There are a handful of things that I do very well. Some, such as consulting or speaking, bring in cash which is handy to do things like pay the mortgage, buy diapers and indulge in my book-buying habit.
But there are a bunch of other things that I either don’t do well or hate to spend too much time doing, and for these I have learned three magic words: outsource, outsource, outsource. These are things like:
- Bookkeeping and accounting. All I can say is YUCK and BRING ON THE ASPIRIN. I have no talent, skill or interest in keeping my own books (aka entering each expense into Quickbooks or reconciling my bank account). But I care very much that they are done well, so I hire someone else to take care of them. Once the figures are neatly entered, I can scan a report and make sure that things are done accurately.
- Project management. I have managed many projects in my corporate consulting career and know how to do it. In my current situation, I have about 10 major things I am working on simultaneously and I get very overwhelmed with the amount of detail required to complete each one successfully. So I just hired on a "virtual assistant" to take on the day-to-day project management of my key projects. She will give me the short list of things to get done each week and I will do them, without worrying about tracking progress and priorities. I feel free already.
- Home maintenance. My husband and I don’t mind doing things around the house like painting, installing new light fixtures and repairing things. But we are both working so much these days that we don’t really want to spend all weekend with home maintenance projects. This leaves us feeling exhausted and cranky at the end of the weekend. (He gets up at 3am most days since his work starts early, so is usually very tired by week’s end). So we outsource a lot of these tasks and find that we get great joy at watching a skilled and competent handyperson solve our repair problems.
- Childcare. I don’t mean to say that I outsource my mothering (!), but I do pay for in-home childcare a few days a week so that I can concentrate on getting work done. I admire any of you who are able to both take care of a toddler and run your business from home. I am hopeless. My 18-month old son is in a clingy stage where I can hardly wash the dishes for 10 minutes without him wanting to drag me outside to play. Forget about writing a blog post, conducting a conference call or designing a program.
- Housecleaning. I keep up with routine stuff like dishes, laundry and straightening up the house at the end of each day. But I do like to have a get-down-and-scrub-the-bathroom kind of clean at least a couple of times a month. So I have a house cleaner come in every other week and do a thorough cleaning. We all feel better and healthier for it.
You may think, if I am bootstrapping my business, how could I possibly spend money I don’t have paying other people?
The key is to make sure that the time that is freed up by paying others to do routine, administrative or labor-intensive chores is spent on activities that will bring you greatly increased revenue, such as developing new products, or marketing or selling your services.
If you are an employee, this equation may not work, since you usually don’t have the opportunity to greatly increase your income, unless you work on commission or could get a big bonus for finishing a certain number of projects. You may get peace of mind, which may be worth the expense.
My friend and fellow entrepreneur coach Philippa Kennealy told me a good way to think about it the other day: figure out the hourly rate for your services. Let’s say that you make $100/hour. How much time would it take you to do a routine task? Let’s say it would take you 6 hours to clean your house. If you paid someone 15 dollars an hour to clean your house, it would cost you $90. If you do it yourself, it would cost you $600.
If I kept up with all the administrative and labor-intensive details of keeping my and my husband’s businesses running, not to mention our home, I would have no time left to work. Because I have recently outsourced all these activities, I have had time to develop new services and alliances that will give me at least 10 times the return on investment (every $1,000 spent on outsourcing yields at least $10,000 in revenues – did I do the math right? I need to check with my accountant. 🙂
If I had continued to do all the routine tasks myself, I never would have had the time to complete the work.
And even more importantly, I am only doing the kinds of things I enjoy — writing, building the Escape from Cubicle Nation community, building my brand, creating new products and services and partnering with interesting people.
All of the business owners I outsource to are glad to get my business. I pay a fair wage, treat them with respect and contribute to the health and growth of their small businesses. I don’t believe it is only the super-wealthy that can have some help with life management tasks.
If you are a small business owner, what could you outsource to free up time to bring in more revenues?
Additional info a little later …
For those of you who haven’t heard of VAs or virtual assistants, it is the hot new thing in many solopreneur businesses. Basically, VAs are highly skilled administrative talent who usually work from home and handle multiple clients at one time. Depending on who they are, they have skills in things like setting up shopping cart systems for web pages, managing projects, graphic design, customer support, traditional administrative duties such as managing email and scheduling meetings, and much more. I found my new VA Wanda through the specialized agency I work with, Multiple Streams Dream Team. They focus on coaches like me who are building internet-based coaching businesses with multiple streams of revenue.
There are other directories – here is one that I know of, from VA Networking, an association in Canada which supports and grows VAs.
For any of my VA readers, please let us know about your services in the comments, specifically, what kind of work do you specialize in, and who would be your ideal client.