Category Archives for Productivity

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 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.

Should you outsource your lunch?

You won’t often hear a financial coach advising you to spend more money. There are some instances, though, where splashing the cash is the answer. For me, it’s for anything that saves time.

Of course, it’s important to keep a careful eye on money, but our time is even more valuable. Although it might not feel like it, money is a renewable resource – if we lose some, we can usually find a way of getting it back again. Time, conversely, is absolutely finite.

Consult any guide on saving money and it’ll undoubtedly recommend taking a packed lunch to work. I’ve tried this myself, with the following results:

  • I spent extra time buying groceries for the office – and I really hate shopping
  • Being greedy, I found it very hard to generate leftovers from dinner. I also didn’t want to lug a sweaty lasagne to client meetings or workshops
  • If I did organise myself to bring a cheese sandwich, I’d eat it by 11am. Then I’d buy a second lunch later in the afternoon.

A significant chunk of my headspace was occupied with lunchtime logistics. I’ve now accepted the need to outsource my lunch. This saves me valuable time, I enjoy a wider range of food, and it makes me get off my bottom and go outside.

Admittedly, I’m in a fortunate position of having the money to spend on lunch. Even if you’re on a tighter budget, buying your lunch once a week might free up a block of time and provide a well-deserved treat.

Maybe lunch isn’t a problem. Are there other areas where you could invest some money and receive a time dividend? Getting a cab? Having groceries delivered? Hiring a freelancer?

If you want more money, first you need to carefully consider how you spend your time.