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Productivity / Outsourcing

An introduction to outsourcing work

One of the biggest challenges small business owners face is the need to wear all the hats. And the smaller the business, the more aspects of it you need to look after yourself. It may be time to consider outsourcing work.

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Many of us originally go into business because we have a passion and skill for a certain service or product. However, those skills may not include the operational, marketing or financial ends of the business.

Every small business has some essential but non-core business activities that eat into time that could better be spent servicing existing customers or developing new ones.

In the past, soloists were limited to two choices: either wear every hat and fill every role to the best of your ability (at the same time hoping you find time to seek new clients and service existing ones), or hire employees to fill those roles so you can focus on growing your business. Of course, employees themselves can keep you from the business of doing business – they come with personality issues, learning curves and training difficulties, and, once hired, are a fixed expense whether you need them or not.

No wonder so many small businesses are outsourcing work to temporary staff, virtual professionals and consultants – the benefits are clear.

Audit your time

If you haven’t already done so, spend a week logging where the hours in your day go. How much time do you spend on tasks that are essential, but don’t generate profit? Add up all the time you devote to doing paperwork, answering the phone, dealing with customer enquiries, delivering stock, and queuing at the bank or post office.

"Every small business has some essential but non-core business activities that eat into time that could better be spent servicing existing customers or developing new ones."

Compare this tally with the number of hours devoted to your core business activities, and ask yourself whether you could improve this ratio. Chances are you’ll find that at least some of the tasks you’re spending your time on could just as easily be handled by someone else.

Want more articles like this? Check out the outsourcing section.

Tips for new players

Outsourcing a job or service can take a big load off your plate, but don’t just pay your money and take your chances. Here are a few suggestions to help you make outsourcing work run smoothly from the start:

  • Get the right person for the job: Don’t assume that one person can handle all the tasks you need to delegate. You may be better off using a handful of specialists on an as-needs basis. Having trouble finding those people? Outsource that task to someone who specialises in connecting business owners and consultants.
  • Monitor: Any work you outsource must be carefully monitored to ensure you’re actually getting what you’re paying for. In real estate the mantra may be location, location, location, but in outsourcing it’s communication, communication, communication!
  • Protect yourself: Make sure that you have appropriate protection against theft, fraud or any other damage that could affect your business as a result of the actions of a consultant.
  • Be clear about ownership: Consider the issues of intellectual property and ownership, and make sure you’re the one keeping hold of your product. This can be a particular issue with designers. Who owns the property they create on your behalf? Don’t make assumptions, write the details down in your contract or agreement.
  • Insist on confidentiality: If you’re asking your consultant to deal with confidential material draw up a tight non-disclosure agreement.

Please share your ideas for making outsourcing work below. We’re keen to have input from both clients and suppliers, so don’t be shy!

Patrina Kerr

is co-founder of Consulting WorX, an online services marketplace that provides a platform for businesses to connect with freelance consultants for business projects.

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