I often have the opposite inclination, which is to outsource or shortcut just about anything I can think of. Is it so bad to consider whether I can hire someone to take the trash out on Wednesdays and fold and put away the laundry on Saturdays? (I know, I know, that is why we have kids and spouses, but sometimes we all get busy) Don’t get me wrong, I love to work hard and consider no task "beneath" me, but the older, busier and more kids I get, the more I am inclined to use outsourced resources efficiently.
In my business, I also firmly believe in the principle of not re-creating the wheel. If there is someone who has done (well) what I am attempting to do and can sell their expertise in the form of coaching, education or instruction, I am more than happy to purchase it. I believe what Marcus Buckingham and Donald Clifton preach in their book Now, Discover Your Strengths which is we should stop spending lots of time and energy learning skills to prop up our weaknesses and instead should focus on building and leveraging our strengths.
The only problem with using lots of outside resources, of course, is that this can get rather expensive, if you don’t have any criteria for deciding when, who and how to use them.
So here are some thoughts to get you started. And for the sake of common understanding, I am defining "outsourced resources" as:
"A person, program or information product that either shortcuts or replaces the time you spend completing a task"
When to use an outside resource
The mantra I used to use in my corporate training and development work was "just in time learning." What this means is that you are much more likely to pay attention to, absorb and integrate skills if you learn them just before or during the time that you will apply them. So the best time to learn presentation skills is just before you have to deliver a real presentation. The best time to learn how to create an information product is while you are actually creating it. The best time to learn how to market your services is while you are setting up your website and talking with potential customers on the phone.
In these circumstances, not only will you be very interested in what you are learning because you know you will need to apply the knowledge immediately, but you will be emotionally invested in mastering it because you will be demonstrating it in a live situation, with real people.
In addition to a just-in-time learning moment, you also want to make sure that you have the time to commit to what it takes to obtain a desired result. What this means is that:
- You don’t have lots of outside distractions. If you are moving, leaving a relationship, working three jobs or having a baby, it may not be the best time to use an expensive coach or participate in a time-intensive workshop. These kinds of distractions not only take up time on your calendar, but they are emotionally intensive which can drain some of your natural creativity and ability to learn.
- You make time for and commit to completing your homework. The most gifted, results-oriented and dynamic coach or consultant will not be able to help you obtain your desired results if you don’t do your part. Even if you totally outsource a task (like planning and coordinating and event, or creating a product or program), you will still need to be consulted at certain times and make decisions. As a coach and former consultant, this is a very tricky and frustrating situation, since I know I ethically cannot do my work and the work of my client, even if I am really motivated to see results happen.
Who to use
If you are hiring a coach or an expert, there are some obvious and not-so-obvious criteria to use, including:
- Expertise. It goes without saying that you should hire someone who has the knowledge and skills to help you solve your particular problem. For some people, certifications and credentials are very important (such as an advanced degree from a reputable institution, or training in a particular methodology). For others, knowledge based on real-world experience is more important. Know your own preferences and screen for someone that meets your criteria.
- Experience. Someone can be very knowledgeable, but not have the experience of applying this knowledge in real-life situations with real clients. So be sure to ask who they have worked with in the past and the different kinds of situations they have faced.
- Results. You are actually not buying the time with your expert, you are buying the results of your time together. So be clear about the results you are looking for, and ask if they have obtained similar results with others in similar situations.
- Rapport. This is really, really important. You must feel trust, ease and comfort with a person that you are working with, particularly if you are dealing with sensitive issues like financial matters or personal fears or blocks. Even though a colleague may rave about a particular program, product or coach, make sure that they are a fit for you.
What to use
Usually, one-on-one consultations are the most expensive way to learn something. But for some people, that is the only way that they will really get work done or projects completed. A wide range of shortcutting or outsourcing options for you are:
- e-books. These are essentially online instruction manuals which explain a certain topic, or walk you through a set of steps to complete a task.
