Overwhelmed with too much to do? Outsource everything possible

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Relay 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.

19 Responses to “Overwhelmed with too much to do? Outsource everything possible”

  1. Thanks for your information. Most of the posts in the blog is really valuable. Regards

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  3. You said the key is to make sure that the time that is freed up is spent on activities that will bring you greatly increased revenue.

    I’d take it one step further and say outsourcing is worthwhile even if financially you only break even. Doing something I enjoy instead of doing something I loathe at the same cost is a no-brainer.

  4. I have a great example of how this works even for “low-earners.” I learned the outsourcing lesson when I was working as a waitress! I have always been hopeless at cleaning my room — and I hate doing it. I earned about $20 per hour waiting tables and could get someone to clean my room for $10 per hour. By adding an additional 4-hour shift of doing work I enjoyed, I came out with a cleaner room than I could have created myself and an extra $40 in my pocket. And, I supplied income to a friend who liked cleaning.

  5. Hi Pam. I just wanted to let you know that I run a Virtual Assistant business – Shears Virtual Advantage.

    I offer administrative assistance to small and/or solo law firms, providing them with document preparation, calendar management, transcription services, legal research and any of the other numerous day to day tasks that take up their billable time.

    I am a proud member of the Virtual Assistant Chamber of Commerce (VACOC) http://www.virtualassistantnetworking.com. Anyone interested in hiring a VA definitely needs to visit this site.

  6. Have outsourced a few things as well – housekeeping, babysitting and gardening but that’s about it! The complexity of one’s life drives us to such measures and I am amazed at some colleagues who have 3 or more kids who DON’T outsource at all!

  7. Finati, Inc is an outsourcing firm that specializes in: System Integration, Outsourcing & Consulting. We routinely function as a virtual and seamless extension of our client’s delivery organization. The results are tailor-made high-value, high-performance, and high-quality solutions. We have offices in Los Angeles, Sydney, Bangalore and Bhubaneswar.

  8. Jake Fisher says:

    Pamela,

    I run a company called Empty Tray. We are an administration support company that offers independent professionals and small to medium size enterprises an outsourced administration.

    Services include accounting, bookkeeping, scheduling, client management, project coordination, event planning, and almost all forms of secretarial work.

    All of the Empty Tray staff are home-based which keeps the costs lower and the productivity higher. Our staff are located throughout North America and are on the team because they are excellent, responsive and reliable.

    Here is a link to our webiste.
    http://www.emptytray.com

  9. Shawna says:

    Pamela,

    I only recently started outsourcing. What is my business? It is tending my family and as the mother of seven I was getting extremely resentful at all I was expected to do, while working part-time and helping my husband with his own business. To safe a marriage and a family, because often those closest to us cannot see all that we do, I have begun outsourcing.

    After 11 years I finally have a housecleaner come every 3 weeks for a deep down cleaning; yes the kids are expected to continue with thier chores on a dialy basis and I continue with mine, but I am free to attended those PTA meeting and spend weekends at soccer games because I am not longer doing that deep down cleaning myself…and my evenings are filled with resentment from the day, rather with conversation with my husband.

    I want the main living areas of my home painted. Rather than tackle the project myself and feel exhausted and needing to shut down my project to carpool and cook dinner and attend soccer practice, I have outsourced the job.

    I love gardening, but tending the weekly lawns and timming the hedges is a bit physical for me as I age and constantly trying to get working and schooling teens to help is often more effort than it’s worth; so I have outsourced the routine lawn care and I still enjoy working with my flowers and garden.

    Outsourcing is new to us and as the kids get out on their own I can apply the practice to my own writing projects. It truly is a wonderful opportunity, helps other trying to start and keep a business running, and allows for so much more in my life beyond constant chores and projects.

  10. Hi, Pam:

    Am a regular reader of your blog. Only after reading your blog, I started to believe that I can start some business. Thanks for all the good stuff.

