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Guide to outsourcing for small business owners

11 min read
Ashley Grant

If you’re anything like me, you’re a busy entrepreneur who gets so caught up in her tasks she often forgets to eat, let alone go on vacation. Though I’ve been trying to get better about this in recent years, I’m still really bad about not outsourcing small business tasks, and instead taking on all the things and doing them myself.

But, as I’ve been reminded time and time again, I’m not Superwoman. The reality is we can’t do it all, and we shouldn’t try to because when we do it’s the fast track to entrepreneur burnout. Nobody wants that.

I certainly don’t!

So, let’s talk about outsourcing for small business owners. While outsourcing and delegating can feel scary, it doesn’t have to.

To get some real-world perspectives on outsourcing, I went straight to the experts — entrepreneurs just like you and me — for their top tips on letting it go.

How to know when it’s time to outsource

You might be thinking the best time to outsource is when:

  • You’ve got plenty of money
  • You have more work than you know what to do with and/or
  • You’re unable to take on more clients because your schedule is packed

But, perhaps the better time to outsource is right away! The sooner the better.

Outsourcing Small Business Anton Giuroiu
Image courtesy of Anton Giuroiu

Anton Giuroiu, founder of Homesthetics.net, recommends that you outsource any task that jeopardizes your ability to do the things that only you can do immediately. “For example, if accounting and bookkeeping tasks rob me of precious time that I could have spent in executive decision-making, then it’s time to outsource or delegate that task,” he says.

You shouldn’t wait on outsourcing small business tasks that take up mental bandwidth you need for the bigger picture. Put another way, the sooner you start outsourcing and delegating, the sooner you can focus on the ideas and action items that can help your business grow and make more revenue in the long run.

Ravi Davda, CEO of Rockstar Marketing agrees with Giuroiu. “I have a simple rule: Outsource everything that costs $10 or less. Whether that's cleaning, social media management, admin work, or anything else. This is a great place to start. You can get great VAs for this price. Then, increase this to $15 or $20. For me, the best time to outsource is straight away, as terrifying as this may sound. The benefits are worth it,” he says.

You might not want to wait until you have “plenty” of capital either.

Aseem Kishore, founder of Help Desk Geek, says the best time to outsource is actually when you’re having financial issues. The reason? It’s a more economical way to handle business operations. Kishore explains that managers and executives often have too much on their plate, and when they can outsource certain tasks, they can alleviate the work pressure.

Think about it: When you’re earning $50/hour, if you can delegate the less labor intensive tasks at even half that hourly rate, you’re able to take back that time and earn more money overall for your business.

According to Christopher Pappas of eLearning Industry Inc., the reason you need to start working on outsourcing and delegating as soon as possible is because it could take time to find the help you need.

“It will take time to find the right vendor or workers for your needs, so resist the urge to hire the first person you speak with. Even if they turn out to be the best option, compare and contrast their strengths with those of other providers. Spend some time looking around on outsourcing websites as well,” he says. “Choose a company specializing in exactly what you require; you want their strengths to match your objectives. When deciding with whom to begin a business relationship, numerous factors to consider. Of course, a reasonable price will influence your decision, but that isn't the only consideration.”

Outsourcing Small Business Eden Cheng
Photo courtesy of Eden Cheng

Eden Cheng of PeopleFinderFree says the first thing to do when you’re considering delegating is to determine whether the task should be delegated, automated, or eliminated. “Otherwise, you just end up adding more costs to your business and wasting your hard-earned cash. For example, if you need to handle social media posting, you can always use a tool like Hootsuite to help schedule your social media posts in advance,” she says. “Or, if it's something that can be eliminated without much consequence, like weekly client reports, then you don't need to try delegating the task out.”

Related: Capital options for sole proprietors

How to determine which tasks should be delegated

Outsourcing Small Business Jonathan Tian
Photo courtesy of Jonathan Tian

Jonathan Tian of Mobitrix says the best tasks to delegate are the ones that are unrelated to your core business but take up a lot of your time.

“For example, a retail business dealing in household items can outsource data backup maintenance, accounting, and tax filing. These tasks are often best suited for professionals, and hiring an in-house one can be very costly,” he says. “Performing them on your own can also limit your business growth, hence the need to outsource. They can take up valuable resources which you can channel towards growing the business as well.”

There are so many tasks you can delegate to someone else. Here’s a list of tasks to consider outsourcing:

  • Taxes and/or bookkeeping
  • Transcription
  • Media and publicity assistance
    • Help getting on podcasts/finding podcast guests
    • Writing press releases and/or submitting them to media outlets
    • Audio and video editing
  • Copywriting
    • Websites
    • Blogs
    • Newsletters, and more
  • Social media
  • Invoicing/accounts payable/accounts receivable
  • IT assistance/troubleshooting/networking
  • Virtual receptionist
  • Appointment setting and/or calendar management
  • Event planning
  • Inventory management
  • Personal shopping
  • Research
  • Writing reports
  • Graphic Design

This is far from an exhaustive list, but it should get you thinking about the possibilities.

On the flip side, there are a few tasks you should not outsource. According to Vaibhav Kakkar, CEO of Digital Web Solutions, “Any areas of your corporation that will instantly impact customers should not be outsourced. Although some companies do well by hiring vendors for customer service or sales, it's a risky venture that small businesses or businesses in transition can't afford.”

