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Productivity / Outsourcing

Confession: I’ve been living a solo lie

We all know outsourcing is a clever way to help you focus on what you do best. But is building a virtual team really the answer? Or might it be better to go it truly alone?

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Okay, I’m coming clean.

I’ve been masquerading as a soloist for the past three years.

That was when I took on my first Virtual Assistant and since then, my team has been growing faster than Donald Trump’s ego. I haven’t actually worked alone for ages because I outsourced virtually everything.

But seven days ago I decided to go back to a staff of one – little old me. And in this post I want to explain why.

"Every fluff up needs to be owned by yours truly. This means I have to double-check every piece of work."

It all started with a phone call.

My Virtual Assistant rang to tell me she’d found a full-time job. And while I congratulated her, I was actually choking back tears of sadness and panic.

And then it got worse.

My other Virtual Assistant (yes, I had two) also got a full-time job. And then my designer announced she was off on extended holidays.

Oh, and did I mention my cleaner resigned?

All of a sudden my Downton Abbeyesque team of helpers was down to a skeleton staff.

And I was completely reliant on these people. It’s been ages since I’ve coded a blog post or tweeted a tweet.

How was I going to cope? How could I possibly keep all the plates spinning? What about all the shiny new projects in the pipeline?

#PANIC

And then I stopped, took a breath, and did that thing we’re supposed to do. I turned a negative into a positive, and decided to make my lack of help a learning experience.

So I took a break from having help and used the time to really evaluate whether having a team was working for me. And while it’s only been a week, I’ve already discovered a lot.

Please note: Some (in fact most) of the points below may seem face-slappingly obvious to you. But for me they came as somewhat of a revelation.

1. Having a virtual team takes more time

Even the best Virtual Assistant is only as good as your briefing.

I used Basecamp to outline my tasks, trying to make them as detailed as possible. But often my instructions were confusing, like this one:

“Can you add that thing to the site where the other thing we did was last week?”

My VA got pretty good at interpreting my Toonspeak. But even she got lost sometimes.

And of course, in the time it takes to explain what needs doing I can often easily do it myself.

LESSON: For me, VAs are better for repetitive tasks. And you need to invest serious time training them before you can leave them to it.

2. Having a virtual team makes me rush

Anyone who knows me knows I always have some new scheme in development. A fresh idea. A sparkly plan. And with a team to help me I can put these into action very quickly.

I know I have retainer hours each month to fill, so I’ll often start them working on a project before I’ve completely thought it through. And then as time goes on it needs more and more tweaks to get it right – all of which I’m paying for.

LESSON: Just because you can do something straight away doesn’t mean you should do something straight away. Slow down and plan.

3. Having a virtual team can mean more work

Although my virtual team are super autonomous, they aren’t me.

It’s my name on the business cards, and every fluff up needs to be owned by yours truly. (I don’t play the blame game.) This means I have to double-check every piece of work.

This eats up a huge amount of time. And if you have a team member working for you at a set time each week, you need to be available whenever they have a question or it will be another week before you can fix it.

LESSON: Just because you have help doesn’t mean you can let go completely.

4. Having a virtual team is expensive

Having a virtual team costs money. Obvious, right? But it took me a while to understand that every cent I spent on outsourcing was an extra cent I had to earn.

Now, according to my accountant I had a good year last year. But when I look at my balance sheet all I see is that I spent more last year on my team than I actually earned in my first year of business.

And that makes me uncomfy.

I’m a soloist because I never wanted to have staff. I never wanted to be responsible for paying someone else’s mortgage. But with staff on retainers my wage is paying someone else’s wage. And I don’t like that kind of pressure.

LESSON: It’s important to understand the ROI on getting help, and be clear about whether it’s truly going to improve your profitability. Also, if you’re like me and don’t like the pressure of regular payments, stick with ad hoc relationship with your virtual team rather than set hours.

Now don’t get me wrong …

I’m still a huge advocate for outsourcing work. It’s just not the quick and easy fix I originally thought it was.

Since going back to being truly solo I’ve learned to slow down, take more time, and focus on tasks one by one.

Yes, I have fewer plates spinning. And yes, it will take me longer to launch my new ‘thing’. But I’m also less stressed, less busy, and not shelling out piles of moolah left, right and centre each month.

I know you need to spend money to earn money. I know outsourcing lets you focus on doing what you do best. But when I do seek out a new Virtual Assistant, I’ll be much clearer about how to get the best from them and really make it work for my solo business.

Over to you

Do you use virtual staff? How have you found the experience?

Kate Toon

is a copywriter, SEO lover and Hula Hooper based in Sydney. She’s the author of Confessions of a Misfit Entrepreneur | How to succeed in business despite yourself. Connect with her on Google+, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

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