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Knowing When to Outsource

by Ryan Guina

Running a small business is a lot of work, especially if it is a one man job. Somewhere between playing CEO, secretary, technical support, CFO, lead marketer, copy-writer, and office funny guy, you are bound to run into something you either don’t know how to do, or something that someone else can do much more efficiently. When that happens, it’s a good time to look into outsourcing the work.

Knowing when to outsource work

I love running my websites. It’s an excellent creative outlet, I’m constantly learning something new, and I’ve met dozens of great people. As a nice bonus I’ve been able to turn my websites into a business and make a few bucks along the way. But I haven’t had all the answers and I haven’t been able to do it alone.

Realize you can’t do it all. When I started this website a little over 2 years ago, I had no clue how to run a website, create graphics, design a website, manipulate databases, etc. I struggled to try and do it all. For the first year I had an ugly site, struggled to write articles, network, and learn everything else that goes along with running a site. It wasn’t until I got in with a great network of other bloggers that I learned it’s OK to ask questions and rely on other people for help.

Recognize your strengths and weaknesses. In the early days of running my business pretty much everything was a weakness as I struggled to learn everything I could about running a website. As I continued to build my sites I began to learn which areas I was strong in and in which areas I needed help. Now that I have a good understanding of my strengths and weaknesses, I don’t hesitate to go calling on help – even if that means opening the checkbook.

Don’t focus on the cost, focus on value. If you’ve read my site for awhile you know how much I love saving money. I love finding deals, making money, etc. It’s a part of who I am. But I let that distract me in the early days of running my websites and I focused on how much money I could save if I just did it myself. I was often able to get things done, but it usually took longer and the results were often lacking. The cost in terms of hours spent, frustration, and lower quality job made me realize that the better value would be to outsource some tasks. Less frustration, quicker turn around, and higher quality results are worth spending money on.

Reinvest in your business. My websites first started as a hobby and I was reluctant to put too much money into something that was generating a positive return. After I began making money from my websites, I decided that the only way to take my sites to the next level was by reinvesting some of my income. And learning to outsource tasks to someone more efficient than me was the first step. Reinvesting in my business was the second best business decision I ever made. The best was starting my business.

Now I prefer to outsource when possible

It took me a long time to realize I can’t do it all and it took me even longer to realize that the solution is often to outsource work. Now I try to play to my strengths and outsource in areas where I am weak. You may find it also makes sense to outsource mundane or repetitious tasks, or tasks where a professional is clearly needed.

Here are some examples of when I have recently outsourced work for my business:

Taxes. I understand the basic concepts of self-employed retirement accounts, and I have a solo 401k. I also understand deductions, expenses, income, etc. But when you put it all together, throw in business and tax planning, add personal taxes, and place a deadline on it, things get more complicated. Instead of struggling through the tax codes, I determined it was in my best interest (and sanity) to hire an accountant to do my business and personal taxes.

Blog theme design. My knowledge of web design is limited. I know basic html and css, but not enough to custom design a theme. I could probably learn most of it, but it would take more time than I am willing to invest, and more importantly it would take me away from my family and core business functions. I contacted Larry at Empty Cabin Media to help custom design my Thesis theme. Larry also offers blog coaching and consulting and is a pleasure to work with.

Interested in the design of this website? Be sure to read about my theme design.

Blog logos. I don’t have an eye for design, and I am not skilled when it comes to designing logos or working with Photoshop. Thankfully, I know someone who is. Pete is a good friend and he also designs website logos. He designed the logos on Cash Money Life and Money Saving Deals, and I have contacted him to design the logos for several more sites that I run.

Blog consulting. I recently had to upgrade my web hosting service.  I used LunarPages for the last two years, but my websites finally outgrew their shared hosting service. I decided to move to Media Temple when I determined I needed a new host, and so far the move has worked out great. The problem was that I didn’t know how to move all the associated databases and information to get it set up properly and minimize downtime. Again, I could probably learn, but I was in a time crunch and decided this was a task best left to outsourcing. Ms. Crafty @ BlogCrafted offers blog consulting, blog setup, blog migration and other services. She was a great help in keeping my websites running during the transition, and I couldn’t have done it without her.

Outsourcing is one of the best business decisions I’ve made

There are only so many hours in the day that one can devote to their family, business, recreation, etc., and you need to determine how much time and effort you are willing to spend on your business. Outsourcing costs money. But so does time. In the long run, outsourcing may prove to be the least expensive and most efficient option.


