As a business owner looking for help with a business, you are probably aware that employing staff can be a double-edged sword.

On one hand, you need staff if you are serious about creating a business that successfully operates and creates a good profit without you needing to be there every day (a business that doesn’t make money unless you turn up isn’t a business… it’s a well-paid job).

On the other hand, staff can create stress and hassle rather than help with a business. Very few of your staff will work as hard as you do and they certainly won’t care as much about the business. Why should they? It belongs to you not them.

Employees help with a business by creating time and resources inside it. They also consume it. You have to invest a number of hours every week managing staff and ensuring they are doing what they should be. Just because you are taking someone on for 40 hours a week doesn’t mean you will gain 40 hours of productive time! And your team will not normally be able to do as much as you can do in an hour. They are unlikely to be as focused and productive as you.

If you have an ambitious business goal and want growth then you will need some external help with a business, especially if you are looking for an exit (and, at some point, you will have to exit your business, whether you close it, sell it or die!).

There is a way to increase the amount of resources in your business without taking on paid staff. And it’s a way that opens up a large amount of expertise. It’s called outsourcing’: getting experts who work for themselves or run their own businesses to work on your business, in return for a fee.

Outsourcing has become significantly more popular over the past few years amongst those who need extra help with a business. The dire state of the economy has resulted in many talented people being pushed out of jobs. Many decided they would continue to do what they were good at but would work for themselves.

You can outsource virtually anything to get help with a business. It’s easy to find people to do your financial paperwork, answer your phones, carry out your marketing, organise your diary, act as a gatekeeper, do customer service, and look after IT.

I have one client who outsources virtually everything in his business, most importantly the creation and delivery of the product he sells. It works very well for my client. His is a multi-million pound business, and he no longer has the hassle of managing a bunch of employees. Together with a small management team, he works purely on growing the business using outsourced experts.

This is the true role of the business owner: working ON the business rather than IN it.

Outsourcing isn’t without its difficulties however. Get it wrong and it can be worse than having a bad employee.

Here are a number of rules you must adhere to if outsourcing is to provide help with a business:

Be very clear about what needs to be done and how you want it to be done

The beauty of outsourcing is that you are dealing with another business. That means you can be very, very specific about what needs to be done and exactly how you would like it to be done. My experience with outsourcers is that the clearer and more specific you are, the happier the relationship is and the better the quality of the work.

If the business cannot do what you want then you move on to another supplier. That’s not so easy to do with an employee.

It means that your risk is reduced and the outsourcing business or freelancer must work hard to keep your contract.

The clearer you are about what needs to be done and how, the easier it is to manage the work and ensure it is being done correctly.

Ask the same kind of questions you would ask an employee in a job interview

You must have excellent working relationships with your outsourced providers. And that means you need to ask plenty of questions before you hire them – just as you would ask a potential employee. You need to be comfortable that you can work with this business on a day-to-day basis. When a problem does occur – and there are always problems along the way – the better the relationship, the easier it will be to get the problem fixed.

I always hire suppliers and employees on attitude first, skills second. Someone with a great attitude can increase their skill-set, whereas it’s difficult to change someone’s attitude, even if they’re very good at a particular set of tasks.

Look for specific experience and skills and demand proof that they can do the work

Again, just as with hiring employees, you need proof that the outsourcer can do what they say they can. Ask them for samples of their work. Better still, ask to speak to existing clients. A business that’s confident about its abilities will happily put you in contact with other clients. They are likely to put you in touch with their very top client so assume everything you hear is ‘best case’ scenario.

Be very wary of new outsourcers, especially if they are freelancers who have just set up in business after being made redundant or leaving employment for some other reason. Why let your business be the guinea pig, when you can hire someone who has been doing it for a couple of years and has already figured out how to be a better service provider?

Test and measure

As with all marketing, test your new outsourcer with a small job before you hand everything over to them. You need to build a relationship of trust with them, and a couple of minor jobs to start with is a pretty sensible way to do it. Set clear targets and measure the progress. It will give you confidence that they are capable of doing more challenging work.

Never ever buy solely on price

The last reason you should pick an outsourcer is because they are the cheapest. Remember, ‘if you pay peanuts, you get monkeys’. Any outsourcer with appropriate experience that does a good job providing help with a business will rightly be able to demand a reasonable fee. Beware any supplier that seems too cheap for what they offer. If it doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t.

Tie payments into milestones

Finding a good outsourcer and getting everything set up correctly is the first hurdle. The next is to ensure they continue to perform consistently. That’s why it makes sense to tie ongoing payments into specific milestones. Reward your supplier for performance to keep them on the ball. Don’t ever let them start to think that they will get paid month in, month out, regardless of the quality of the work done.

It’s also a good idea with ongoing outsourced work to schedule regular reviews, say every three or six months.

Always put everything into writing

Whatever you agree with your supplier, make sure it is laid out clearly and simply in writing. This is especially important with alterations to the original brief that occur along the way. You and your outsourcer should have a single document you can both refer to, which lays out exactly who does what and when.

Follow these rules with every new outsourcing supplier and you will have a happy, harmonious way to grow your business.

What’s your experience of outsourcing work? Has it provided help with a business? Feel free to contact me. I’d love to hear your story.

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