Far too many entrepreneurs jump immediately to the idea of hiring a full-time virtual assistant (VA) when they think about outsourcing. While a VA is one form of outsourcing, there are other ways to outsource, most of which are much easier than having to hire, train, and assign a full-time level workload to a VA.
Outsourcing is simply the process of paying for tasks or services to be completed so that you don’t have to do them. It’s no more complicated than that. While outsourcing sometimes involves working with another person, more often than not outsourcing can be as easy as introducing a new piece of software into your work-flow. It doesn’t have to be complicated or expensive, and the time it saves you will be worth its weight in gold.
First Identify Your Common Tasks Before Proceeding to the Stages of Outsourcing
Start by doing an inventory of everything you do to keep your business running on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis. Think about things like your blog/podcast/video content, social media, accounting, customer support, email, affiliate tracking, etc.
Then, ask yourself, “What time-consuming, frustrating, or overly complicated tasks are eating up my time and energy?” These are the tasks we’re hoping to, for a reasonable price, spend a little bit of money to have someone (or something) do a portion of the work for you. Now that you’ve got those tasks in your sites, continue reading about the five stages of outsourcing we identify below to determine how best to outsource those tasks.
Spending your time working on the right tasks is essential to the success of your business. The more tasks you can outsource, the more you’ll be able to focus your time and energy on the work that really matters.
Outsource Your Software, Such As Digital Marketing Accounting Software
Software is easiest and cheapest form of outsourcing. Much of the research, analysis, and day-to-day transactional activities within an online business can be outsourced to software and apps. Here are some examples:
- Team Communications – Tired of long Skype calls or emails that disappear into a void? Find software that can speed up team communication and reduce emails. In fact, some companies have completely eliminated email between team members this way.
- Client Relationship Management – The days of the old fashioned Rolodex filled with business cards is over. Client Relationship Management tools, commonly known as CRMs, allow you to easily record, organize, and contact your clients and network into an easily search-able database.
- Accounting and Invoicing – Regardless of what kind business you’re building, invoicing and accounting are going to be part of the workload. And unless you are a total accounting nerd, it’s probably not going to be your favorite part of the job. Many software offer a solution to invoicing headaches, and some are marketed as “your personal bookkeeping team”.
- Website Design – Every online business needs a website. Software such as website builders or content management systems allow you to create a great looking website without having to hire a developer or even know how to code. When it comes to landing pages and sales pages, some provide pre-existing templates for high converting web pages that can easily be created and tweaked to fit your needs.
- Social Media – Many online entrepreneurs rely on social media marketing as part of the overall marketing strategy, but posting to multiple feeds can be a distraction-filled black hole and a waste of your time. Social media management software allows you to schedule posts across multiple social media feeds all at once. That means you can market your business without having to log-on to Facebook and get distracted by posts from others.
- Project Management – Project management software can help with a slew of activities, including scheduling of meetings, assigning weekly task lists, keeping track of upcoming projects, planning editorial calendars, and organizing your strategic thinking.
- Password Management – This one could potentially save you hours of stressful head-scratching and file cabinet searching. Rather than trying to keep track of the dozens of login names and passwords your business requires, simply outsource your password management to a dedicated (secure) software.
- Content Research – Think of the importance of doing research about what is already popular with your target audience. Popular content is a treasure trove of existing topics already proven to resonate with your audience. Research can, however, be a time and labor intensive task, which is why outsourcing research to specialized tools can save you hours of work.
- Writing – In every business, there are sentences, phrases, and responses that get typed time and time again, including the answers to commonly asked questions, as well as standard welcome and follow-up emails. There are some apps that allow you to expand custom keyboard shortcuts into frequently-used text. While it sounds simple, we’ve found it surprisingly effective at reducing the amount of typing we have to do.
- Metrics Analysis – Rather than creating half-a-dozen different spreadsheets so that you can analyze your business metrics and make informed decisions, tools allow you to track important metrics like sign-ups, churn, revenue, traffic, uptime and more, all in one easy to use (convenient) dashboard.
