In a perfect world, you’re a solopreneur with a perfectly assembled team of specialists to outsource to, who you’ve onboarded with ease. Your business is running like a finely tuned machine. Work gets done on-time, with expert quality, and all the moving pieces gel sublimely.
Except that sort of situation is exceedingly rare. So at some point you’ll find yourself in the position of needing to sit down with a member of your team and have “a talk” about how they’ve missed the mark or delivered work that isn’t up to your standards.
This can be awkward, nerve-wracking, and frankly something you would just rather not do — but it’s got to be done. Fear not, because today you’ll learn how to effectively deliver constructive criticism to your team, minus the panic.
Get clear on the issue
The foundation of a low-stress feedback session with a team member is being prepared. Getting crystal clear on the exact issue will help you stay focused during the conversation, and will also yield the best results. Is there an issue with timeliness or lateness of their work? Mistakes or errors slipping through the net and into your hands (or worse yet, the clients’)? Or perhaps what they’re delivering is technically correct…but is missing the mark in representing your style and brand in the best way possible.
Being able to summarize the issue you’re experiencing in a short sentence or two will help you avoid accidentally rambling or skirting the issue. For example: “We need to address that your last three articles have been late.”
Delivering constructive criticism to a contractor isn’t the sort of thing that goes over well as a surprise. No one likes to feel as though they’ve been put on the spot. Schedule a meeting at least a week in advance, preferably to take place on Skype or over the phone, if you’re working remotely. Email may seem like the quick and easy way to take care of delivering the feedback, but it lacks the two-way communication that’s essential in avoiding misunderstandings. The goal is that you’re both feeling prepared and comfortable when the time comes to share your thoughts on where improvement is possible.
A tip: A classic method of delivering feedback is the Sandwich Technique, where you deliver the criticism “sandwiched” between two pieces of positive feedback. On the surface this seems like a great idea because it lets you get the conversation going with a low-stress compliment, deliver the negative feedback, and then bring the tone of the conversation back to a positive place with some more sweet words. Everyone leaves feeling pretty great!
But delivering feedback is about creating change, not warm fuzzies, so I recommend avoiding this technique when you’re delivering feedback to your team. It dilutes the importance of the critique you’re giving. There are times for positive reinforcement, and times for criticism — mixing the two can leave everyone unclear on where they stand.
Bring solutions to the table
Identifying the problem is only half the journey in improving your team’s performance. Think back to high school and what it was like to get a big red X on a math exam. Not much use to you in figuring out what to do differently the next time. But the teacher sitting down with you and walking you through the better/correct/more efficient way of solving the problem meant that you were building a skill set that’d help you ace it the next time around.
Same goes for our businesses. Provide the criticism, and the skills or tools they’ll need to get it right. Below are some you solutions you might propose.
If the issue is…
Timeliness: Ask what’s causing the delays, and explore how you can help them hit deadlines. Consider offering to reschedule deadlines to another day of the week to avoid overwhelm in their calendar, or commit to giving a minimum advance notice on work you need done.
Errors or omissions: Review onboarding materials and offer to provide additional training on the issue areas. Screen sharing, recorded guides and manuals can be great supplementary materials to guide the team in hitting your expectations.
Brand or tone: Provide examples of language or visuals that are on brand, or assemble a style guide to help with consistency. You could even book a follow-up call to workshop some of their lacking/off-mark deliverables and help them understand why and how to adjust going forward (just like our math teachers walked us through the tough questions).
Feedback goes both ways, and establishing regular check-ins with your team members gives you an opportunity to exchange feedback. At first, team members may be hesitant to share their thoughts on how you could do better (or differently) to help them be successful at their work, but handling their feedback with grace — and taking action to adjust course — will go a long way in fostering that flow of communication.
Having the hard talks is part of being boss
Discussing opportunities for improvement with a team member is never pleasant — but as a solopreneur, it’s an essential skill that will help you cultivate a strong network of contractors and specialists that can help you deliver your best work to customer and clients. Focusing on clarity, solutions, and being open to receiving suggestions will help you make the process as stress-free and productive as possible.
Your turn: What difficult conversations have you had to navigate as a solo biz boss?
