Small Business Help: Knowing When to Call in a Professional
Confession: I'm a horrible cook. Maybe I should rephrase that. My cooking is edible but not incredible. So when a holiday or celebration rolls around, I let professional chefs handle this chore, and I make reservations at some top-notch restaurants in the area. That way I can enjoy the meal, the holiday, and the company of those I care about. What's ironic is that it's cheaper for me to go this route, too, since my kitchen is not well equipped in utensils or supplies, necessitating purchases that I normally wouldn't make.
So what does this have to do with a small business? EVERYTHING!
In my years of owning a business, I have learned that calling in professional small business help has enabled me to concentrate on the things I do best and grow my business. But, admittedly, in the early going I struggled by doing things the DIY (do it yourself) way. In some ways, I didn't realize there was a better way. At other times, I suffered from superhero syndrome, believing I could handle everything. Then there was always the matter of having money to outsource.
Knowing when to call in the professionals can be a difficult decision for many small business owners and entrepreneurs. Having a list of questions can help.
Questions to Help Make an Outsourcing Decision
Here are several questions to help make the decision of whether to enlist outside help:
- Do I have the necessary skills and/or experience? Careful here! Solopreneurs and micro businesses can easily fall into the mistrusting "I'd rather do it myself" or superhero "I can do it all" traps, ignoring that they may not have the capability or capacity to do certain tasks for their businesses or clients.
- Do I have the time to continue doing this task? How many hours per day/week/month/year do I spend on this task that I could be spending on sales or growing my business? Every hour that is spent on administrative, service or operational tasks is one that is not spent seeking or creating new sources of income. For example, I used to spend two to three days doing my monthly bookkeeping tasks. When I hired an excellent bookkeeping service, that was reduced to a couple hours per month, giving me more time to spend doing what I do best.
- Would an outside perspective be helpful? Those who own their own businesses are sometimes too close to the operation to see the glaring problems. Because small business owners and entrepreneurs are often emotionally invested in their businesses too, this scenario can become even more problematic. While friends and family can be supportive, seeking an expert outsider's opinion can be more constructive.
- Is the task at hand outside my core area of expertise? Many fields have subcategories that are almost separate fields within themselves. One example is marketing consulting which could encompass ad design, distribution, email marketing, Internet advertising and so much more. If any subcategories are not areas of competence for the business, consider outsourcing the work to experts.
- How much would hiring outside help cost versus the cost to do it myself? Especially when a business is new, funds can be tight. So new business owners are more inclined to "wear a lot of hats." One way to help avoid getting stuck in these non-revenue producing tasks is to build outside help costs into the budget right from the start. Owners also need to consider that their time has a dollar value attached to it. Every hour spent in non-growth or non-sales activities is spending money, not making money.
The Design Project from Hell
As I began to grow and expand my marketing business, one of the related areas that I considered adding was graphic design. I know my way around design programs such as Adobe Illustrator and my skills are okay. Yes, just okay. But with the market I served, I thought I'd be able to provide an acceptable level of service for the kinds of projects they would need.
Then came the project from hell.
One of my super clients wanted to do a slick marketing package for use at trade shows and in sales presentations. I worked up a couple of designs which were, um, not exactly what they were looking for. So I kept pitching designs—about 10 in all and easily about 40+ hours of work. The client didn't go with any of them and put the project on the back burner. Translation: I didn't get paid. Actually, I was relieved. I was getting tired and frustrated and hoped they'd decide to go with someone else.
A couple of years later... the project is resurrected. But this time, I got wise.
In the meantime, and as a result of the nightmare I had just experienced, I set out on a quest to find a graphic design partner. And I found a really good one! (Actually, I found more than one.) Not super expensive, but not bargain basement either.
So when the client resurrected this project from the back burner, I invited my graphic design friends to the meeting and informed the client that they will be handling all major design work for me going forward. In fact, I turned the whole project over to the design crew. The designers came back with three concepts and the client loved one of them. The client is still using the piece today.
Result? Happy client. Happy design firm who got a new, and continuing, client. And I look like an expert who has great connections, even if I didn't gain the sale.
Sometimes getting help means letting go. In this story, I got help for my business (and my client) and didn't have to pay a dime for it.
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© 2013 Heidi Thorne