How to Outsource on a Shoestring Budget

But I can’t afford to hire anyone!

“I just can’t afford to hire! My budget is way too small.”

I never push back on the budget-size part of this argument; hundreds of solopreneurs run their amazing businesses on blood, sweat, tears, and absolutely minuscule amounts of money.

The part about not being able to afford outsourcing? That is a mindset issue, and one that needs to be challenged. Many entrepreneurs think that if they do everything themselves they are saving money. Frankly, this kind of thinking is short sighted.

When you get bogged down handling the day-to-day administrative work necessary to keep your business humming along, you never get to plan. In many cases, that is going to cost you more in the long term than delegating the busy work.

Remember those CEO time blocks we talked about?

You’re so focused on staying afloat that you keep yourself from dreaming bigger, plotting your next steps, and putting your energy toward growing your business instead of treading water.

So when business owners tell me they can’t afford to hire help, I point out that it’s more likely they can’t afford NOT to!

Still wary and worried that your shoestring budget can’t handle the burden of outsourcing?

Here are 4 easy ways to make sure you can afford to delegate:

Start Small

You might have a list as long as your arm filled with tasks you’re dying to assign out, but you’re better off easing into outsourcing. Try hiring someone for just a few hours each month to strategically get tasks off your plate that you either avoid, loathe, or both.

Pick work that can be done by anyone (like bookkeeping or invoicing) but which ties up your time and sucks up energy you could be putting toward important projects that will help grow your business.

It may not sound like much, but starting with just 4-5 hours per month is a manageable way to get a feel for outsourcing. Hire a virtual assistant on a trial basis for a few months to see if delegating that work impacts your overall stress level, and work your way up to hiring someone to handle more tasks.

Analyze ROI

It’s hard to let go of the money you work so hard to earn, but if you can do some simple return-on-investment calculations you’ll see it’s money well spent!

Think about what you could accomplish in the hours you’re now NOT spending in the weeds of your business.

For example, if you hire a VA for 10 hours per month, and use your now-empty 10 hours to create a product you sell for $200, you’ve just covered the cost of your virtual assistant (VA) with a single sale.

Here’s a quick summary for calculating your ROI:

  • Start by picking a task set (such as publicizing your blog posts on social media)and total up how much time per month you spend doing it yourself right now.
  • Multiply hours per month x your hourly rate, and the resulting figure will tell you how much it’s costing you to handle this task set yourself. Assume you can hire a VA for $50/hour or less. Would it be more cost-efficient to outsource?
  • NOW analyze the task set to see if it actually, actively makes you money. (For instance, how many sales did you make last year that can be traced to blog posts?)
  • Ideally, you want to outsource tasks that bring in revenue, but remember that assigning admin work to contractors means YOU are freed up to focus on money-centric work.
  • Weigh the data, and decide if paying a VA to handle this task set is worth the investment.

Consider Hiring a Less-experienced Contractor

VAs with decades of experience can (and should!) charge more. Newer freelancers will have lower hourly rates, which makes them more affordable.

Naturally, the tradeoff will be that less-experienced VAs will need more training. But if you’re on a tiny budget and currently have more time than money, it can be a win-win for everyone.

And, being among the first to help a new freelancer get situated means you can shape his or her work habits and processes!

Assign a Portion of Your Income to Outsourcing

When you look at your income and budget, it can be tough to see any wiggle-room. A simple work-around is to dedicate a certain percentage of your business income to outsourcing.

For instance, use 20% of your website affiliate income to cover contractor costs or dedicate 50% of book sales each month. Parsing your incoming money in this way makes it feel less burdensome to add another line-item to your monthly budget! Remember, start small!

So why would you pay someone else to do work you can do yourself for free?

Because the work you do is NOT free! Your time is valuable, and should be put toward projects that will either bring in revenue or allow your business to expand. And even if your budget is painfully tight, you can find ways to make room for outsourcing!