    I am based at India. I provide the following services:

    1) Data entry – $6/hr
    2) Internet research – 15/hr
    3) Content development – newsletters, alerts, Website content, etc. – 15-30/hr
    4) Editing/Proofreading – business and academic documents – $3-$5/pg
    5)Graphics design – $15/hour
    6) Transcription – per-word basis

    Moreover, I can arrange for all kinds of work that can be done offshore.

  11. Best Blog Articles – 10-8-2006

    We love to read as well as write here at PYW. Often, we write about what other people are saying and extending the conversation. Other times we just wish we wrote the article in the first place and can do nothing but provide great kudos to our fellow b…

  12. Erinh, I’ve been a self-employed Virtual Assistant since 1997, and absolutely love providing my administrative services to clients. I also founded a Virtual Assistant organization that offers business owners a wealth of information on what Virtual Assistance is, how it can help them in their business, and a directory of Virtual Assistants. One of our most utilized tools is our guide on How to Choose a Virtual Assistant, something not many business owners don’t quite know how to approach (it’s not like hiring an employee; it’s more similar to selecting an accountant or attorney). Here’s the link: http://www.VirtualAssistantNetworking.com/How-to-Choose-a-Virtual-Assistant.htm

  13. What a timely subject!! My organization offers business owners a Virtual Assistant directory: http://www.virtualassistantnetworking.com/directory/. We have very well-thought out guidelines for listing so that business owners don’t have to wade through hundreds of sites trying to figure out who is truly qualified. We also have a custom built search so that they can search by geographic location, name and even services needed.

  14. John Trosko says:

    The only time you may not want to outsource is if you have lots of time on your hands.

    My relatives are retired and I see them tackle most bazarre time-wasting activities to save some cash, like driving 45 minutes to see a “senior citizen” dicounted movie in their small town ($3.00 per person, nice.)

    I think this is a complete waste of time (and they didn’t want to hear anything about the gas they used to drive 45 minutes– it was about the $3 movie.) But it gives them something to do. I know us business owners can’t relate to this, but it’s interesting for perspective.

    I wrote about this on my blog– and some interesting suggestions came up:

    http://organizingla.blogs.com/organizingla_blog/2006/08/fit_to_be_tied_.html

    – John

  15. erinh says:

    Pamela,

    What a coincidence you posted this. I just found out about the idea of Virtual Assistants last week and I am looking into this as a business option. Thank you for listing those resources. I would love to hear what people working as VAs have to say about it.

  16. I LOVE my outsourcers! I have like 5 of them now. The key though is if you outsource a task, you have to spend that time doing a revenue generating activity.

    I have different VA’s for:
    answering the phone – $6/hr
    answering email – $30/hr
    internet marketing – $95/hh
    content adding – $15/hr
    bookkeeping – $35/hr
    proofreading – $35/hr

    It’s made my life SO much easier.

  17. Doug says:

    Remember the difference between delegating and abdicating. One good, one bad. “review” is critical. It isn’t just about outsourcing what you aren’t best at doing, it is also about the fact that no one else, esp. not an outsource, is going to care about your success as much as you do.

  18. Kathy Sierra says:

    Pamela, please PLEASE tell me how you found a “virtual” project manager. This is exactly what I need. Badly.

    Thanks for this post (and I loved the permission to suck one very much as well!)

  19. rick gregory says:

    Pamela,

    In fact, it’s even easier to justify… All you have to do to breakeven on the six hours of housecleaning is to have it free up ONE billable hour (OK, a bit more to account for taxes…).

    So even five of those hours came from personal time, you’re still better off outsourcing the cleaning since it’s financially neutral and you regain five personal hours.

    The logic can get slippery though… I could justify having Zone meals delivered to my house every day – they’re $40 per day, and if I get an extra half hour of billable time… But hold it – I like to cook. I think the key is to outsource things you’re either not good at, don’t enjoy or both and to make sure you at least break even financially.

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