Outsourcing is a business strategy that has been drummed into my brain by my mompreneur mastermind group, freelancing books like The Unlimited Freelancer, and various other posts on FreelanceFolder (such as this one). “You need to outsource if you want to become more profitable,” everybody says.
After months of hearing this — and after a catastrophic episode that involved accidentally making a blog explode into virtual smithereens — I finally decided to grow my team.
In this post, we’ll examine outsourcing. We’ll discuss what I’ve tried and we’ll look at seven critical questions that you should ask before you outsource.
What I’ve Tried
I’ve tried it several ways. I’ve hired virtual assistants to do administrative tasks, such as submitting press releases online and updating my WordPress blogs. I’ve also cross-sourced by getting a copywriting intern and even an occasional assistant writer.
I’ve been working with my expanded team for nearly a year now, and I’ve learned that outsourcing isn’t always good, nor easy. It’s definitely not for every freelancer. It’s no magic pill and unless you know what you’re doing, you won’t reap the benefits.
If you’ve been thinking about outsourcing, here are seven questions you should ask yourself before diving in.
1. Can I Afford It?
If you’re just starting out and you have more time than money to spare, then you probably can’t afford to outsource. You could look for cheap service providers, but keep in mind; you often get what you pay for.
However, sometimes you can’t afford NOT to outsource. For example, if you’re into freelancing for the long haul and are willing to invest in it, then you probably should outsource. You should definitely hire somebody to design your professional website if you really suck at it. Barter for services, if you have to.
Otherwise, you’ll do a shameful job and end up turning off prospective clients instead of enticing them to hire you. Definitely find, steal, or borrow a service provider if you’re like me and are capable of accidentally making a page-one-Google-ranking blog disappear…
2. Do I Know What I Should Outsource?
In general, you’ll want to begin by outsourcing tasks you’re not good at, as well as tasks you absolutely hate doing. Ask yourself, “What can somebody else do in my business that they can do better, faster and for less money?”
Let’s say you charge clients $50 per hour of your time, then you’re better off paying a virtual assistant $20 per hour to update your client database than to do it yourself. The VA can probably do it much faster than you too.
3. Am I Willing to Manage Another Person?
When you outsource, you may no longer be doing the task yourself, but you’re still responsible for getting it done and at the quality level you desire. This means you can’t leave the service provider completely alone to complete the task.
Here’s what working with a service provider involves:
- Select the right person for the job
- Train the person as needed
- Choose and schedule the service provider’s assignments
- Monitor the person’s work
- Evaluate the quality of the service provider’s performance
It can be hard work, and it will take time. It’s up to you to determine if it’s all worthwhile.
4. Do I Know How to Hire the Right People?
Successful outsourcing depends on hiring the right person. Do you have experience interviewing job candidates? Do you know what to look for when you read a resume? How about checking references — have you done that before? Or, do you plan to send out a tweet and hire the first interesting person who DMs you?
Outsourcing can be a waste of time and money if you end up with the wrong service provider, so equip yourself with the skills needed to find the right one. Referrals certainly come in handy, but they can sometimes be disastrous too.
Ask your more experienced friends, borrow a book from the library or read related websites to get some tips on writing up job descriptions, reviewing resumes, conducting interviews and managing people.
5. Do I Know How to Delegate?
There are two worst ways of delegating: giving the other person free reign, or micro-managing the other person’s every move.
Strive for a balance. When you hire a service provider, realize that you’re still ultimately responsible.
On the other hand, don’t be a control freak who thinks nobody else can do a task better than you do, or unless you’re breathing down a person’s neck. You’ll never find a provider who’ll work with you happily that way.
Before you outsource, be willing to manage, but also to give enough distance and autonomy to let another expert do what he or she does best.
6. Do I Have a Back-up Plan?
As soon as you bring other people into your business, you’re exposing yourself to some risk. What if the service provider isn’t as good as you expected and turns in shoddy work? What if he has a sudden family emergency and can’t meet the deadline? What if a hurricane strikes her city and she can’t be reached — by phone, email or Twitter?
You should have a back-up plan to have somebody else do the work at a moment’s notice, or to do it yourself. This is particularly important if you delegate tasks that are part of your client work.
7. Do I Have Something Better to Do?
Sure, we outsource to free up our time and energy, but what are you freeing up your time and energy for? If instead of doing administrative tasks you’re finding more clients, working on an infoproduct to sell, or spending time with your family or even getting more personal time, then that service provider’s fee is money well spent. But, if you’ll just be vegging in front of the TV, drowning yourself in beer, then maybe you should just do the job yourself.
Outsourcing is Not Simple
Hopefully, these questions have helped you realize that outsourcing is not simple. Take note of which questions you answered “no” or “maybe” or even “I don’t know” to. Those are areas you need to pay attention to, in order to make outsourcing work for you.
Outsourcing is not an instant solution. It’s not magic beans. It takes preparation, a lot of thought, organization and management skills to make outsourcing beneficial for your freelancing business. You’re not off the hook. And no matter how many service providers you hire, you’re still ultimately responsible for your business.
As long as you outsource with open eyes, then you’ll probably do well. For additional tips, reread Section 3 of The Unlimited Freelancer. (You do have a copy, don’t you? If not, what is wrong with you?)
What Else Would You Like to know?
Is there anything else you’d like to know about outsourcing? Post your questions in the comments below. Or, if you’d like to add your own outsourcing tips, do share them below as well.
Image by lavarue