Hire to Your Weakness, Lead With Your Strength.

Know When it’s Time to Outsource

I have never been a detail person – much to my dismay. My handwriting is almost illegible, I make mistakes in calculations (thank goodness for formulas in Excel so I don’t have to do the math myself!), and I leave a trail of minutia wherever I go. I just don’t SEE the details and good enough is good enough in my mind – I move too fast, I have bigger fish to fry, I am a big picture person — You know the drill!

Those might sound like excuses, but they are all true. However, the reality is that sometimes my lack of attention to detail was getting in the way of my biz goals. It was time to take action.

Aha!

One of the biggest AHA moments of my recent career was hiring a copy editor. I was tired of getting emails back from friends saying “There was a typo in that last newsletter.” Or, having a potential client question something I had written in my proposal to them. (That was embarrassing!)

So I finally got real with myself and admitted that this was a shortcoming that I had to find a solution for, not just ignore. If I was going to be my best professional self, I had to appear that way with my words.

I hired a copy editor. She is a genius who not only corrected punctuation and spelling but also polished my words, clarified my intentions, and challenged me when she doesn’t agree with my direction. GOLD I tell you! (If you want her name, email me and I’ll give you her contact info.)

The heavens opened up at that very moment. Freed from the burden of the details I began writing up a storm creating weekly blog posts, a newsletter and writing copy for landing pages and sales materials. She even edits my most important emails and proposals so I don’t embarrass myself again.

Time for a Team

The lesson here for any growing entrepreneur is to carefully think about how you want to start to grow your team. The common path is to start with an assistant or VA (virtual assistant) first. This person can take care of enumerable back-end and administrative tasks from the simplest (keeping your email inbox clean) to far more sophisticated (like vetting and setting up speaking opportunities for you).

But I chose to start by addressing a weakness that I had and filling the gap. You may find bookkeeping, maintaining your schedule, or lead follow-up the most daunting aspects of your biz. Any of these things may be your Achilles’ Heel that can hold you back from productive activities that will actually grow your revenue – which is the whole point, after all!

Outsource: Sometimes it’s the Only Right Move

Start by taking a look at what you hate to do and are probably not doing, not doing well, or not doing consistently. That’s a great place to outsource.

Another thought is to calculate how much time it takes you to do a task, multiply by your hourly rate, and see if still doing that activity yourself makes sense. The answer will probably be “No!” You can probably find very effective support for a fraction of your hourly rate.

Outsourcing work does not need to be a huge cash commitment. “I don’t have the money” is typically the first complaint I hear from clients when I suggest they get some help for a particular area.

Think of hiring on a project basis, or ask for a commitment for as little as 5 hours a week to make progress for your business. You don’t even need to commit to hiring a part-time employee since there is an abundance of freelancers ready, willing and able to take work off your plate on a task-by-task basis.

The key here is not to get caught in the “I can do this myself, why should I hire it out?” rationale. Perhaps you could…. but should you? This kind of thinking will keep your business from growing and you with your nose to the grindstone. Not a pretty picture!

The Trap of Working IN Your Business, not ON it

Don’t Get Stuck in the Weeds!

Danger! Danger! Most of us start our entrepreneurial journey with a passion. A passion to serve, to share our expertise, or just for the love of what we do. With that, we jump into our business with both feet, hands and everything else and devote as much time as we can spare for the creation of our baby. But there comes a time when operating from passion and not strategy is going to hold our business growth back – in a big way.

If your desire is to grow and scale your business, then you will need to start looking for other people to do the doing so that you can be doing the visioning and strategic planning.

What are some of the ways and reasons that you are keeping yourself stuck in the weeds?

You LOVE the what of what you do.

There is certainly no shame in that! But if you love it so much that you are still doing the day to day, then there will be a cap to how many new clients and new projects you can take on, and therefore the amount of revenue you can take in.

You like to feel needed.

