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Too Much On Your Plate? Then Dip Your Toe In…

too-much-on-plateI’ve been outsourcing for so long that it’s become ingrained in my thinking as a something I have to do. Meaning, it’s not optional.

I truly believe that outsourcing is the key to building the business of your dreams. It’s the difference between the struggling business owner and the successful one. It’s also the difference between a happy wife/mom and a stressed out one who blows a fuse over the smallest things (you know what I’m talking about).

Successful business owners outsource. Show me one that doesn’t.

I know what you’re thinking. It’s easy for me because I can afford to outsource and I have good people to outsource to.

Yes on both counts. I can afford it now and I have good people now. But guess what?

It wasn’t always like that. When I first started to outsource, I used to sweat bullets wondering how in the hell I was going to pay the bill (and I went through my fair share of unethical and flaky service people too).

I hated that part.

Waiting for that final invoice to come in. Hoping I had enough money in my PayPal account to pay it.

But then I realized that was a stupid way to operate because all it did was stress me out.

So here’s what I did instead:

1) I paid upfront. There are some contractors who do require upfront payment, but most will invoice once for all the work they did throughout the month. And if you have no idea how much that bill is going to be, it can cause you to worry and stress out about paying it.

I started saving up the money I would need to outsource, and then I would pay upfront for a certain amount of hours or a project. That way I didn’t have to worry about paying the bill later.

2) I asked for a check in. If I prepaid for 10 hours of time, I would ask the VA to let me know when I had used 5 hours of time, and again when I was almost at 10. That way I could prioritize the tasks she was doing and avoid a surprise bill if I unknowingly went over the amount of hours I had already paid for.

And if you run across a contractor who prefers to invoice once a month, then make it clear they are not to work over the number of hours you’ve budgeted for. If you have to, sign a contract that clearly says you will not be billed for any hours above the stated and approved amount.

Seriously, for your sanity and business growth, you have to start outsourcing.

Even if you just dip your toe in.

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12 people have commented
  1. The biggest obstacle to outsourcing for me is finding someone who wants to work. Like you, I’ve gone through a few workers that just didn’t pan out – and I hate to waste $$$ training someone and then not get the work done, or they decide to stop communicating… Any ideas?

    • I have found my best people through referrals and private memberships/forums. Do you know of any business owners who are outsourcing that you could ask for referrals? I avoid the job board places, like elance because I’ve never had a good experience with them.

      As for training…I create step-by-step (with screenshots) standard operating procedure documents and sometimes videos, and I ask my people to update the SOP anytime something changes or they find a better way to do something, etc. That way, if that person doesn’t work out, all I have to do is pass on the documents on to the next person to take over, and there’s no starting from scratch every time.

      What kind of help are you looking for Ken? Maybe I can point you to a few places 🙂

  2. Thanks for the pep talk, Melissa. Outsourcing and building a team is my number 1 priority over the next few months and I’m definitely nervous about it. But not just about paying. I’ve saved up enough to make sure I can at least cover expenses initially. It’s figuring out exactly what I want them to do in advance so that I don’t waste time each day thinking about what to give someone. There’s always a billion and one things to do and not many of them are routine, day to day tasks. So it’s a challenge to figure out how to balance the higher level tasks with more basic jobs. This is going to be an interesting journey!

    • You got that right Sharon, and not knowing what to outsource is right up there with the “I can’t afford it” reason for not outsourcing.

      The best way to work with people is on an on-going monthly basis, because that’s true outsourcing. Out-tasking is what you do when you, say hire a VA for 5 hours to do some work for you every 6 months.

      Each member of my team is responsible for certain tasks, and they do those tasks every single month – due on the same day. Every once in awhile, extra things will be thrown in, but for the most part, everything is planned and scheduled.

      It also makes it easy for an operations manager (or project manager) to come on board, because then they know exactly what tasks to assign to who each month.