Outsourcing Small Business Carter Seuthe
Photo courtesy of Carter Seuthe

Carter Seuthe, CEO of Credit Summit, seconds this, and adds, “If the task you are outsourcing could have an impact on your reputation and something goes wrong, you'll be left in a difficult position. This is why I prefer to only outsource the most routine, basic, in-the-background work.”

Their advice for tasks like these is to hire a staff member rather than a virtual assistant or independent contractor.

When someone is working directly with you full time, or even part time, they are more likely to have a greater level of care for the tasks at hand.

This won’t be just one of many things they do. Instead, they will have a higher vested interest in keeping the customers and their employer happy.

How to find reputable outsourcing help

Once you’re ready to finally start loosening the grip you have on your to-do list, the next logical step is determining where to find help.

Personally, when I was first looking into outsourcing and delegating aspects of my content creation business, I went to Upwork and Fiverr on the recommendation of entrepreneurs that I mastermind and network with. Sometimes looking for help this way can take a while, but I’ve had pretty good luck finding the people I need when I need them.

I’ve found many people are eager to work, especially amidst the pandemic because they want to have the freedom to stay at home.

Heather Welch of Ukelele Tabs says she prefers freelance platforms like Upwork as well because individuals looking for work often have portfolios online. “This way, I can see past work and get a better idea on what to expect when I do decide to work with a specific freelancer.”

For Dalila Rodriguez, who runs a public relations company, she looks for talent on LinkedIn, whereas Shane and Jocelyn Sams of Flipped Lifestyle and many online business owners like them have been known to post their independent contractor opportunities on Facebook.

The key with using social media to find help is to have thorough job descriptions and a lengthy vetting process, but this process works and can yield decent results.

Pro Tip: If you want to use a freelancing platform, stick with only one

Hutch Ashoo who runs Pillar Wealth Management, says if you choose to use a website such as Upwork, Freelancer.com, or People Per Hour, to only stick with one of them. “Using many sites can make things (i.e. contracts, tasks, the people you’re working with) more difficult to maintain, but if you use only one, it's simple to manage all of your tasks from a single location.”

Melissa Smith, Founder and CEO of The Association of Virtual Assistants says, “Look for talent on LinkedIn, in your peer groups, and where the person would likely spend time online. For instance, if you want assistance with your Instagram [profile] it would make sense that the virtual assistant would spend a good bit of time on IG.”

Pro Tip: If you’re struggling to find help on your own, consider an agency

Agent handing pen to client

Some entrepreneurs use agencies to find virtual assistants and contractors they can hire by the hour or even by the task, and there are hundreds of agencies to choose from. So, how do you choose?

It boils down to a few basic questions:

  • What is their reputation?
    • Can you speak to past clients/do they have testimonials or reviews?
  • How’s their success rate?
  • What is the fee?
    • How much of the fee actually goes to the person doing the work?
  • Where is the agency located? (Some businesses prefer to only work with agencies in the U.S. whereas others only want to hire help in other countries.)
  • Do you personally know anyone who has used the agency? If so, what was their experience like?
  • How do the contracts work?
  • What’s the exit strategy like?
    • What happens when you are ready to move on/let the help go?

Bottom line: Regardless of how you go about finding virtual assistants and/or independent contractors for outsourcing and delegating tasks, do your homework. Don’t just hire the first person at the rate you’re looking for.

Once you find someone to work with, the next question is how to delegate tasks to them.

Related: 5 delegation tactics for small business owners

How to delegate your tasks

Outsourcing Small Business Malte Scholz
Photo courtesy of Malte Scholz

Malte Scholz, CEO and CPO of Airfocus, says the key with outsourcing and delegating is to make sure the tasks you assign are “straightforward and easy to complete without constant supervision. You want [people] to be independent and save you time. If you have to explain every single thing, you aren’t really benefiting in the process.”

Nick Chernets, SEO of Data for SEO seconds this and adds, “One of the most common issues with outsourcing is the lack of understanding which leads to multiple mistakes. Instead of saving time, you risk spending hours explaining the task to the freelancer. That’s why you have to prepare detailed guidelines ahead of time and make sure they are easy to follow.”

One of the best pieces of advice I’ve personally ever heard for giving thorough instructions to a freelancer is to film yourself doing the task and then write out the steps you took.

This way, your independent contractor will have both visual and written cues for how to complete the task themselves.

It’s also important to avoid going back and double checking the work too many times. Micromanaging takes too much time, and can actually lead to your assistant making more mistakes than if you have empowered the individual to handle the task at hand on their own.

Next steps for outsourcing for small business owners

Hopefully, this post has inspired you to start looking at the tasks you do daily and start delegating some of them out. It can be scary to hand over the things you normally do, but the most important thing to remember is you’re not giving up control. You’re actually taking back control — of your time, your energy, and your ability to expand your business.

Take some time and really start thinking about everything you do in a day. Then, go back through the list and put a star next to the things that only you can do. I’m betting you’ll be surprised by how many tasks can actually be done by someone else.

Next, I challenge you to outsource just a single task. Start small. Before you know it, you’ll be an outsourcing expert. Who knows what you’ll be able to create with all the time you’ll free up!