Ping. It’s late into the evening, and your phone has sounded a notification to say you’ve got a new email.
You check your phone. Actually, it’s 3 unread items. A quick scan. That’s all I’ll do. Oh. One of those is “important”; I’ll just reply to it now to save myself time in the morning. Before you know it, it’s past midnight, and you’ve got sidetracked into working out who to chase for payment tomorrow and paid some bills.
A business owner typically wears many hats during the day (and evening), from salesperson and accountant to marketing and HR manager. It often leaves you time poor. This has a negative impact on your work life balance (ha, what life I hear some of you say!). There’s no such thing as a day off and you spend holidays sneaking off to reply to emails and take calls.
Reducing your workload
Finding ways to reduce your workload without sacrificing your output can be challenging. Outsourcing is one option to help achieve this. It involves paying either a third party company or tapping into a cloud-based service so that you don’t have to do all the work yourself.
There are many reasons why businesses outsource. It allows you to get things done more quickly, access specialist expertise and ultimately do a better job. It helps you to stay on top of running your business, and,quite honestly, it can turn out to be an absolute life saver.
Outsourcing frees you up to focus on what you do best, managing and growing your business whilst delivering on customer experience. All to be achieved while keeping your costs low so you can make a profit. These lofty goals were probably at the forefront of your mind when you launched your company but may have become harder and harder to reach.
Read more: Essential guide to starting a new business
Signs you should think about outsourcing
Recognising when to outsource is vital. If you find yourself faced with any of these scenarios then it might be time to look at changing things up:
Are boring admin tasks filling up your day, draining you of energy and preventing you from spending time on ‘real work’?
Do you find it harder and harder to keep up with customer requests and feel guilty at the same time?
Are deadlines at risk of slipping or worse yet, are you already falling behind?
Have you had to turn down paying projects because of available time and resources, and left wondering will that customer ever give you a second chance in the future?
Is sales growth looking like it might start tailing off?
Do you have an important task and there is no-one in the company you feel that you can trust it to?
Any of these signs should be accompanied by flashing red lights and a warning siren. Just one of these could mean that you are on an inevitable slippery slope to developing a major problem.
When should you outsource?
Ideally, all businesses will have a plan in place at the outset as to which parts of the business you will retain in-house and which parts you could potentially outsource. Trust is a major factor, particularly if it involves outsourcing a customer touchpoint. But outsourcing usually delivers value back to you allowing you to get more done in less time and usually to a better quality.
Business owners simply can’t be an expert in each and every single area of running a business. There are just too many tasks that require specialist knowledge. Imagine trying to keep up with the latest tax regulations whilst regularly putting in a 16 hour day. That’s where an accountant can help. Or meeting a commitment to writing that weekly blog you started. That’s where an external copywriter or even a virtual assistant (VA) can help.
Don’t be put off by the cost involved in outsourcing. A good way to look at things is to put a value on your own time. Think about your hourly rate. If you outsource something that saves you three hours, then the sums for seeing if you are better off, really start to add up rather quickly.
Many business owners are incredibly intelligent with a dedicated work ethic. One downside is that they can usually turn their hands to most business tasks. Why pay an external designer when you can quickly knock up a brochure using your own Adobe skills?
The trouble is that you will probably spend more time on it than you think and the end result can be quite basic. So, the best way forward is to take a long hard look at your own strengths and weaknesses and learn to let go. If you or a member of your team has a background in HR or legal, then it makes sense to keep those activities in-house.
However, if the thought of setting up a new IT network, getting your employees on it and staying safe from hackers fills you with dread, then this is the perfect function to outsource to an IT specialist that will bring expert knowledge for areas such as security patching and networking.
Common areas to outsource
Look for time-consuming tasks. For example, chasing payments can take up a lot of time. After all, what’s more important than getting money into the bank? Outsourcing management of payments and Direct Debits can save you time and be more efficient at boosting your cash flow.
Look out for activities that require specialist knowledge. Take Google advertising. This is a cost-effective way of boosting traffic to your website and generating new business leads. It takes minutes to set up an account. But to get the most out of it, you need to set up an optimum bidding strategy, write compelling ad copy and create a landing page designed to convert traffic to leads. Hmm, doesn’t sound so easy now, does it?
Other popular areas that are ripe for outsourcing include setting up and running a website, preparing your accounts, calculating and making the payroll, branding and design. The list goes on. Done well, the outsource provider can become an extension of your own company. Many VA’s end up becoming worth their weight in gold once they get up to speed.
What not to outsource
It's important to recognise that outsourcing is not the answer to every problem. All your business challenges will not simply disappear overnight. There may be critical aspects of your product or service that should always be retained in-house. For example, make sure you are not putting your Intellectual Property at risk by releasing critical information outside of the business.
Providing excellent and consistent customer sevice is key. Look for key touchpoints in the customer relationship. You might want your own employees in field sales roles, training customers or providing customer support. These are often best served by in-house staff where you have greater control and visibility over the service offered.
How often have you been frustrated by calling a company only to be put through to a member of the service team based in a far flung call centre with an inflexible script and an inability to deal with anything other than a routine enquiry? This can have a significant impact on how your customers perceive your brand in the future if their interactions are not positive.
Quality control your extra resources
It will be critical to establish metrics that your outsourced agreement will be measured against. You might want to consider some form of performance related payment which reward achievement of certain agreed targets. This can act as a motivator.
Look for a proactive outsource partner that will take the lead in driving the activity rather than sitting back and waiting for you to tell them what to do. Make sure that you are not spending too much time on reporting and account management – these can easily eat into your monthly budget.
Set regular review meetings and assessments. This will help to keep your outsource company on their toes. Don’t be afraid to change things up if they aren’t working out. You have to be seeing value from your investment in outsourcing otherwise take remedial action as early as possible.
Outsourcing different activities can make a huge impact on your workload and work-life balance. However, what is right for one business may not be right for another. Two companies in the same industry may have different challenges and opportunities.
But when it comes to thinking about outsourcing, the real question to ask yourself is what are you planning to outsource and when, rather than should you outsource in the first place. It may turn out to be one of the smartest decisions you make.
So, go see your child’s play. Stop putting off that visit to a relative. Have a night out with your partner. And learn to ignore that ping and stop checking emails at all times of the day and night. You will almost certainly find that carving out more time for you will ultimately make you more productive in running your business.
Learn more about industry trends with these helpful resources:
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