When Nancy Vaughn first started her small business, a public relations and marketing firm, a mentor gave her one simple piece of advice about outsourcing: “Stretch until you can’t stretch anymore.”
At first, she didn’t understand the directive, because stretching sounded like going beyond your capabilities. She soon discovered the world of business involves that exact challenge: knowing when to move out of your comfort zone and knowing when to stay pat.
“Staying comfortable all the time can be bad for business,” Vaughn explained. “But overstretching is bad, too. So, through trial and error and over the years, I’ve come to understand what, ‘Stretch until you can’t stretch anymore’ really means.”
Vaughn, who has owned and operated the White Book Agency in Tampa for years, says it’s about more than outsourcing what you don’t like to do, but she does tend to outsource those tasks.
And she readily admits: “If I could and still benefit from it, I would outsource my workouts.”
Here are some tips about why you should delegate tasks — beyond exercise — and how to go about it.
Don’t Be Afraid To Delegate
When start-up entrepreneurs and small business owners embark on their journeys, they’re usually consumed by a streak of independence and a penchant to do it all. Vaughn says it can be exhilarating at first, but …
“That excitement (not all that exciting) wears off quickly, but it all usually still has to get done,” Vaughn said.
Not only can the do-it-all mentality grow tedious, but it also can overwhelm. A lot of people who take the risk of being a solopreneur feel compelled to do everything because of the high stakes involved. Laura Lee Sparks, who owns her own marketing firm, told Entrepreneur doing it all can stifle the growth of a startup or small business.
“By outsourcing the day to day back-office tasks, the business owner has more time to focus on generating income.”
Outsourcing also can add to the bottom line by reducing the costs of hiring a fulltime employee.
Another reason to delegate? It’s easier to say multitask than it is to put that word into practice. Many try, but an American Psychological Association study found multitasking reduces production by 40 percent.
While there are other steps you can take to avoid multitasking, the best approach may be outsourcing tasks. In the end, you must realize outsourcing is something to embrace not fear.
Donna Olah-Reiken, a consultant and owner of a firm that provides back-office administrative support to small businesses, encourages owners make to make decisions based on intelligence, not emotion. If they avoid outsourcing business strategies and focus only on functions, they will improve their chances of succeeding.
“You can have the best idea,” Olah-Reiken told nationwide.com, “but if your execution is lacking, it’s difficult to be successful.”
It’s About Time
Time management stands as a key element for any entrepreneur, and it’s critical when deciding what to outsource. Many say you outsource what you don’t like to do, but Vaughn says even enjoyable tasks may need the attention of an outside source.
“So, even if I like to do something, if it’s something that: a) needs to get done, or b) takes up too much of my time, I’ll delegate or outsource the work so that I can use that time to do other projects that need my attention (e.g. revenue-generating work) or just gives me some space to creatively think and be,” Vaughn said.
Of all the resources at the disposal of a business, time may be the only one that remains constant. It can be managed, but it cannot be expanded. Prioritizing the varied tasks is the best way to manage time.
“You need to be able to delegate your low value work to someone else who can do this,” Outsource Accelerator’s Derrick Gallimore told CBNation.com. “By doing this it frees up your time to do higher value work. This in turns leverages your hours – we all only have very limited hours – this is a finite resource.”
Of course, it’s often a passion for that high-value work that leads people to make the entrepreneurial leap. New business owners often leave the corporate world want to focus on the kind of work that makes it easy to rise in the morning.
Might the need to outsource override that desire? In some instances, yes.
“Because I liked the work and was good at it – it created a nice feedback loop – it wasn’t always easy for me to let go of a task and delegate it,” Vaughn said. “But it has worked for me as far as prioritizing and focusing on work that is the best use of my time.”
Time management also proves critical in growing the business. Once you take the leap, the focus eventually must move to growth – and if you’re trying to do everything, how can you focus on expanding your client base and increasing revenue? Tonya Thomas, president of the Small Office Assistant, quickly learned outsourcing was the fundamental answer to that pressing question.
“At first I felt like I was the only person who could do the work efficiently; I wanted control over everything,” Thomas told Entrepreneur. “But I wanted my business to grow and in order to do that I had to let go and start delegating.”
Vaughn recommends every business owner periodically tracks how they’re using their time and
“Not every single thing has to be productive time, but it’s helpful to see how you’re spending your time, where to focus your energy, and what to move off of your plate and perhaps share with others.”
Be Clear In Your Instructions
Once you decide to outsource, it’s critical that the vendor understands your exact needs and how they can best help you. They may offer added services that go beyond your initial request. That’s fine. But you’re probably best ensuring that they can fulfill the base tasks before you sign up for more services.
Most experts suggest putting your request in writing and using a contract that includes detailed explanations, specific deadlines and a trial period.
“Be absolutely clear about what you want done, and what kind of person you want to do it for you,” Karla Kingson of Proximity Placements told CBNation.com. “A lot of people have dry job descriptions and generic for-hire writeups, but you need to be truly specific. … The clincher will always be on how clear you are with what kind of person (characteristics, personality type, work ethic) you want to handle it.”
How can you be sure the instructions have been read and taken seriously? It’s an important question. Even if you fill the work request with specificity and clarity, you may not know if the perspective vendor is taking the directive seriously.
Quick story: back in the day rock group Van Halen embedded in its rider a requirement that M&M candies, but no brown M&Ms, needed to be placed backstage at all its concerts. It sounds like rock and roll entitlement run amok, but the group wanted to assure the arena was following the contract’s safety instructions in setting up the stage.
Similarly, Alastair McDermott of WebsiteDoctor told CBNation he includes a phrase in every project specification that applicants must include in their response: IMPORTANT: You must include the phrase “I have removed the Brown M&Ms in your bid or it will be ignored.”
Whatever method you choose, make sure the vendor understands your needs.
Sharing and Caring Go Together
When you decide to share your work, it’s a decision to share your passion with someone else. You don’t give your heart to the first potential mate who comes along. They typically must prove they deserve that precious possession.
It’s the same when you outsource. Some CEOs say no outside vendor will share the same passion you have for your own business, but the best vendors bring a degree of empathy and understanding to the process. They sense how much you care and strive to give their all because they know you’re giving your all.
“After about 6 months of trying to find a person who could do the tasks and then attempt to get them to care about my business, I decided to flip my philosophy,” Vickie Gold of Vickie Gould International, LLC, told CBNation. “I hired someone who actively asked questions about what my business stood for, my objective and what part she played. She had none of the task skills I initially wanted, but I knew that she was smart and would catch on quickly.”
The Final Assessment
In the end there are guidelines, but no substitute for experience. Each time you outsource, it’s important to measure the quality of the initial work and then do a continued evaluation to ensure its meeting your standards and keeping up with industry improvements and new innovations. Someone always builds a better mousetrap.
“I haven’t mastered this, but I’m an experimenter, so I pick up tips/tricks, try, and discard as needed,” Vaughn said.
Another key involves letting recommendations guide your decisions. Websites that aggregate vendors for specific tasks often give the vendors’ most recent customers a chance to recommend them. Seek someone who not only has experience but comes with high ratings from other customers.
At the Rising Tide Innovation Center, we’ve created a community of business experts and entrepreneurs who often network and share advice, whether it’s about outsourcing, legal issues or other business aspects. Join our cowork space and discover how our rising tide can lift your boat.