In this episode of The Hot Seat, Sara Frandina and Cristina Roman talk about why outsourcing is important in a solo business, how to decide what to outsource, and how to set yourself up for success. (And how we haven’t always set ourselves up for success in our own business!)
If you’re an entrepreneur, it’s probably safe to assume that “create a welcome video for my website” is somewhere on your lengthy to-do list. But somehow it’s migrated lower and lower over time to live among other long-forgotten tasks like “clean out my inbox” and “start working out again.”
I don’t blame you; video is technical and complicated and tedious and (insert your complaint of choice).
But video is here to stay. In fact, in 2015, businesses that use video grew their revenue 49% faster year-over-year than those that weren’t using video. I know it’s likely your goal to be running an uber successful business 3, 5, or 10 years from now, so why not take a stab at integrating video into your strategy? It’s the best and fastest way to create an instant connection with your audience — and who doesn’t want to inspire love at first sight?
Now, I can’t force you to categorize all your emails or join a gym, but I can help make video a much simpler task because it’s something I do for myself and other businesses every single day. So to start, let’s focus on the top outsource-able (new word!) tasks when it comes to video:
Shooting. There are (approximately) a zillion options when it comes to outsourcing the actual production part of video making. From having a friend record your videos on a smartphone to hiring a production team fully equipped with cameras, mics, lights, and more, your options run the gamut. One thing you might want to consider: proximity. If you are looking for someone to record you, they’ll need to be local. However, there are lots of creative ways to tell your story remotely, too. Maybe you can find a videographer to shoot b-roll, and you can record a voiceover for it. This is your chance to get a little creative and plan out a video that truly showcases your brand story!
Editing. Personally, this is the most tedious part of the process for me and one of the first tasks I outsourced in my business. If you don’t know what you’re doing when it comes to piecing together what was recorded to tell a cohesive story, it could take much longer than it would for someone who does it every day and can cut your video footage while they brush their teeth. Unless you are really passionate about learning how to edit, leave this one to the pros.
Implementation. This is what happens once the video is finished. It can include uploading, making custom thumbnails, tagging, annotating, sharing, writing tweets, and more. Making the most of video means marketing those that you create — and these tasks can sometimes take just as long as making the video itself.
Now, I have a confession. When I first started my company, my only encounter with the word “outsourcing” was between the covers of a Thomas Friedman book. I knew of the concept, but I never thought of it applying to me and my business…until I started bringing on bigger and more involved projects. I knew I couldn’t do everything alone, nor did I want to. I found myself procrastinating when facing tasks that weren’t playing to the top of my skill set.
If video production or video marketing isn’t at the top of yours, outsourcing it can be key to getting it done.
And you don’t have to outsource the entire thing. Maybe you need help conceptualizing, but you can’t wait to edit the footage together. Or you can create the video, but you have no idea how to get it on YouTube and in front of a mass audience. Because there are so many moving parts, the great thing about video is that you can outsource any piece of it you want.
Where to find video pros
A real fear with outsourcing: Hiring the wrong people will cost you money in the long run. So, spend some time and do your research. Do they have a reel you can look at? Do they have references? What does their process look like? Will they edit a short clip for you so you can see how they work? These are all ways to vet the right people for the job when it comes to video.
Now that you know what to outsource and what to look for, the next question becomes: Where can you find these people? Here’s a list of resources you can turn to when looking for the right video team for your business:
Mandy.com: Resource for all things production. Click on the “services” tab and narrow down your search by region.
Production Hub: Another great resource for production people. Click “find crew/vendors” to get started.
Upwork: A place to find freelancers for all types of projects. They have a “video production” section.
Fiverr: I’ve never used this one personally, but I hear you can find some budget-friendly service providers on here. This is great for getting an animated intro for your videos.
Thumbtack: Find recommended people in your area who can help you bring your video dreams to reality!
Local film schools: Have a film school in your area? Ask around to see if there are any film students looking to build their reels. This tends to be a very budget-friendly option.
VA: If you are strapped for time, find a virtual assistant who is fluent in YouTube (my favorite language) and video implementation. Once you have a system for implementation, you can teach anyone to make it happen.