- audio/video programs. These are online, CD or DVD-based programs that are sometimes accompanied by a workbook or supplemental materials.
- teleclasses. These can be single or multiple-session conference calls on a particular topic that generally don’t include a lot of "extra" interaction outside of class.
- group coaching programs. These combine elements of teleclasses, e-books, one-on-one coaching and moderated online forums, where a group of anywhere from 5 to 100 individuals follow a program together
- in-person workshops. From one to five days, these are often intensive learning experiences where you work with instructors and fellow participants in a live environment.
- one-on-one coaching. A coach usually helps you define problems, challenge unproductive underlying beliefs in your thinking, understand your roadblocks and strategize ways to overcome them and provide encouragement and support.
- one-on-one consulting. A consultant is paid for his or her expertise, and will most often provide detailed, specific recommendations for which strategy you should pursue. So while a coach may help you identify your weakness in understanding SEO optimization for your website, an SEO consultant would share and possibly implement a particular SEO strategy.
- task outsourcing. You may hire a virtual or in-office assistant to take care of certain tasks such as bookkeeping, billing, customer support or information technology. Depending on the size of your business, these can be part-time independent contractor resources, or full-time employees.
In order to know what is best for you, ask yourself the following questions:
- What is my preferred learning style? Am I auditory (learn by listening or reading), visual (learn by watching) or kinesthetic (learn by doing)? Do I learn best one-on-one or in a group? Am I able to tune into a virtual learning environment (like a teleclass, webinar or group coaching program) or do I need face-to-face interaction?
- What motivates me to get things done? Is it clear information, support from a buddy, group interaction and dialogue, peer pressure or threats and intimidation? (In which case you may want to hire the bully who tormented you in high school to come sit in your office and call you names when you really want to get something done. Some desperate times require desperate measures.)
- Is this task one that I want to be doing myself on an ongoing basis in my business? (in which case a learning program may make sense) or is it something I would much rather someone else worry about and complete? (in which case you might outsource it immediately).
How to use
- Evaluate the value of the service based on your return on investment. One person or program may charge $5,000 a day and be worth every penny because they will help you make $50,000 in sales due to their guidance and efforts. Someone or something else may be a waste of your hard-earned $20 because it is inferior in quality, inapplicable to your situation or the wrong solution to your particular problem. So look at what will happen as the result of what you learn. If a well-designed e-book on designing and conducting teleclasses for $79 is all you need to get them implemented in your business, don’t waste $1500 on an in-person workshop on the same topic. But if you know what you need to do and just have trouble doing it, it may be worth $1,000 of a coach’s time to work you through your blocks, if it means you can expect $5,000 in teleclass revenue within the first 4 months of implementing your program.
- YOU manage your desired outcomes. If you are not specific about the results you are looking for, you can’t expect your outside resource to guess. And you know how the saying goes: "If you don’t know where you are going, you just might end up there." You should be able to articulate exactly what you want as a result of your time together, such as:
- I will have the knowledge and skills to successfully record and publish a podcast
- I will gain clarity about three possible business ideas to pursue
- I will complete a business plan that is suitable to send to xyz angel investors and venture capitalists
- I will be able to pick up the phone and conduct an effective sales call without breaking into hives
- Plan your mix of outsourced activities carefully, and watch your budget. I said before that I have no problem using outside resources, so if I allowed myself free reign to outsource in my personal and business life, I would not do much else but write, roll around on the floor with my toddler, eat good, healthy food (that someone else prepares), go for long hikes and read People Magazine. Until that day arrives, I need to balance and prioritize money in my budget for learning and outsourced activities.
I am a bit afraid to tally up the money I have wasted on information products that I downloaded and never read, classes I took whose homework I did not complete and coaching or consulting advice that I fully appreciated but did not heed. Instead of fretting about it, I prefer to learn from my mistakes and share them with you.
I would love additional tips for deciding when, how and what to outsource, particularly as it relates to weighing cost with outcome. Please share!