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  • Writer's pictureSarah Ingleby

Choosing what to outsource

Updated: Apr 17

There comes a point in every small business where the overwhelm will hit - when you find yourself working evenings and weekends, missing meals, skipping family events, and no matter how long your days are, your to-do list just keeps growing.


We’ve all been there! Some tasks keep getting moved to the bottom of the list until eventually they get forgotten completely and suddenly they become urgent.


That’s when you need to look at outsourcing. Simple, right?


While outsourcing might sound like the answer, the main hurdle for small business owners is trying to determine what tasks can, or should, be outsourced.


So how do you identify what can be outsourced?

First of all make a list of all the jobs you do within your business. That’s everything! From managing the bookkeeping, to speaking to suppliers for quotes; organising MOTs and LOLERs to responding to Facebook posts.


When you have your list, categorise them as follows:


1.    Things only I can do – tasks that rely on your own skills and core competencies; the reason you created your business!


2.    Things I don’t have time to do – low value tasks that you may enjoy and be good at, but that take time away from your core business activities.


3.    Things I hate to do – one business owner’s pet hate is another’s dream job, but if you don’t enjoy a task you will find excuses to put off doing it.


4.    Things I don’t know how to do – this is the easiest one to identify; anything that needs specialist skills, equipment or technology can be expensive to run in-house, and so cheaper to outsource to someone with the expertise or tech.


Once you have categorised your tasks you have already determined that those in List 1 will be the jobs that you or your team will continue to do, and List 4 will be the tasks that are probably already outsourced or subcontracted.


That means everything in Lists 2 and 3 are potentially tasks that could be outsourced.


The next step is to look at each task in those two lists, and ask yourself how much time each one takes to complete (not including procrastination time!) This will show you how much time you could be saving to focus on other business areas, or to allow you to take some time off.


There are two golden rules:


Don’t outsource your core competencies.

These are those tasks that are vital to your business, the things you do best and are the main focus of your brand. Outsourcing prevents you from developing staff and growing a talented team of experts in-house, which should be your aim if you want to grow your business.


Don’t outsource problems.

Every business runs into problems along the way, whether it’s a technology blip or a marketing campaign that isn’t working. It might be tempting to outsource but having a third party blindly take over can create a reliance on contractors or external agencies. It means that your team won’t be pushed to solve challenges in the future and might lack an understanding of how elements of your business or product work.

So you’ve got your list, decided what you can outsource and how much time you could save, so how do you actually outsource? What do you need to consider?

Costs vs Benefits

When you are looking for a freelancer or an agency to help you out, there is a whole world of opportunities. It might be tempting to look for the cheapest option, but be reminded that you generally get what you pay for.

If you are after a Social Media Manager look at their portfolio. What software or systems do they use? Do the posts look professional? Can they work with your branding?

If you are outsourcing any bookkeeping work make sure your freelancer has suitable qualifications or experience, holds relevant insurances such as Professional Indemnity, and is registered under Anti Money Laundering regulations either through HMRC or their certifying body, for example ICB (The Institute of Certified Bookkeepers) of AAT (Association of Accounting Technicians).

Check what other services are offered! Many virtual assistants have a range of skills, and may be able to take on multiple tasks from your outsource list. Take me, for example (heads up – going to blow my own trumpet here!!) My experience stems from supporting numerous small businesses in a variety of industries so I can manage your bookkeeping and VAT returns, help prepare you for ISO audits, or deal with all your administration tasks, all under one contract. (See my Services page for more information 😉)

Get a quote – make sure it includes what is (and isn’t) included for the price, the costs for any extras, and any timescales and deadlines. As with any works being outsourced, it’s recommended to get 2 or 3 quotes to compare.

The Next Step

So you’ve found the right agency or freelancer, you’re happy with the quote and the T&Cs, and had a chat about the start date and access to your systems – what next?

DO – keep in regular contact. Arrange a weekly/bi-weekly/monthly catch-up

DO – review the work to make sure it fits with what you expect

DO – pay your invoices on time. That one should be a given I know, but if you are outsourcing to an individual freelancer or a small business, cashflow relies on timely payments.

DON’T – leave a freelancer to just get on with it. We know you are busy but we need your input, will often need your sign-off, and if you don’t respond to a query it could mean the difference between a piece of work being completed on time or not.

DON’T – ask “can you just…?” Scope creep is a thing – we’ve been contracted to do a certain task and suddenly you’ve found another small job that would be easier to pass over. Unless your contract allows for ad-hoc tasks and has those built into the price, those little jobs simply eat into the time you’re paying for, reducing the available time for the main focus of the contract.

DO – make the most of all that time you’ve freed up; when did you last take a holiday ? 😁

See also:

Freelancing: the ups and downs

How hiring a virtual assistant can benefit your business

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