      You need to invest in a project management tool, like Basecamp to keep everything organized. And then you need to figure out which tasks need to be done every single month, and who can potentially take care of those tasks for you.

      For instance, if you need 10 articles written and you need them by the 20th of each month. Who can do that? Can one writer handle it, or will you need to assign 5 articles to one writer and another 5 to the other?

      Then get those people into your Basecamp account and put the project on the calendar. Then on the first day of each month, make sure that project gets added to the calendar with the new topic.

      Create a standard operating procedures document with step-by-step instructions for everything that needs to be done. Like where to log in, what their log in information is, what do they need to do, how do they do the task, what do they do when the task is done, etc.

      Eventually, everything will run like clockwork, and you won’t even have to think about it.

      But for now…start making a note of all the things that have to be or you want to be done on a regular monthly basis, and then go from there.

  3. Great ideas Melissa. I am fortunate to have found an assistant that works on a set fee every week. Sometimes I don’t need her as much and other times I need her many more hours a week than usual so it really balances out for both of us. She knows what she can count on to pay her bills and I know exactly what I need to budget to pay her. When there is a huge project or one that’s been really profitable, I give her a bonus. She’s thrilled and I feel like I’ve done a good thing. It’s kind of unusual to find a situation where this works well for both parties, but it works great for us.

    • That’s awesome Celene! I’m so happy that you’re outsourcing – YAY!!! 🙂

      It sounds as though you have a special relationship with your helper, so make sure you hang on to her – she could be one of those ones who stick with you for the long haul!!

  4. Thank you, Melissa, for the great article on outsourcing. As a virtual assistant, I work with a variety of clients providing administrative solutions to help them succeed in their business. I work on a retainer basis which requires payment one month in advance for a set amount of hours. The biggest problem I have encountered is the client not providing enough work to cover the hours they have contracted for.

    Having standard operating procedures and a project management tool are great solutions for keeping organized and knowing what can be outsourced. Accountability is also essential.

    • Thanks for sharing your thoughts Margie!

      Clients not using their hours can be completely avoided if they create a plan that includes regular monthly tasks, instead of them just winging it.

      One thing you could do as a VA, is to actually create an example of how clients can use their 10 hours, showing them what things you can do for them on an on-going monthly basis because knowing what to outsource is one of the biggest struggles business owners have. Go look at their website, go to their Facebook page and twitter and learn about your client, because then you can better cater to their needs. If they still have 5 hours and the month is fast coming to a close, tell them what you can do for them to help grow their business, don’t just sit there and let their hours expire without doing any work for them.

      By being able to help your clients create a plan and tasks that you can do every month, you’ll be able to hang onto those clients a lot longer. When someone realizes they aren’t using 10 hours in a month, and they can’t think of anything to give to their VA, that’s when they starting thinking that maybe they don’t need one, and then they leave – which means, fewer clients for you.

      Anyway, just a thought 🙂

  5. This is so important and is a priority for me. I must say that I’m familiar with outsourcing writing, but I need to start working on outsourcing tedious tasks. These are real time thieves. I think I procrastinate because I need to document the process. That’s it! I need a VA to document processes then find someone to do those tasks. I’m open to referrals.

  6. This post and all the extra comments and details have been hugely helpful. I know that I need to start outsourcing. Up until this point, I’ve been only out-tasking! I know that this is the key to growing my business, so that my business allows me to have a life rather than controlling it!

    What I wonder is if there is a way to track how much time a VA is actually using to do tasks? For example, if I hire someone and prepay for 10 hours of time, how do I know how much VA #1 can do (and do it well) in those 10 hours compared to VA #2? In other words, I want to pay for someone who can do things efficiently, be organized, and get as much done during those 10 hours of time. Hope that makes sense!

  7. Aome great advice in the post and in the comments – thank you. As it’s been mentioned I don’t quite know what to outsource and part of that is because I don’t know what I’m selling! 2013 is the year I work that out.

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