Small Business Outsourcing: First steps to take, no matter how small you’re starting
October 12, 2011
Make a list
What tasks take up a lot of your time and are relatively simple but critical to gaining new business? Posting a recurring craigslist ad? Researching anything for clients or a new business idea? Responding to new business inquiries? Write down everything you can think of.
Don’t hold back now. You can refine your list later. If possible, keep your list on your cell phone or other device you have with you at all times. You never know when a great idea might strike, and chances are, if you don’t write it down, either you’ll forget it entirely or you’ll forget what made it so great. Write it down now and decide later.
Know the scope, deadlines, and budget of your project and when you’re ready to get started before you connect with a V.A. Are you going to pay him or her on a per-project basis or hourly? Sometimes paying per project can be a good way to start, as you are testing the waters. Set your clear expectations and agree upon a price. Using a fixed price rather than an hourly rate for a first project with someone you have never worked with before will alleviate any sticker shock if your employee completes the project with twice as many hours as you anticipated. And remember that the clearer you are about the project, the easier it is for the V.A. to give you an accurate quote.
Interacting with your assistant
We’ve all had those bosses who clearly don’t know how to manage. Don’t assign tasks just for the sake of assigning work. Ask yourself these critical questions about each project you are assigning: Is this something my employee can manage on his or her own without much interference from me? Is it an ongoing project? Even better. Did I give clear enough instructions, with examples if possible? Is there a clear value that can be assigned to the completion of this project? Is your assistant just spinning his or her wheels? That will never be good for your bottom line. Did I assign a deadline? Is there any wiggle room in case anything goes wrong?
If your employee does complete a task incorrectly, it is better to explain why it’s wrong and have him or her correct it rather than correct it yourself, which may be tempting. You need to create a strong employee who understands what you want, and he or she will learn to understand with the right feedback.
A classic problem many entrepreneurs struggle with is the “oh, by the time I explain how to do it, I might as well do it myself” syndrome. Fine. But can you explain it once and then pass off the task forever? Or is it just a one-time task? If it’s a one-time task, then fine, keep it if you want, you control freak. But if it can be a new skill your employee uses over and over, that will save you time in the long run.
Adding onto that, a good time-saving tip here is to save all the instructions you write for any task somewhere on your computer. No matter how much you like your current employee, he or she will probably leave you one day, and you’re going to have to train someone else. It’s so much easier if you don’t have to write instructions from scratch again, especially if they worked well the first time around.
These things take time
Learn the art of patience. You’re going to have to describe your tasks very thoroughly to get the results you desire. More importantly, despite all your best efforts, things may go wrong or take much longer than you ever could have imagined (as illustrated by the examples throughout this book). While you’re building your empire, start out small with tasks that aren’t time sensitive at the start. Once you’ve got a reliable assistant and understand his or her work habits, it may be time to pass along more critical or urgent tasks.
Communication is key
Especially when dealing with an overseas assistant, communication will make or break you. Michael Davis (www.familyhack.com) has used overseas virtual assistants and has some good tips on ensuring good communication.
“I’ve worked with several overseas contractors and have found the key to success is to make sure the words I’m using are simple and have no double meaning. In other words, I avoid using a lot of common business language like ‘get underway’ and ‘bottom line.’
“You might be tempted to say, ‘I would like to start with the following task.’
“But by starting with the word ‘I,’ you are directing the communication to yourself instead of the assistant. Also, the word ‘would’ may be hard to decipher for an intermediate English speaker. ‘Can you’ or ‘I want you to’ is safer.
“Also, the word ‘following’ can mean ‘after,’ ‘behind the leader’ or ‘second.’ So, your opening line could be read a few different ways, such as, ‘I’d like to begin with the second task,’ ‘I want to start the task later,’ or ‘I would like to start the task after the leader.’
“A clearer statement might be: ‘Can you do this task?’
“So if you want them to buy you a new shirt, don’t say, ‘Find me a shirt’ or ‘Get me a shirt.’ Be clear: ‘Buy me a shirt.’
“It can be frustrating at first, but after a while, I became accustomed to writing like a five-year-old.”
Know that your first few tasks will be a learning curve, no matter who you decide to work with. Time will tell if you’re cut out for outsourcing or if you should stick to more traditional business models. Above all, keep your chin up and don’t give up! You’re the boss!
Jennifer Baum is the author of Small Business Outsourcing: From Detroit to Delhi, an eBook available for $2.99 at Amazon or Barnes and Noble.