Hey there, Dean here. I run content and SEO at AppSumo. Here, I write and share about productivity, leadership, money, psychology, marketing, and more.
Outsource Smart is a book about — like its name — outsourcing. It covers everything from work productivity to how to hire and work with virtual assistants so that we can get our time back. The one thing the author wants us to take away from the book:
Life is not about sacrifice, everything you need is inside of you, and you’re never too old to make changes.
Consider recent technologies intended to speed up productivity and streamline business, such as e-mail, texting, Skype, and social media. Have these platforms truly given us more time away from menial tasks, or have they added to our workload?
The key to successful entrepreneurship is working smarter instead of harder.
Choosing to do what you love isn’t necessarily the same as doing what you’re good at. If you have to choose one or the other, I say go with what you love, because if you love it, you’ll do it often enough to become good at it.
Once you find the right person to outsource your tasks to, the synergy between you will affect your business in positive ways. You’ll be free to work on your business instead of in it, and your success potential can shoot right through the roof.
Take a blank sheet of paper and draw a line down the middle. In the left-hand column, list your “task,” such as responding to email. On the right-hand side, list “income-generating activities” (IGAs), those actions that result in immediate income to your business.
Your desire to work less doesn’t mean you’re lazy.
If you’re wondering how worthiness and hard work became intertwined in the first place, it stems from an old concept called, “the Protestant work ethic,” a belief that hard work and frugality were important qualities of the righteous. It was something people stove for, and when they believed they fell short, it affected their self-image and sense of worthiness. Along with various other antiquated concepts, it’s been handed down through the generations, and a lot of people are subliminally influenced by it.
Human culture rewards self-sacrifice. Suffering is revered. If you’re not paying attention, you’ll get caught up in this mindset. If won’t move you forward. All it will do is create inner conflict as you try to move away from it.
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with your desire to work less, your desire to be rich, or your desire to shift responsibility to someone else.
A common misconception of those in the rat race is that when they’re busy, they’re being productive. Not true. Unless you’re paying close attention to what you’re doing, busyness can keep you from being productive. It all depends on what you’re busy doing.
At its most basic level, it can be seen as creating the most value in the least amount of time. Productivity can be distinguished from busyness in that busyness refers more to the consumption of time by activity.
So you’ve decided to outsource. Where do you begin? Good questions. Start by reviewing your task list. Which would be the easiest tasks to outsource? That’s a great place to start.
It’s important to determine what you’re looking for. What are your goals and objectives? Ask yourself a few questions so you’ll know the best place to begin your search for the best kind of support: 1) What am I looking for in a provider? 2)How will I know when I’ve met the right person(s)? What characteristics are you looking for? Specific skills? 3)How will I evaluate whether I’m on the right track with a project?
The way to know if a provider is right for your business is to give those who pass inspection an opportunity to prove themselves with a small project.
The key to success is what it always has been: valuing your time.
Fear of appearing less competent than your associates can cause you to short-circuit your success. No doubt about it, outsourcing can put you on the fast track to success, and if you believe you’re not good enough, you’ll avoid it like the plague.
Most entrepreneurs want to do everything themselves. But contemporary technologies have put more work on the entrepreneur’s plate than one human being can handle. Automation, social media, and Internet marketing were supposed to make our lives easier. But technology has only made things faster and required new competencies.
The first decision when you’re considering using an outsourced VA is whether to hire a freelancer on your own or to go through a managed facility; an organization that helps business owners procure and manage virtual assistants located overseas.
One of the best ways to find people to do business with is the age-old method of seeking referrals. Depending on the task or project, contact business associates who may be able to help you out, including past clients.
When deciding between a freelancer or managed facility, keep the time zone issue in mind. The worker’s time zone may not match yours very closely. In fact, it may be nighttime for the worker when it is morning for you, and this mismatch can hinder communication.
For phone support, make sure you use a managed facility where the bandwidth is high, the connection is redundant, and power is not an issue.
The biggest advantage to using a managed facility is that training is taken out of the equation. You decide which category of pre-trained VA would best suit your purpose—someone trained in computer programming, phones, answering email, blogging, accounting, etc.—and then leave the training to the system.
Before you begin outsourcing—whether to an independent contractor or to a service provider—the first thing both of you will need to do is agree upon a fair price.
