Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should – the importance of outsourcing

I’m a financial coach and also a part-time martyr. There’s so much to do when running a business – email, marketing, web development, social media – and until recently I thought I had to do all of it myself. Some of these activities I actually enjoy, and some I’m reasonably good at; others, though, take ages and make me unhappy. Finally recognising my limits has given me a lot more headspace to work on the important stuff.

In this post, I’ll champion the importance of outsourcing and give you some ideas for freeing up your time. I’ll also share a great tip for finding the best freelancers.

Online Marketplaces

Although the internet has destroyed our attention span and made us all angry, it’s also now much easier to hire experts. Websites such as Fiverr, TaskRabbit, Upwork, and Peopleperhour offer a pool of freelancers around the world who can complete our least favourite tasks in a fraction of the time.

It’s important to acknowledge some ethical issues here. Some sites require freelancers to compete for jobs by doing spec work. The client potentially receives dozens of designs, then chooses the best. Those who are rejected receive no payment. While this is theoretically good for the client, it’s bound to impact upon quality. And, of course, it feels exploitative to many of us.

Here’s a better way of finding the best freelancers. In his book 80/20 Sales and Marketing, Perry Marshall suggests giving the same project to multiple freelancers. Pick something small and cheap – say, a social media image – and see what you get. This gives you the opportunity to assess speed and quality without spending too much money. You pick the winner and everyone gets paid. Then you know who to trust with a bigger project.

You don’t necessarily need to look online, either. There could be top people in your local area. I use a company called Stoats and Weasels for all my design work. Although I know how to use Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator, the results often look as though I was using the mouse with my nose.

What else could you outsource?

You’re probably already outsourcing some obvious activities, such as bookkeeping or completing your company accounts. What else could you outsource?

  • Creating spreadsheets (especially if they contain complicated formulas)
  • SEO (Search Engine Optimisation on your blog content)
  • Website maintenance (updating WordPress plugins, running backups)
  • Transcription (podcasts, interviews, meetings)
  • Routine data entry

If you’re regularly outsourcing the same tasks, it might be worth finding a virtual assistant. Some just cover basic admin tasks, but others specialise in more technical areas.

Paying someone else for stuff you could do yourself might feel counterintuitive. It’s particularly tough in the early days of building a business when money is tight. However, by outsourcing those time-consuming tasks, your hourly rate will soar. You’ll also have more energy and focus. You can’t put a price on that.

How tomatoes can help you do your accounts

We all have tasks we avoid doing. For some, it’s writing blog posts, while others struggle with keeping on top of email. Nearly everyone, though, will do anything to avoid accounts.

Sometimes we think that by staring at the screen, the task will magically complete itself. Nope. Surprisingly, tomatoes could be the answer.

The Pomodoro Technique

Devised by Francesco Cirillo, the Pomodoro Technique is designed to improve focus and productivity. Pomodoro is Italian for tomato and refers to those novelty kitchen timers that gather dust in the drawer. Here’s how it works:

  1. Make a list of your tasks
  2. Choose a task to be accomplished
  3. Set a timer for 25 minutes (it doesn’t have to be a tomato)
  4. Work on the task until the timer sounds (don’t do anything else!)
  5. Give yourself a big tick and then take a 5-minute break
  6. Start again, giving yourself a longer break for every 4 pomodoros (or pomodori, for pedants) completed

The science behind the Pomodoro Technique is that our brains get bored after 25 minutes and we lose focus. By breaking down our tasks into these tomato-sized chunks, we can use time much more productively. This only works if you are completely focused on your task. No checking email, making a cup of tea, or talking to the cat.

The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Tomatoes

With practice, you’ll start organising your life around tomatoes: “That’s a one-tomato job.” Setting yourself limits, especially for unattractive tasks, increases momentum. If we’re bored, we get slower and sloooower, which just prolongs the agony.

There are dozens of Pomodoro timers out there and trying them all provides an excellent work-displacement activity. My favourites are mytomatoes.com, a web-based timer, and BrainFocus, an app that works on Android and iOS (it also blocks your internet connection to stop you faffing about on Twitter).

Here are seven ideas for tomato-based activities:

  1. Logging your spending (weekly)
  2. Issuing and chasing invoices (weekly/monthly)
  3. Checking your credit card statement (monthly)
  4. Claiming expenses (monthly)
  5. Completing your tax return (annually)
  6. Anticipating and planning for future expenses (annually)
  7. Researching cheaper alternatives for insurance, utilities, etc (annually)

Establishing regular financial habits reduces stress and also improves your cash flow. And often these tasks take less time than we think – if we use that time intentionally.  You’ll probably never enjoy doing your accounts, but at least they’ll get done a lot quicker.

How to work less and earn more

For some reason, we can’t quite let go of the idea that earning more money is all about working harder. If this were the case, people with multiple physical jobs would be millionaires. Even those of us with less arduous occupations are tempted to push ourselves to the limit. We’re masochists who think sleeping less and labouring longer is the answer. There is a better way.

You’ve probably heard of the Pareto Principle, which states that 80% of results come from 20% of causes. In 1895, economist Vilfredo Pareto discovered that in Italy 80% of the land was owned by 20% of the population. Since then, Pareto’s discovery has been applied in many contexts, most notably business.

While I was aware of the axiom that 80% of business comes from 20% of our clients, I hadn’t applied it with any great rigour. Perry Marshall’s book 80/20 Sales and Marketing completely transformed my thinking by pointing out that the principle is also fractal – that is, you can apply the principle again to that 20%, and again. Here’s an example:

Say you have 100 clients and an annual turnover of £50,000. Just 20 of those clients will be responsible for £40,000 of that income. The other 80 clients are taking up a lot of your time and only generating £10,000 each year between them. Undoubtedly, a few of them are a complete menace, too.

If you now look more closely at those top 20 clients (who you now love even more), you’ll discover the 80/20 principle in action again. Of those 20 people giving you £40,000, there are probably 4 who are paying you £32,000. Even within that tiny group, there could be a star client who’s paying your mortgage.

Once you understand who’s buying most of your products and services, you can better address their needs. They love your work, so they want more opportunities to spend money with you.  Don’t try to please everyone, just those superfans.

In short

  • Some clients take most of your time and don’t spend much money
  • Other clients love what you do and want more of it (they’ll also become evangelists)
  • Focusing your efforts saves time and increases profits

Consider how you could serve the few rather than the many. While working harder is easy to apply, dabbling in fractals yields better results.