The Art of Outsourcing, Plus Tips for Getting Started

April 18, 2012

I first thought seriously about outsourcing when I read Tim Ferris’ book, The Four-Hour Work Week. Outsourcing isn’t about laziness, he convinced me, it’s about efficiency.

But it’s easier said than done to hand over tasks that are important to your business. I like to do everything myself because I want things just so. I want the formatting on this blog to be perfect. I want the Facebook links on my clients’ pages to be perfect. I even like my tweets to be perfect, each in a message-@mention-link-hashtag format. Because when you’re working for yourself, when your company is you, you want everything to be done the absolute best it can be.

My remote workers complete tasks on their own time, wherever is convenient for them.

My remote workers complete tasks on their own time, wherever is convenient for them.

(One benefit of working for yourself is that you have an incentive to do your job well because you reap all the rewards — and suffer the consequences — unlike when you work for someone else.)

But once I transitioned into building my business full time and branching out into digital guides and courses, I knew I needed to be smarter about how I spent my time. That’s why I hired three awesome social-media-ites to help me execute my projects. Because the truth is, I don’t have to do everything myself. In fact, I’m learning that I can actually execute better if I have someone to help me.

Now that I’ve been working with my so-called “apprentices” for about half a year, here are a few tips for dipping your toes into outsourcing heaven:

Find awesome people to help you. If you find the right people, the other pieces will fall into place. You may even end up giving them more work than you intended.

How do you find them? It really depends on the type of worker you’re looking for. While Tim Ferris advocates outsourcing overseas, and I probably could’ve saved a few bucks by going that route, I choose to work with young American professionals instead. My work often requires an American voice and know-how. Plus, I like the idea of not only putting some money in these go-getters’ pockets, but also helping them learn along the way. (And yes, they teach me a few things, too!)

To find candidates, I turned to Twitter, partly because I wanted my workers to know how to use the tool. I also asked around via email, proactively approaching young professionals I thought might be interested — and if they weren’t, asking if they knew anyone who might be.

If you’re looking for help with an interesting project, I bet it won’t be as hard as you imagine to find someone to help you. College students and recent graduates are often looking for paying gigs that will also look good on their resume, especially now that there aren’t enough jobs to go around. And if it’s mainly administrative tasks you want a hand with, Ferris’ book suggests several websites that will pair you up with a virtual assistant.

Ease yourself into it. I started by hiring just one helper, then another and finally a third. Start small, so you can learn what works and what doesn’t. Plus, the skills you look for in a contractor might change over time. For example, while I wanted my first two helpers to be awesome at Twitter because I had Twitter-based tasks in mind for them, when it came time to hire a third, I looked for someone who was a strong writer, so she could help me with writing-heavy projects.

You can also start small in terms of tasks. Give your helper only a few assignments at first, then add to his responsibilities as you build trust. Along the way, you’ll become more familiar with your helper’s strengths, so you can better use them to your advantage.

Push yourself to outsource more than what feels comfortable. Handing over tasks I don’t really need to do myself gives me more time to focus on big projects that matter. But each time I outsource something new, I feel anxiety over it. Each time, I wonder whether outsourcing will work for that particular task. Almost always, it does.

The lesson here is that paying someone to help you so you have more time to create the business or life you want might mean stepping outside your comfort zone — but it’s worth the effort.

Identify appropriate oversight measures. You want to oversee your helpers’ work, but not so much that it defeats the point of paying them to do the task. What’s the least amount of oversight you can manage while also ensuring that your business standards remain high?

I look at everything my helpers have their hands in before it goes to a client or is shared on the Interwebs on behalf of a client. But now that these apprentices have learned exactly how I like these tasks to be completed, I only have to check everything briefly before sending it out into the world. This is partly because they’re that good and partly because we’ve got a system in place that helps us do our best work as a team.

Think beyond your business. Seeing how well this has worked so far got me thinking: what other parts of my life could I outsource for a reasonable cost?

Ferris recommends outsourcing email, but I’m not quite ready for that. (I use canned responses instead.) Some friends of mine outsource their meal preparation, paying someone to come into their home once a week to cook and freeze meals. Others outsource tax preparation, dog walking, cleaning, even job searching (though I wouldn’t advocate that last one).

Do you outsource anything for your business or life? What might you outsource to increase your efficiency?

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