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What You Need To (And How To) Outsource Today: Avoiding the “I Can Do That” Trap

[Kyle: This is a guest post from a Gina Smith. She’s going to show you maybe the most effective productivity hack out there: hire more hands.]

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The words, “I can do that”, can be like nails on a chalkboard when they are spoken by a small business owner or entrepreneur.  One of the most common mistakes made when opening a business is trying to wear too many hats. 

As a small business consultant, I come across aspiring entrepreneurs in all types and stages of business.  Most have gone into business for themselves because they have a certain skill, talent or aspiration.  It always baffles me when a business owner has invested in an impressive office or workshop space and hired employees to produce and deliver their product and/or services but then chooses to handle their own marketing, information technology, tax filings, etc.  Really?  And, the kicker is in 99% of the cases, the business owner has no prior experience in any of these areas.

Have you ever heard of the saying, “it is better to do a few thing well than many things lousy?”  When a business owner is also the hiring, marketing, fulfillment, tax and IT manager, problems will inevitably arise.  While it may not be necessary to hire full time employees to handle certain functions, you can consider outsourcing these tasks to an experienced and reliable individual or company.

The word “outsource” sometimes carries a negative stigma due to its depiction in popular culture.  In reality, some of the most talented individuals can be acquired through outsourcing.  Hiring contract workers as opposed to full time employees has many benefits.  First, you only pay for time used.  Second, outsourced talent can take an objective look at your company from the outside and make recommendations that you, as an insider, may not have considered.  Third, the outsourced company, or individual, you hire is generally a specialist in their field.

In the past, primarily large corporations practiced outsourcing.  Today, small business owners have discovered its many benefits.  Let’s take a look at some popular jobs for small companies to outsource:

Information Technology (IT)

Overview

Hiring an outside company or professional to set-up and manage your IT needs can save you time and money.  There are many providers who specialize in providing outsourced IT services, from network and software installations to cloud back-up and cybersecurity.  Ask yourself these questions: 1) Do you have hours to troubleshoot a network issue on your own?   2) Do you have the experience to combat a virus or network security issue?  3) Can you afford to lose all of your company data?  If you answered “no” to any one of these, then you will likely benefit from hiring an IT consultant.

 Preparation

Whether you are a sole proprietor or a small corporation with employees, having a good IT firm or consultant is imperative.  Case in point – when I started my business in 2006, I used a single laptop. I became nervous because this single laptop was storing a lot of proprietary information for many clients.  I vetted and hired an IT consultant who set me up with a backup device and a small server. Boy, was I ever so thankful I did this when my laptop crashed a few months later. And, because I had the server, I was able to restore data to my new laptop in minutes.  The time and headaches this saved me was so worth the small investment I made in hiring an IT consultant!  I recommend every business have an IT evaluation by a qualified consultant at least once a year.

As you prepare to screen and hire an outside firm or consultant, you will want to have the following information on hand:

  1. Your Internet service provider contact info
  2. A list of the number and types of computers/devices needed (i.e. three desktops, four laptops, seven tablets, etc.)
  3. Preferred platform (i.e. Mac, Windows 8, etc.)
  4. The type of information you will need to backup on a regular basis (i.e. databases, photographs, e-mail, documents, etc.)
  5. They type of software you will need and on which devices (i.e. Microsoft Office on all desktops and laptops, Photoshop on one desktop, etc.)
  6. Any other industry-specific information that is important for your IT consultant to know.

Screening & Hiring

The first step is to research service providers.  You will ultimately need to determine whether you are more comfortable using a qualified consultant, or, hiring a firm.  I would highly recommend interviewing both types of providers so you can fully understand the potential of each.  The next step is interviewing.  This should be done face to face since you will likely be having a lot of “face” time with your IT provider.  You also need to prepare a list of questions prior to your meeting.  Some possible interview questions include:

  1. How long have you been in business?
  2. What types of warranty/maintenance agreements do you offer?
  3. What security protocols do you take to ensure my network and data are protected?
  4. Do you off cloud storage options?
  5. What do you feel gives your business a competitive edge over others?
  6. What other types of small businesses do you work with?
  7. If I have a problem, what is the average response time?
  8. Do you have any references?

Once you interview each candidate, it will be easier to narrow down your list. If you are not comfortable with any of the candidates, do not be afraid to start the process over. If you can narrow your selections down to three providers, that would be ideal.  Once this is complete, ask each one to provide you with proposals.  Once you have had time to review the proposals, take some time to ask any final questions you may have for each candidate.  The last step is conducting reference checks and accepting a proposal.

 

 Marketing/Public Relations

Overview

Hiring a professional or firm with a proven track record in marketing and public relations can prove to be very beneficial.  As trends continue to change and consumer confidence fluctuates, retaining professionals to handle all of your marketing from strategic plans and media buying to ad design, website development, public relations and social media can be essential to your success.

 Preparation

One of the biggest mistakes a start-up can make is not having a marketing plan ready to execute either before or shortly after opening.  You marketing plan is the engine that drives your business.  You may have a fancy office, upscale equipment and the best staff in the world, but if no one knows about your business, you will struggle to find customers.