Looking at a packed to-do list every morning certainly will make you feel like you are needed. It may even give you a sense of security. But is that what creates value in your business and is that the best use of your talents? Perhaps you need a revised vision of how you are needed by providing the strategy and direction for the people who work for you. It’s a shift of focus, but you are needed even MORE at this level.

Chaos becomes your best friend.

When someone asks you how you are doing, how often do you answer “BUSY!” In our fast-paced world, it has become a badge of honor to be “BUSY!” Being super busy can be addictive. And stressful. Be wary of this one, as it’s a great way to reach burn-out fast. You are not doing your business or yourself any good by burning out.

No one can do it as well as you can.

Perfection paralysis or fear of delegation is so common and one of the primary ways of getting in your own way. You are afraid that if you delegate to anyone the task will not be done correctly. You need to accept that there will be many differing ways to get the hoped-for result – not just yours. Be open!

No idea what it would look like if you weren’t the worker bee.

If you have been a solopreneur for any length of time then you may not have any idea of how your business could function any other way. As I pointed out in a previous post, it’s time think like a CEO and move from doing to leading.

In all of these cases, you may be afraid of taking the big leap of bringing in people and creating a team. Bringing on your first part-time or contract person is a big leap to a solopreneur’s identity and can cause a lot of fear, understandably so. Or maybe you have done that and have a small team – maybe even a largish team, but you are still hanging on to too much of the doing.

The skill set you have mastered, and grown so comfortable with to create your business is NOT the same skill set that is required to manage people and think strategically. But you will need a new skill set if you want to grow.

I love helping solopreneurs move into the entrepreneurial realm and start to experience real growth. Let’s schedule a call to discuss your business and how I can help you.

Searching for Gold: How to Find Great People for Your Company

Where are all the Rock Stars?

When you are growing your team, the one thing I hear most often is “Where do I find good people.” If you have exhausted your friends and family for their connections and come up empty, here are many more ideas. Some may resonate more than others but keep your mind open for new sources of talent that just might be a perfect fit for your team.

Contact mutual connections.

I go to my personal network to find good candidates first. My past and present colleagues know me well. They know to recommend the right type of candidate who would be a good fit for my organization. I also use LinkedIn, Twitter or Facebook if we are interviewing a candidate I don’t know to see if there are any mutual connections I can tap for a recommendation.

Incentivize current team to refer new talent.

Members of your current team might be the best source of candidates. A cash award for every prospect recommended who hired and retained, say a year or six months, often works great. Your current team knows what it takes to do the job. They have a vested interest in bringing in people who will contribute to a great company culture.

Look beyond your location.

Technology allows us to connect with people around the world to communicate and collaborate—working with a team is no different. There’s no reason a copywriter, for instance, needs to be physically located in your community. Your potential labor market will grow exponentially if you look beyond geographic limitations.

Ask team members to share on social media.

At my company, we encourage our team to spread the news about open positions on Facebook and LinkedIn. For difficult to hire positions, your team will often put quick messages on their Facebook accounts, such as, “We’re looking for a great web developer who wants a low-key family-friendly place to work. If you know of anyone, please share my contact info!” Informal messages like this can gain incredible reach, and will often bring in people who were not actively looking.

Try a paid search platform like ZipRecruiter.

ZipRecruiter includes resume searching and lets you post on dozens of job boards with a single click. You can easily search for resumes of job seekers who are looking in your zip code and nearby, as well as send them messages directly. There is also a ZipRecruiter feature that matches your posting to profiles in their database (Indeed does this as well). Note that these platforms tend to be better to find team members for entry to mid-level roles over senior positions.

Connect with local colleges & professors.

Some of the best candidates haven’t graduated yet, and to find out who they are, you may need to contact the college dean, career counseling office, or local university professors. Give them a call and ask about top students that they might recommend for your firm. You may also learn that the college has a bulletin board where open positions are posted, or better yet, a dedicated placement resource to assist students in finding jobs. Get to know those folks, and you’ll get a line on the best graduating candidates that may be perfect for your company.