Published or updated April 21, 2012.
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{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Hank

Ryan,

You talk a lot about outsourcing for small business areas, and that is obviously true. But, people should also weigh the cost and benefits of outsourcing a lot of other tasks in our lives like yard work, car maintenance, etc.

Great post!

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2 Four Pillars

I’ve struggled with these decisions myself. Actions like moving hosts are a good learning opportunity but it also takes a big chunk of time. I’m not sure if it was worth it in my case.

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3 Ryan

Four Pillars, I know what you mean. It took me a long time to realize that sometimes the best move is to outsource things, even when it is something I would like to learn how to do (or even should learn how to do). It is too easy for me to put it off for another day when I try to do it all myself. But when I outsource things, they get done more quickly, and usually with better results.

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4 Jeff Rose

I need to be better at outsourcing or in the military we called it “delegating”. I’ve spent countless hours perfecting my blog (not quite there yet) when I’m sure Larry could have done a much better job in a fraction of the time. Sometimes though I have a certain control issue where I have to have my hands involved. My blog is one of them, but household chores is not. I would much rather pay a plumber to come fix my toilet than me figure it out. If something happens to my car, it goes straight to my mechanic. Something isn’t quite right with my blog? I’ll be on it till 4 in the morning trying to figure it out. Looks like I need to outsource one more thing :)

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5 Ryan

Jeff, they call it delegating in the military, but the difference between that and civilian life is that we now have to pay for the right to delegate!

I used to be the person who stayed up until 4 trying to figure things out, but I realized I had reached the point where it was becoming counter-productive. I was staying up too late, becoming groggy, and making mistakes. Sometimes it’s just best to hire the pros!

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6 DDFD at DivorcedDadFrugalDad

As Clint Eastwood once said, “A man’s got to know his limitations . . . ”

Outsourcing makes sense, but I would argue that you need to have a basic understanding. Case in point: I used to use an accountant who in two years made errors in my filings. I was saved from disaster only by my basic knowledge and understanding of taxes.

Outsourcing is good, but don’t lose sight of what is going on in your business.

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7 Ryan

DDFD, Excellent point. I usually have a good idea of what is going on and I try to stay on top of things. I’m good at grasping concepts, but not always great at the details. And I always ask a lot of questions. This is my business and I don’t want to give away control.

Glad to hear you caught the mistake your accountant was making!

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8 Dividend Growth Investor

I am not a big outsorces. I am a hands on approach type of person – if I can’t figure it out, then I think that noone else will. I guess I could outsource stuff, but I always ask if the cost of outsourcing would outweigh the benefit or now..
Otherwise it’s not worth it. And besides, I always have that fear that I would pay someone to do something and they would end up costing a lot by not understanding what’s required from them..
I always hear the positive stories of outsourcing, without ever hearing about the negatives. That sounds fishy to me ;-)

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9 Ryan

DGI, the cost/benefit factor is something I always consider before outsourcing something for personal or business reasons. Sure, some things are expensive, but I have to ask myself if I 1.) can do the task, 2.) can do it quickly and efficiently, 3.) have the time to do the task (or learn how).

If the answer to all three questions is yes, then I do it. If the answer to all three is no, and it is an essential task, and I can afford it, then I outsource the task.

There may be other considerations based on each situation, but this has worked for me so far. As for negative experiences.. yeah, I’m sure they happen. So far, I’ve been lucky. ;-)

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10 Kristia

Hi Ryan. I’ve been reading your blog for a few months now and decided to become a blogger myself. Thanks for writing such great articles on how to get started and money saving tips. Larry at Empty Cabin Media custom designed my Thesis theme too and is an excellent blog coach. Pete also created my website logo. I highly recommend them both. Thanks again!

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11 Ryan

Your site looks great, Kristia. And thanks for the compliments!! :-)

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12 JoeTaxpayer

I worked with the same two people you did for Logo and Blog consulting.
Ms Crafty has saved me more time that I can calculate by helping me with my blog. I want to write posts on my topic, not code websites. And Pete, for the Logo (he’s done two for me) appears to be a mind reader, great logos, both.

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13 Stu

The problem with outsourcing is that you need the money to start with. If you’re prepared to set aside a couple of hundred dollars, and target your outsourcing efforts efficiently and effectively, it can be particularly profitable though.

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14 Curious Cat Investing Blog

I think you are right that there are many good opportunities to outsource. Looking at overall value is the key. Too many companies fail to factor in costs, other than the direct dollar costs (coordination, delays, opportunity costs, reputation…).

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