When you are growing a small business, you have a lot of jobs to juggle. As you succeed in your work, you may be finding that come of those tasks – everything from bookkeeping to marketing — are preventing you from doing what you do best.
If you are working around the clock trying to keep up with duties that you do not feel well-suited for while feeling you do not have enough time to do the work you enjoy, it is time to consider outsourcing.
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Outsourcing certain aspects of your business can save you time and money, but before you make any decisions, consider the following key steps to successful outsourcing.
Here are key steps to successful outsourcing
Choose the right jobs to outsource: If you work alone or have a small staff, don’t just think about outsourcing the jobs that take the most time or even the ones you don’t enjoy. Instead think about what jobs are critical to your business and to your reputation. You may need to keep doing these core jobs yourself in order to keep growing.
For example, if you offer website design, that is what you do, so you should not outsource your design services. That is your main focus, your brand. What you can outsource, however, may be your tangential duties, such as your bookkeeping or your social media marketing. Jobs that are good candidates for outsourcing are ones that are highly-repetitive, such as data entry or inventory positions, or ones that require specialized knowledge beyond your actual expertise, such as IT positions.
If you are new to outsourcing, start small with one project that is self-contained and has a firm start and end date and see how the process goes before making a long-term commitment.
Find the right person for the job: Many small business owners put off outsourcing because they fear a lack of control. There is no doubt that when you shift from doing everything yourself to hiring others to do certain tasks for you that it marks a change in your business. By adjusting to this change, however, you can begin to experience real growth.
So how do you find the right person for the job? First try the old-fashioned way: ask around. If you have colleagues in your industry, ask them how they handle outsourcing. Perhaps they work with a local company that will fit your needs. Another option is to work with one of the many online freelance services that put you into contact with independent workers throughout the world.
These resources — which include companies such as elance, odesk, freelancer, ifreelance and people per hour — offer profiles of freelance workers and a ratings/review system for potential clients to see how they work and how much they charge. Some of the specialties include:
- Public relations and marketing
- IT and programming
- Writing and Translation
- Legal support
- Finance and Management
Maybe you need help with office tasks. There are independent workers who are expert in providing administrative support, such as handling all your electronic communications or maintaining your schedule or database. Through the wonders of the Internet, you can hire a virtual assistant from across town or across the ocean. Visit the non-profit International Virtual Assistants Association at ivaa.org for more information.
Ask the right questions. New outsourcers often are overwhelmed by the number of responses and by the wide range of bids they get for a freelance job post. Some workers in other parts of the world will offer to work at rock-bottom prices. While you may stumble upon a newbie who is willing to work for almost nothing while still providing top results, it is usually the case, as with most things in life, that you get what you pay for in the freelance world. Just as you would with hiring any employee, don’t hesitate to ask for references and samples of previous work before hiring an outsourced employee.
Be sure to keep in mind cultural differences and time zones when you are setting up project specifications and deadlines. The more specific you are from the outset about what you are expecting and when you are expecting it, the better for all concerned.
Keep communication lines open. Don’t feel that once you have outsourced a task, you can just walk way and be done with it. Successful outsourcing requires oversight, just like any other aspect of your business that you delegate. You or a staff member will need to spend some time training this person and in making sure the process is going according to plan.
Know the differences between an independent contractor and an employee. You may want to consider having independent workers sign a Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA) if you wish to retain ownership rights to their work or of you wish to keep it private. Also, keep in mind that you may have to file Form 1099-MISC (Miscellaneous Income) to the IRS to report payments for services performed for your business. For more information, visit the Small Business Administration at sba.gov.
According to Michael F. Corbett in his book The Outsourcing Revolution: Why It Makes Sense and How to Do It Right, “outsourcing is no longer just about improving what is; it is essential to building the future. In many ways, outsourcing may well prove to be the key enabler of the 21st century global economy.”