You can't do everything
If you spend more than 40% of your time with operational tasks,
you are not a Business Owner, you are self-employed.
When a Business starts it is common for the owner to bear the heavy load of operational tasks, but one thing you need to tune your mindset on is the absolute need to speed up the creation of passive forms of income.
Now, this doesn’t mean to stop working, but to focus on added value activities while leaving all the non-core activities that although necessary do not generate new revenue to be performed by a third party.
You can then either hire someone, with all the constraints that it bears or Outsource with all the inherent flexibility.
Where to begin
First you need to analyze which are the tasks that you need to be done, which both require high specific expertise and are time consuming (like accounting, code development, design, other) as well as the ones that are very simple to do, yet repetitive and boring (like mailing lists creation or going through your mailbox to assess what is relevant and what is not, or client reporting, other).
With regards to the first group of tasks (the ones requiring high expertise), while you are most certainly capable of learning and ending up performing them, you basically won’t have any time left to work on anything else; the concerning the second group you can most certainly find someone who’s work time costs much less than your own time and easily train them to accomplish the required outcome.
In both cases, it is more than likely that those Outsourcing partners will excel at those tasks which are something that if you had to cover the entire landscape, you could never achieve.
But how far can I go?
The sky is the limit, … really.
Some Business Owners will say, I can Outsource things like meeting scheduling, email management, bookkeeping, software development and bug fixing, call center, but I will never Outsource business strategy or sales. I must be the one to define where the company goes and to establish rapport with my clients.
This is perfectly understandable, the Business Owner wants to “steer the boat” and manage the client relationship, while everything else, although relevant for the Business to Operate, can be performed by 3rd party entities.
Nevertheless, this is not a “golden rule”. As much as we may know about the Market Vertical where we stand as well as those we target plus our Business Operational Context, we just do not have the time to know everything from trends to innovative ways of doing things in more efficient ways. So, maybe it wouldn’t be such a bad idea to resort to some market expertise when defining our strategic cycles.
Client wise, although it is most certainly relevant to know some key clients and establish rapport with them (after all we are all humans and business relationships are also human and emotional relationships), the fact of the matter is that there is a limit to a number of people that we can connect with in a supportive and meaningful way. So, why not to leverage growth through sales reps who can leverage their already established rapport with a given client base towards your business? (please check the article titled “Outsourcing Sales - Get a Rainmaker”)
Just bear in mind that although it is not a good idea to go full outsourcing after you have an idea for a new Business, the sooner you go for it the easier it will be to set it in motion. If you have been doing all of the previously mentioned tasks, having reached the point where you are overwhelmed with work, this means you won’t even have the time to write down what needs to be done so someone else may pick up where you are.
I would advise you to hire a Virtual Assistant the moment you start getting steady revenue, not necessarily from steady clients, but after three months with an average steady revenue stream. That means you have a Business momentum, so the probable thing to happen is that additional revenue will pour in, so it’s time to Outsource low-value tasks and focus on assuring revenue growth.
Now the relevant question; How to proceed?
Begin by documenting your operation
First, you need to document your work processes in a simple and intuitive manner that may be easily conveyed to another person. This is a mandatory time investment which will make the onboarding process of “new blood” so much easier than spending countless hours on Skype visually explaining how to and “debugging” how not to perform the tasks.
Write a bullet point based document with a short introduction and record a short video.
Remember, perfection is the enemy of effectiveness, do not wait until you master the task, just wait for enough until you know clearly WHAT, WHEN and HOW it needs to take place.
(a great book to read about this topic is “Work the System”, by Sam Carpenter – audiobook link)
Lay the foundations
Now if you are going to Outsource your mindset needs to shift towards a context where you will have remote collaborators (either in your geography or off-shore), and that requires appropriate tools that allow proper communication and information/ documents sharing as well as work planning and tracking.
Here are some of the tools you may resort to in order to establish a remote working environment, being all of the Cloud based support tools with free of cost versions (depending on your size and needs):
- Google Docs – collaborative way of sharing worksheets or text documents and presentations
- Google Drive – common “file server” alike document sharing space
- Gmail – Cloud based email service
- Trello or Asana – allow sharing ideas, tasks and tracking work evolution
In most cases the place to begin is to hire a Virtual Assistant, meaning someone who will “incorporate” all that is relevant for your business to run and perform a set of repetitive or low value adding support tasks.
And then you need to have prioritized which are the tasks that impact the most your business yet need to be Outsourced and proceed accordingly.
Now hiring, either within an Outsourcing context or a direct employment one, is not easy and it may lead to very disappointing experiences. But you need to start by understanding that it is normal that, despite your best effort, sometimes you won’t find the best fit profile on your first hire or even the second.
What you can and should do is make sure that within your hiring process you have some steps and milestones that ensure the error rate to drop to the minimum possible, and here are some hints on how to accomplish that:
- Write down your job post, review it and let it “cool” down for a couple of days. Then read it once more, fine tune what makes sense and publish it.
Your job post needs to be clear and unambiguously assertive while conveying WHAT is the scope of required service; HOW is it expected to be performed; WHEN are the deliverables to be; WHICH are the support tools.
Somewhere along the text include an “out of context” sentence or word with the instruction that applicants must replicate it (let’s say) at the beginning of their application letter, so you know who read the description and who did not.
Give specific instruction on how to apply, like 1st your background, followed by the reason why you think you are the best fit and then relevant work show cases. The ones who do not follow the instructions to the letter should immediately be ruled out; remember you will work remotely with these people and if they are not able to follow a simple instruction like how to apply to the job post, there is a good chance they won’t be able to follow the established workflow.
- Always assign a test task, to begin with, and make clear that it is a test (although a paid one) and not the contract towards what is the target of the job post.
So, if you are hiring a VA, your job post should clearly define what is expected of the person who will be hired, the job will be paid at the rate or overall value of “X” and then explain that there is an initial test which comprehends doing “Y” within a certain number of days and it will be paid for with the amount of “Z”.
- In parallel always put freelancers with good referrals first. You can say, well everyone needs to start somewhere, so if you just hire freelancers with good track records you will end up running out of freelancers. Yes, right, that is why I am not saying just hire people with referrals, but place them first on your pickup list.
- After having created a short list of 5 to 10 best performers, out of the test tasks you have assigned, take the time to meet with each single one of them. Schedule a Skype call and meet the candidates, ask about them, their life, their family, their aspirations, what they think of the job post context; get to know them and let them get to know you.
You need to define very objective criteria to be “ticked” during the conversation like objectiveness, communication, empathy, other … you need to think of both job description and human related key characteristics that matter to you and towards the success of the intended role.
At the end of this, you should get to a Top 3 candidates list.
- Hire the 3 of them for a period of 1 month. Yes, that is the only way to dismiss “false positives” (meaning someone that was able to “trick” you during the selection process) if there are any and making sure you end up getting the absolute best fit towards your need.
Remember, besides being able to accurately perform the required tasks, your collaborator needs to:
- Show excellent communication skills.
- Show proactiveness to constructively criticize the work process by proposing alternatives that may prove to produce better results.
- Accept constructive criticism on a professional basis and adapt accordingly
Last but, not least
Take care of your Team
People will leave, people will get sick, people will show performance levels that are not absolutely constant, … it is normal, but despite being your direct employees or Outsourcing services providers, they are collaborating with you to foster your Business Endeavor and that makes them your collaborators.
People who are happy tend not to leave, so if you support your team they will get better at supporting you and the chance of losing them get slimmer.