Contact local chapters and organizations.

There are associations and organizations related to every type of field out there. Look for local chapters in your area and get involved in their events and meetings. If an association has accreditations or a certification process, then you know you can find potential candidates with the skill set you are looking for.

Go grassroots.

Try a grassroots recruiting campaign. It’s easy to do and best of all it’s free. Simply create recruiting flyers and post them in your community. You can even target your campaign. The key to success for small business grassroots recruiting is to have an easy way for people for apply to the job on their mobile device, so include a text number in your information. Set up an automated return reply asking for their email address. Most email service providers have this capability.

Look out for talent everywhere.

Keep your radar constantly up for great talent. You can teach specifics, but innate empathy and strong customer service skills are hard to fake. Plus, the best talent usually isn’t actively looking for a job.

Create a paid internship program.

These young minds are thrown right into the mix of client work and get the type of experience a full-time employee would. This allows us to test the waters a bit and find out which of the interns are strong, so when they graduate, we can pluck them the minute they walk off the stage with their diploma. It’s a great farm system.

Look on industry-specific job boards.

One piece of advice for any small business looking to hire is to find job boards and websites that are specific to your industry. They may be hard to find but do some Google searching.

Add a “Hiring” or “Careers” page to your website.

Create a “Hiring” page on your company’s website in case talented people ever come to check you out. Even if you currently don’t need someone in a specific role, it’s a good idea to keep job postings on your site. If someone is interested to look up your company and find the job posting, you know they are already one step ahead of the game when it comes to being an A-Player.

Attend a career fair or virtual job fair.

This may be a bit time consuming, but consider attending these events and find many possible candidates in one spot. Look in your local newspaper, or online through Eventbrite or Time Out, to find career fairs if you are in a major city. Otherwise, consider looking for a virtual career fair to attend, or host your own.

Find a freelancer.

We were reluctant to try a freelancer but have been pleasantly surprised with the results. We use a platform called Upwork, which tracks freelancer time (including screenshots of their work). You can hire, get reviews, and communicate with them all via this platform. It really gives us a sense of comfort to be able to verify work like that.

The right talent is out there, you just have to know where to look.

The old days when posting a job in the newspaper classifieds section was pretty much the only tool for finding talent are long gone. These days you have to be ready to do a little poking around to find the people that will help you take your biz to the next level.

Finding the right team today means mobilizing your social networks, activating your current workforce, tapping into community organizations, and utilizing online recruiting tools.

When you find the right team, you will realize that the upfront investment of your time was totally worth it!

Do You Have the Right Team for Growing Your Biz?

Plan for growth with the right support

This week I’m starting a series on team building for business growth. I’ll be touching on job descriptions, the hiring process, onboarding, performance reviews, the firing process, and more…Stay tuned!

Today, we will get started with an overview of why the right team is critical to success and a few strategies to start to evaluate the overall health of your team.

No question about it! Growth requires the right team.

In last week’s blog, I talked about moving from being a doer to being a leader. You have to learn to delegate if you want to be a true CEO.

Choosing the right team is one of those make-or-break decisions that can either be the foundation of a successful business, or it’s complete undoing.

It’s easier said than done.

Business growth creates a lot of moving parts which can create confusion when it comes to figuring out where to make changes to keep pace with expansion.

Staffing isn’t a single decision, either. Instead, think of it as a constant process of evaluating the structure of your biz, assessing workflow systems, and making choices about where people best fit in your organization.

On the other hand, if your growth is stalled, or if there is a bottleneck in your business, the first place to look for solutions is within your team.

Do you have enough support?

Business growth can creep up slowly or explode suddenly. Either way, it’s all too easy to get used to chaos, stress, and 12 hour days. Don’t let yourself get to this point! Take a deep breath and consider whether you have enough people in place to actually do all the work.