- Customer Support – Customer support is an extremely important part of your business, but it can also be one of the most time-consuming. Many tools allow you to provide your customers with the prompt and high quality customer support they deserve without eating up all of your time or forcing you to re-invent the wheel.
- Calendar Management – Manually scheduling podcast interviews, sales conversations, and sessions with clients is another one of those frustrating and complex manual tasks that can be easily solved through the use of software.
- Human Resources – If your business is big enough to have staff, that means you’re dealing with payroll, benefits, vacation, and year-end tax forms in addition to all your other existing tasks. Payroll is certainly not something you want to get wrong (not if you want your employees to stick around), which is why HR tools can be an invaluable addition to your business.
- Web Hosting – High traffic websites require hosting that’s stable, speedy, and secure. Hosting is a big issue, and outsourcing is more stable.
- All-in-one Platforms – While on the higher end in terms of costs, some platforms provide a single window solution by combining several tools into a single platform, including CRM, web pages, SEO and Marketing, Email, Social Media, and more.
Project Based Services Are the Logical Second Stage of Outsourcing
Tasks that fall under stage 2 of outsourcing are those that cannot be easily addressed by software and usually require the expertise of a human. These tasks are outsourced on an as-needed project-by-project basis, usually to freelancers.
Examples of the type of freelancers you might want to outsource stage 2 work to include a:
- Website designer
- Facebook ads campaign manager
- Event Planner
These sorts of freelancers can be found by asking for referrals from your existing network or community, as well as through freelance websites.
Hiring a Contractor on an Ongoing Basis Is a Solution for Your Long Term Needs
If stage 2 outsourcing was about short term needs, Stage 3 outsourcing is about long-term, ongoing tasks. This could include working with a:
- Customer Support Specialist
- Payroll Adviser
- Social Media/Content Manager
- Podcast editor/producer
You may enter Stage 3 of outsourcing because you’ve worked with a freelancer in Stage 2 who provided valuable help and earned your trust, or because you have recognized an ongoing task you know you’ll want to outsource on an ongoing basis month after month.
Virtual Assistants Are for the Advanced Outsourcing Needs of a Business
Remember when we said most entrepreneurs think outsourcing automatically means working with a VA? As you can see, it’s only in Stage 4 that you would consider bringing on a virtual assistant. VA’s are often tasked with:
- editing/formatting/scheduling of social media, blog and podcast content
- email management
- email management
- preparing slides and decks for presentations
- travel booking and schedule management
- forum management
- customer support
It’s important to have standard operating procedures in place prior to bringing on a VA, and you’ll need to take the appropriate time to train and support your VA before they’ll be able to properly support you.
Employees Are an Addition to the Business That Become Part of Its Fabric
Hiring on new employees into your business is the final stage of outsourcing, and it’s generally the most expensive form outsourcing. Unlike a contractor or freelancer, an employee is an asset you invest in with the hope that he or she will contribute increasingly to your business over the long term.
Employees can be assigned tasks and responsibilities a contractor wouldn’t necessarily care to do, or be capable of doing. Employees can also be expected to bring their own unique ideas to the table and to take on responsibilities in addition to what has been officially assigned to them.
You can also share information with an employee in a way you cannot with someone outside the business. In fact, working with employees effectively usually involved being willing to share the whole process of your work with them, from your grand vision and mission statement down to the day-to-day operations.
It can be expensive and complicated, but if you’re going to continue to grow your business, hiring employees eventually become a necessity. And if you hire the right people, they can help grow your business in a way that would be impossible on your own. Our biggest tip for you on this one: bring someone on as a contractor for a short-term project first before hiring them full-time. This gives you a little time to see how you both work together.
Conclusion: Are You Outsourcing Efficiently?
Are the tasks you’re currently spending your time and energy on really the things that are going to move your business forward? Or are you, perhaps, wasting time on tasks that could be easily outsourced?
Time and energy are a finite resource. You need to start focusing your efforts on high value tasks. Hopefully this article has been a help for you to get some fresh ideas.