours, but to default to cheap services like this that are hurting our industry and even mention them in your process as a freelancer just lost you points. Sorry, that’s the truth of it.

Tom Ewer

Hey TK,

First of all, I appreciate you sharing your opinion.

Second of all, I completely disagree. While I can understand why you feel the way you do, like I said to Mauricio, I believe in free market economics.

The cream always rises to the top. If you are a talented designer you will be able to charge a rate that reflects your value. If you have a problem with the value offering of your service, perhaps you should seek out better clients or improve your service offering?

Ultimately, the market sets the price. If a game-changer like oDesk comes along and alters the value of your work, that’s the free market at play. Capitalism can be a bitch, but that’s the way it is.

Cheers,

Tom

Ben

Yeah but I see where people are coming from Tom. We need to stand up and defend our positions in the free market economics arena. It takes 20 times the amount of energy trying to explain to our clients why our services are better vs. why some guy at Fiverr can do the same service for $5.

Tom Ewer

Hey Ben,

I’m afraid I’m a little confused by your comment. If some guy at Fiverr can do the same service for $5 and you’re charging more, surely your services are overpriced?

It’s not like I’m not in the same boat here — there are plenty of article writing services available on Fiverr. However, I’ve never had a prospective client say, “I’m not interested in your services because I could get it done for $5.” I *have* had clients ask if I’m willing to work for a ridiculously low rate, to which I would say no then get on with my day.

My simple belief is that the cream rises to the top (I’m not saying I’m the cream, but I guess I’m creamy enough to make a living ;-)).

Cheers,

Tom

Ryan Battles

Tom, glad you are sticking to your guns on this. I completely agree with your comments on free market economics and capitalism. As a business owner and freelancer, I used to be in the camp that eschewed these cheaper services, but I had to come to the realization that they are here, and unless I differentiate and provide more value than them, then I have no right to charge more simply because I feel that I should make more.

Does the owner of a popular, tasty local restaurant get upset when a new fast-food joint opens up across town? Hopefully not, unless the only reason people were eating there is because they had no other option.

Be the better option, and you will have no problem charging appropriately no matter how low they go on other sites.

Tom Ewer

Thanks for making my point for me far more eloquently than I was able to Ryan 😉

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