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 Step: make a quick inventory of your common tasks
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.
As we discussed last week in 10 Time Management Tips for Entrepreneurs, 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.
“How to outsource tasks and focus on what REALLY matters”
Outsourcing Stage 1: 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? Software like Slack can speed up team communication and reduce emails. In fact, thanks to Slack, Fizzle has completely eliminated email between team members.
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. Two of the most popular CRMS are Contactually and SalesforceIQ .
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!). Freshbooks is a simple solution to invoicing headaches, while Bench markets itself as “your personal bookkeeping team”.
Website Design – Every online business needs a website (duh!). Software like Square Space and WordPress 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, Leadpages and Unbounce provide pre-existing templates for high converting web pages that can easily be created and tweaked to fit your needs. Also, we made this in case you need help deciding between WordPress and Squarespace.
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 of time-suckage. Software like Buffer , Hootsuit , and Edgar allow 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 Uncle Greg’s latest racist rant.
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. As we have discussed in the past ( 7 Essential Productivity Apps for Entrepreneurs) we use Trello and Asana here at Fizzle, and Basecamp is another popular option.
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 1Password or Lastpass .
Content Research – A key module in our popular Fizzle course, Start a Blog that Matters , explores 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 tools like BuzzSumo and SEMRush 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. Text Expander allows 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. (Take that carpal tunnel syndrome!)
Metrics Analysis – Rather than creating half-a-dozen different spreadsheets so that you can analyze your business metrics and make informed decisions, tools like Gecko Board allow you to track important metrics like sign-ups, churn, revenue, traffic, uptime and more, all in one easy to use dashboard. No need to worry about your rusty Excel chops!
Customer Support – Customer support is an extremely important part of your business, but it can also be one of the most time-consuming. Tools like Intercom , Zen Desk , and Groove 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 like Calendly and Timetrade.
HR – 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 tools like Gusto and Zen Payroll can be an invaluable addition to your business.
Web Hosting – High traffic websites like Fizzle require hosting that’s stable, speedy, and secure. Hosting is a big question, so we’ve created a guide to web hosting options for your consideration. Here at Fizzle, we use Storm on Demand .
All-in-one Platforms – While on the higher end in terms of costs, platforms like Rainmaker and Hubspot 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.
“15 software topics to help you outsource your most common tasks!”
Outsourcing Stage 2: Project Based Services
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 (like inside the community membership of Fizzle!), as well as through freelance websites like Task Rabbit , Fiverr and Up Work .
Outsourcing Stage 3: Hiring a Contractor on an Ongoing Basis
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.
Outsourcing Stage 4: Virtual Assistant
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.
Chris Ducker is the founder of Virtual Staff Finder , a company that helps connect small business owners with experienced VAs in the Philippines. Chris is also the author of the book Virtual Freedom , and he shares his top tips on working with virtual staff in one of our Founder Stories inside of Fizzle.
(Fizzle membership gets you access to about 30 exclusive, in depth interviews with successful founders. We call these Founder Stories.)
Outsourcing Stage 5: Employees
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.
So, Are You Working on the Right Things?
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 about that!
Not sure what the right tasks for you are?
If you aren’t sure what the right thing to be working on… well, you’re in good company :) We’re all figuring it out as we go. But there is something that could help you immensely. As Brad put it:
“I feel like I can trust Fizzle. It's the first site for creative entrepreneurs where I feel like everyone is honestly trying to help each other be successful and not just further their own agenda.”
Want to feel good about your business too? Check out The Fizzle Small Business Roadmap , a guided course through the main stages of modern small business.
The Top 10 Mistakes in Online Business
Every week we talk with entrepreneurs. We talk about what’s working and what isn’t. We talk about successes and failures. We spend time with complete newbies, seasoned veterans, and everything in between.
One topic that comes up over and over again with both groups is mistakes made in starting businesses. Newbies love to learn about mistakes so they can avoid them. Veterans love to talk about what they wish they had known when starting out.
These conversations have been fascinating, so we compiled a list of the 10 mistakes we hear most often into a nifty lil' guide. Get the 10 Most Common Mistakes in Starting an Online Business here »