You may choose to hire either an outside firm or consultant. In many cases, your provider does not have to be located in your local area, and most marketing services a small business needs can be handled remotely.   Before you conduct interviews with candidates, be sure to have the following information ready:

  1. Business plan summary
  2. Complete list of products and services
  3. Company mission and vision
  4. Long term and short term goals
  5. Samples of any marketing collateral, ads, press releases you have used in the past (if applicable)
  6. List of major competitors
  7. Your company’s unique sustainable difference (what makes you and your products/services different from your competitors)
  8. Any other industry-specific information that is important for your marketing consultant(s) to know.

Screening & Hiring

As is the case with all potential contractors, the first step is to research service providers and determine whether you are more comfortable using a qualified consultant, or, hiring a full-service firm. Marketing professionals are generally very busy and have many irons in the fire.  The better prepared you are for the meeting, the more confortable it will be for you both.  Some possible interview questions include:

  1. How long have you been in business?
  2. What other small businesses do you work with?
  3. If I sign a contract with you (or your firm), is there a chance you will also represent any of my direct competitors while our contract is active?
  4. May I see some samples of your work?
  5. What do you feel gives your business a competitive edge over other providers?
  6. Do you have any references?

Once you’ve conducted your interviews, follow the same process of narrowing down your list, requesting proposals, conducting reference checks and reviewing their portfolios to determine which candidate is best suited for you.

Fulfillment

While having the owner of the company check in on fulfillment from time to time is fine, it is not necessarily a good idea for he or she to actually manage the process.  Fulfillment can make or break the customer experience.  Outsourcing a company that specializes in this area can help ensure your product reaches the customer in excellent condition and when promised.

Preparation

You should be noticing a pattern beginning to develop with these processes.  For the most part, you will take the same preparation approach but tailor the questions toward the type of position you are outsourcing.  When it comes to fulfillment, finding a company with experience and an exemplary track record is essential.  Some items to have ready before interviewing a company include:

  1. Exact items you want to ship
  2. Areas/regions of the world/U.S you serve
  3. Packing requirements
  4. Expected turnaround time
  5. Estimated quantity shipped per day

Screening & Hiring

Follow the same steps as recommended for IT and Marketing providers, but ask questions targeted more toward fulfillment.  Some you might consider include:

  1. How long have you been in business?
  2. What other types of small businesses do you work with?
  3. What is your average customer satisfaction rate?
  4. What do you feel gives your business a competitive edge over others?
  5. How many people will be assigned to my job?
  6. Will the people assigned to my job be working on it exclusively or will they have orders to fill for other companies?
  7. Do you perform background checks on the employees you will assign to my job?
  8. Do you have any references?

Once you’ve conducted your interviews, follow the same process as discussed earlier in this article to determine which company is best for you.

Tax Preparation

There are hundreds of tax law changes every year.  A Certified Public Accountant (CPA) makes it his or her job to keep up with tax law and ensure their clients are in compliance.  There are many qualified individuals and companies who specialize in small business tax preparation. Not only will a CPA prepare your taxes, but most will also represent you during an audit. It’s simply just not worth it for you, as a business owner, to take on this headache yourself.  We will go into some specifics, but feel free to also read this excellent article in Inc. from January 2011.  Although it may be a few years old, it is still one of the best ones for breaking down what to look for in a small business tax preparation firm.

Preparation

As you prepare to interview candidates, follow the same steps as outlined earlier and have these items ready for each candidate:

  1. Type of business (i.e. sole proprietor, LLC, etc.)
  2. Estimated annual income, payables and receivables
  3. Bookkeeping software you currently use
  4. Number of full time and part time employees

Screening & Hiring

Once again, the same screening and hiring steps apply. Some questions to consider asking candidates include:

  1. How long have you been in business?
  2. What other types of small businesses do you work with?
  3. How often will you need me to provide you with reports?
  4. Will you estimate, prepare and send payment for all taxes on my behalf?
  5. Will you prepare my W-2s and 1099s?
  6. What is your deadline for me to have everything to you each year to avoid having to file an extension?

Once you’ve conducted your interview, you are ready to follow the process to determine which company is right for you.

When you receive proposals from your candidates, examine them closely to ensure you are comparing “apples to apples”.  If there is a service listed that you do not understand, do not be afraid to ask for more detail. And, if one provider is recommending something another isn’t, question this as well.  Finally, keep in mind the cheapest may not always be the best.

Now What?

Pick one thing to outsource for a month. Then use the steps above. You’ll be amazed at the difference it makes.

We read and reply to every one!
  • Thanks for the article! This was definately needed as I was looking into hiring a social media manager. I use Fiverr, (yeah, budget, I know), and the sales process is much faster. So I actually don’t have such a long screening process.

    The thing with Fiverr is, with the services being so cheap, the first time I ask them to complete a job, it is like screening them as to whether they can do this first job right. If yes, then move on to getting them for bigger projects.

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