  • Spend some of your strategic planning time to write down tasks that you are ready to delegate to others. Get busy-work off your plate!
  • Would another full or part-time worker make all the difference?
  • Can you hire a contractor for a short-term project?
  • What processes can be outsourced for less money and overhead than you can provide from within your business?

Are you on the same page with core values?

Finding employees that not only understand but also share, the core values of your biz matters a great deal. After all, they will be representing your brand with every customer they interact with and every word of content they create.

In addition, team cohesion will be strongest with a diverse set of people coming to the table with shared goals. The point is not to fill your ranks with people that all think the same, rather, to find people that can bring their unique perspectives and expertise to the ideas that are at the center of your business’s mission.

 Does everyone know what his or her job responsibilities are?

It isn’t enough for the job responsibilities to be clear in your head as the CEO. Unless your team members have a clear understanding of what they are expected to do, they can’t possibly perform.

  • Have the job responsibilities been clearly communicated to the employee?
  • Are you checking in with a weekly meeting to be sure that they are on track?
  • Have you defined clear benchmarks for success so that your team members can reach growth-oriented goals?

Is everyone doing what they are supposed to do and achieving their goals?

 People may know what they are supposed to be doing, but are they actually doing it? Once again a weekly meeting (at least in the beginning) to check in and see if the employee/contractor truly understands her role, or has questions, will go a long way towards solving potential problems before you both get into trouble.

Is everyone operating in their “Zone of Genius?”

Along those same lines, do you have your people operating in roles that bring out their best assets? Do you know if your bookkeeper is a design wizard? Do you know if your customer service person is fabulous with processes and procedures, but only so-so with customer interaction? Both of these employees may be a great asset to your organization but may be in the wrong roles, or their jobs might need to be adjusted to really take advantage of their strengths.

Do they get along with one another?

Not everyone has to like one another, but they do need to be able to work well together. If there is unhappiness or friction between team members, everyone suffers, and the business will too.. Addressing this head-on with a meeting with all concerned will go a long way to resolving the tension, providing all parties are willing participants. If it the problem persists, it may be time to make a change in personnel.

Are they productive enough?

An employee may know what their job is and be good at it, but perhaps it’s at a snail’s pace–too slow for the growth your biz is facing.

Sometimes you can solve this kind of problem with some additional training. For example, they may need support with organizational skills, or perhaps productivity tools will provide a much-needed boost.

Or…they may just be in the wrong job. (Stay tuned for a future blog post in this series that will discuss the firing process.)

Do you enjoy working with each member of your team?

If this is not the case take a good look at your hiring process (more on that in a later post). If you as the CEO are not happy with your people, your business will reflect that friction.

Does drama get in the way of any of them taking care of business? This is one of my pet peeves. My assumption is that we are all adults and professionals here. If someone consistently acts or reacts, from a point of emotion, rather than clear thinking, and if they are repeatedly upsetting others in the organization, this must be addressed. If this is the case with any of your team members, let them know early that this kind of behavior has been noted and is not acceptable. If you don’t see vast improvement cut them loose, for everyone’s sake.

Is your organizational structure keeping pace with growth?

Typically we hire with a specific job description and certain responsibilities in mind. However, a business is not a static organization. As your biz grows, staffing is a moving target. You must be willing and ready to evolve to keep up.

It’s your job as the CEO to regularly examine the functional needs of your business and make changes accordingly.

Once or twice a year, take a fresh look at what needs to be done functionally at this stage of your business to support your growth and then see if you have people assigned to those tasks. If not, you have no choice but to move the tasks around to fit the personnel you have or create new positions to bring on the talent you need to thrive.

A strong team is essential for your business growth. Incredible creativity and productivity come when a team is working together and is accountable to each other and you. A team can meet or even exceed your expectations when they are clear on what you want. A winning team works together and gets you that much closer to being about to take a vacation without worrying.

Invest in and support your team and they will contribute to your thriving, growing business.