I asked the ladies on my Facebook page this week what their biggest business struggle was - as you can imagine I got a whole raft of replies (which gave me some ideas for some fabulous blog posts) and one lady said:
"Claire - my biggest challenge is learning to trust others so I can confidently outsource to free up my time to build the business."
And I know that you're probably feeling the same. Outsourcing seems like a HUGE deal - and it is. We've all heard horror stories of outsourcing disasters but do you know what? I could not have built my business to this level without outsourcing.
And it's our BABY...
We've created this business from scratch. We've put blood, sweat and tears into it (usually LOTS of tears). We know everything about it and we are worried about giving any of it away. Because that's how it feels.
We feel that if we give away some jobs then:
- We'll give away our power
- We're paying for something we could do ourselves
- No-one else can do it as well as we can
I know this because I had these thoughts too. I can do everything - EVERYTHING in my business. There is not one job I couldn't do if I set my mind to it. But it doesn't mean it's the best use of my time.
If I'd stayed doing everything myself, I'd be stuck on £2k per month instead of heading for £200k this year. It's a BIGGIE.
I simply don't have enough hours in the day to do everything I need to do to grow my business. I want to be able to collect Chloe from school and have a life.
Plus, there are some things I'm really bad at. I'm not a detail person at all so anything that needs patience and fine tuning is a recipe for disaster in Claire World. I get bored really easily, too. I'm pretty good on techie stuff but I could waste hours doing stuff that anyone with a techie brain could do for me.
So I made the decision fairly early on in my business to reinvest my meagre earnings into my business and found myself a virtual assistant (or VA). I could only afford her for a couple of hours a month but you would not BELIEVE how much stuff she got done in those 2 hours.
She freed up my time - I freed up far more than the 2 hours I'd paid for. I handed over web update stuff, social media stuff, accounts spreadsheets and blog uploads for starters. She whizzed through it like a knife through butter.
All of a sudden, all those crappy jobs that had been on my to-do list forever were gone. And not only did this free up hours of time, it also freed up space in my brain because I'd been suffering from guilt nagging. You know, when you have a job that needs doing but you'll do anything to avoid doing it so it nags at you while you're trying to do other things? I didn't have that any more. Wooohoooo!
And in those hours I'd freed up, and with the mental space I'd freed up, I got down to doing what I'm really good at. Creating content for my programmes. Recording webinars, writing blogs, that kind of thing. I love it! I could do it all day. And because I was doing what I love, it flowed. I got LOADS done. I got programmes written in record time, which meant that I could sell them, which meant I was bringing in money - money that meant I could buy more time with my VA. My VA was costing me £20 per hour and I could write stuff that would bring in 10 times that amount.
These days it's a no brainer for me. I outsource my website stuff, my day to day business administration, my techie content stuff, social media and anything else that I don't fancy doing. I spend a lot on outsourcing every month but it's an important investment and I can afford it easily - because I'm using the time I free up to make more money in my business.
And while we're on the subject of outsourcing, I have a cleaner for 3 hours each week, a gardener and I'll be getting an ironing lady when I find one locally.
Now, it's not all sweetness and light. Choosing someone to outsource to can be tricky. You are very attached to your business and so you want to hand over your baby to someone who thinks like you, who appreciates how wonderful your business is and who 'gets' it. Easier said than done.
Here are my 5 best tips to ensure that you find the right person and outsource happily ever after
1. Work Out What You Can Outsource
Look at how you're spending your time. I mean REALLY look at it. Spend a couple of days seeing where your time goes. You might be really surprised. Be honest with yourself about how much time you're spending on social media, on searching for images, on trying to twiddle your e-newsletter design. Get really clear on what is taking up your time and then work out which of them can ONLY be done by you. Then see how much time the rest is taking. This is the best place to start with outsourcing - tackle the biggest time drains first and find someone to do them for you.
2. Be Clear On Who You Need
There are millions of VAs out there and they have many different specialities. Some are brilliant at social media. Others are techie VAs. Some are fab at event management. Some are diary management divas and some are good, all round general admin support VAs. So be really clear on which one you need and want. You might need a combination of various outsourcing partners - a VA plus a web person maybe. Don't just go for the first VA who catches your eye - take a look around. Remember they are virtual - ie they can be anywhere in the world. The only consideration to bear in mind is time zones - ideally you need someone who is in the same timezone so that it's easy to communicate and you're not always waiting 8 hours for a reply. And check them out. Interview them as you would any other sort of assistant. Get testimonials. Ask them if you can speak to current clients. The right VA will understand why you need to do this - you're in it for the long haul and you want to find the right person for you and your business.
3. Manage Expectations At The Beginning
When you first start working with someone it's a bit like dating. You're both really nice to each other, you're just happy to have found someone to work with who gets you and you don't want to go into any icky topics that might make you feel both uncomfortable. The thing is, if you don't set the boundaries and manage expectations before you start working together, you might find yourself having to have very uncomfortable discussions further down the line. My advice is to set out exactly what you expect to have done, by when, how you'd like it done and whether they need to check with you before sending/doing something. Be really really clear on how you like to work. And ask them to do the same. Iron out the glitches and wrinkles before you start working together. You don't want to jump in with both feet just to find that your lovely VA takes 6 weeks off in the summer for the school holidays, but you don't have kids and business goes on. There's nothing wrong with your VA doing this, as long as you both know where you stand. This is a professional relationship so treat it that way and you'll not leave yourself open to tears down the line.
4. Have A Trial
A great way to start outsourcing is to put a trial in place - say 6 weeks or 3 months. This will give you enough time to get to know whether the relationship is working for you - it's enough time to get over any teething issues and for your VA to get to know your business. If you're both clear at the outset that you'll have a trial period then there are no hard feelings if one of you decides it's not working.
5. Communicate and Feed Back Regularly
Every relationship works best if there is regular communication and feedback. If something is bothering you about the work you've outsourced, or the way it's being done then SAY SOMETHING! I know so many women who suffer in silence - both VAs and clients, who are trying to muddle through when they are clearly a bad fit for each other. The trouble with us women is that we don't like 'being horrible' and so we'd rather grit our teeth and put up with it. STOP IT! Broach the subject as soon as you feel it's not going how you expected. Tackle it immediately. Nip it in the bud. This will avoid much heartache, soul searching, guilt and MONEY later on. Your VA is not a mind reader - she will be doing her best based on what she thinks you need and she NEEDS your feedback. I promise she'll like that much better than you going distant on her and then dropping her for no apparent reason.
So, lovely lady. I've been outsourcing for 18 months now and I've had my ups and downs but generally it's the best thing that's happened to my business. I love the work I do - I don't have to do anything I'm not good at and I've built up a dream team of web, admin, PR and social media geniuses who make my business run like clockwork.
It might feel like you're giving your baby away but in business terms it can't grow up and get bigger if you don't put the right support in place.
If in doubt, give it a try and just bear in mind my 5 tips - good luck!