In the United States, you’re legally barred from asking candidates about their age, family, and children. In the Philippines, such questions are permissible, and you may want to take advantage of the opportunity to ask them. For example, you might see hiring someone with a family as desirable. To you, a family may indicate stability and the ability to commit. It might also be seen as an earning incentive. On the other hand, if you’re looking for someone who can work odd hours or be on call, a worker with family obligations might not be ideal.
The best way to ensure you hire someone who can complete a task capably is to—you guessed it—give them a task and see whether they can complete it capably.
Red flags include candidates who won’t allow you to communicate with them directly, candidates who don’t have any work history, and candidates who are hesitant about giving you references.
The more hiring you do, the easier it is to trust your gut. Don’t go only by the numbers. Skill-testing is fine, but remember that skills can be improved, whereas character is ingrained.
During the initial training period or on an ongoing basis, you can have your VAs provide you with detailed reports at the end of each workday. Does this create another daily task for you? No, because you won’t have to check the reports daily. You can check them weekly or periodically—just often enough to reassure yourself that your VAs are completing the tasks they’ve been assigned at the quality level you require.
Remember when I said that monitoring is not the same as managing? One way to think of the difference: monitoring is temporary or intermittent, and management is ongoing. And since management is ongoing, it involves that dreaded legal reality: documentation.
Finding a ghostwriter is easy. Finding a good one is hard. A common mistake is looking for a bargain-basement ghostwriter. In most cases, the writer with the cheapest rate is the one with the worst skills.
One tempting mistake is to hire someone because you like him or her. Of course, it’s important to like your VA, but that isn’t the reason you hire. Hire the most qualified person for the job, and build from there.
Working with VAs can be such a great experience that you come to depend on them. One thing to keep top of mind when working with VAs: you’re not the center of their universe. It’s easy to forget they have other clients, unless, of course, you hire them full-time.
Avoid misunderstandings by making sure expectations are clear at the beginning of your relationship or at the onset of a project. When giving feedback, be sure to include what you liked along with details about things you’d like changed.
Projects can fail if there is a lack of communication between you and those you outsource to. You can avoid this in most cases by setting up checkpoints as you go along. Setting up these checkpoints before the project gets underway will allow both you and the person you outsource to peace of mind, knowing that resolution is possible during the process instead of upon completion. Revisions are much easier to make during the project, including revisions to completion dates and budgets.
Building a relationship is an important element of forgoing a bond between you and your VAs, especially when they serve other clients. When your VAs feel bonded to you, they’ll be vested in your success, and that investment will breed commitment.
When a task has been completed to your liking, be sure to hand out acknowledgment like candy on Halloween. Share feedback from clients with everyone involved. Everybody loves to hear positive feedback. In fact, studies show that acknowledgment has more value to people than monetary rewards. It sends a message that they’re valuable. Even though we’re not our actions, our self-worth is often connected to the value of what we produce. Acknowledgment makes people want to work harder the next time.
Even if we love what we do, it’s important to take breaks from our business. Our emotional needs and responsibilities to form our business. Our emotional needs and responsibilities to our relationships are critical to living healthy, happy lives. Our bodies and minds require respite in order to recharge.
Instead of seeing this as money going out, think of your team as an insurance policy for potential revenue. After you hire and train your team, you’ll be able to make better choices with the time you’ve freed in your schedule. That’s when the investment pays for itself—often many times over.
Building a team you can trust will create a firm foundation for your business and provide you with the security you need to continue moving forward in your industry. Along with a business plan, integral to your success will be a solid interview process, appropriate training, and a system for relation so providers you enjoy working with are inspired to continue working with you.
You won’t be able to handle all the tasks associated with a growing business alone. Count on there being several areas in which you lack proficiency, not to mention the things that you just don’t like doing. Outsourcing definitely helps you meet deadlines better than if you were doing everything yourself.
Those who work from home will tell you one of the biggest challenges is not so much staying focused but closing down at the end of the business day. If you’re going to avoid burnout, it’s important for you to set boundaries with yourself and with your clients.
Keep in mind, sales is a numbers game. The more people you know, the more time you reach out, the more people you let know about what you’re doing, the more prosperous you’ll be.
Learning to delegate can be challenging at first, but the better you know yourself and what you’re after, the more successful you’ll be. As you come to trust your instincts and resist the temptation to repeat mistakes, you’ll thrive, and your business will grow.