If you’re inspired and ready to get started, the first (and arguably most important) step is conceptualizing your video. How do you want your brand and your story to be perceived? The best way to start is to do research. Look online for videos that have the vibe/style you want to create. Create a bookmark folder titled “reference videos” with links to the videos you admire. You can also start a new board on Pinterest with photos that inspire your brand. Visualizing your video beforehand will make the planning — and outsourcing — process much easier (and more fun).
I love being on Instagram. I love sharing my tips and ideas. I love interacting with people. I love searching through hashtags and finding awesome new people to follow.
(I also love shopping via Instagram — which isn’t so great for my bank balance.)
What I don’t love is taking photos or creating graphics.
As a copywriter, I’m happy to admit photography and graphic design are not my strengths. Needless to say, I was wasting a lot of time trying to do it myself and still not getting the look and feel that I really wanted for my feed.
As soon as I could afford it, I outsourced my image creation and curation on Instagram. And it’s been an awesome decision.
As luck would have it, a client I was working with brought on a junior graphic designer to help me manage their Instagram feed. She’d curate images in line with the strategy and I would write the captions. It worked really well and their feed started exploding (in the good way).
I realised that I could do the same thing with my own feed, so I asked that graphic designer, Angelina, to work with me.
The first thing we did was sit down and discuss my Instagram strategy and branding. We then arranged a photoshoot to capture a bunch of images for my feed.
Now, at the start of each month, I send Angelina a list of tips, quotes, and brands I want to mention on my feed. She then curates images and creates graphics and puts the whole lot in a shared Google Drive folder.
All I need to do is grab the images, add captions and schedule them with ScheduGram.
The results of outsourcing
Now that I don’t have to worry about the visual stuff, I have more time to actually engage with my followers and create new content I think they’d love.
Of course, paying for something like this only makes sense if there’s a return on that investment.
And I have to admit, I was slow to see results at first.
But recently the engagement on my feed has taken off — my email subscribers have grown, I’m getting copywriting enquiries directly via Instagram, and I’m even getting comments IRL from people about how helpful my feed is.
The big thing for me was ensuring that I maintained control over the content of my Instagram feed (I am a copywriter, after all). So I didn’t want to outsource the entire management of my Instagram feed. Every caption and comment is me.
Now, you might love creating images for Instagram, but maybe there’s another business task you’re doing that would make much more sense to outsource. If you’re thinking of outsourcing, here are my tips for making it work based off of my Insta experience:
Know what your objectives are
Make sure you know why you’re outsourcing a part of your business. For me, it was because I wanted to have an Instagram feed that felt branded and cohesive to help me find new clients.
For you, it might be to grow your engagement, give your brand a clearer “voice” or simply save time on something you don’t enjoy doing.
Figure out how much control you want to maintain
You might be happy to outsource all of your marketing, a part of it (the visuals or captions) or maybe only the stuff that followers wouldn’t notice (like ‘liking’ certain hashtags or finding new people to follow).
I would never get someone else to write my captions because I want my voice to come through, but you might be happy to let a copywriter who gets your brand to do it, while you take your own photos because maintaining control of your visual look is more important.
Do your research
When it comes to finding someone to outsource a part of your business to, spend some time looking for the right person. I was lucky that I’d previously worked with Angelina and already knew how well we worked together.
Seek out recommendations (Editor’s note: We highly recommend the ladies in the OWS Directory!) and take a look at what that person is doing on their own feed or for their clients. Ask them about their collaborative process and what they’d need from you to make it work.
The truth about outsourcing
A tip: As soon as you start investing in a part of your business, you start to take it a lot more seriously. Putting money into my Instagram has made me treat it as a key pillar of my marketing funnel, rather than just a fun place to hang out. And it’s definitely paid off for my business.
Would you ever outsource all or part of your Instagram marketing? If not, what would you outsource? Let me know in the comments below.
Much like a homeowner, a solopreneur must be able to rock multiple hats at once. Another similarity? Both homeowners and solopreneurs are often operating on shoestring budgets.
While a homeowner could reduce costs by taking the DIY route for painting, landscaping and wallpapering, we can most likely all agree that it’s best to call in the pros for structural, plumbing or electrical repair.
Similarly, when it comes to getting publicity for your business, you could take a DIY approach to hyper-local and community coverage, but there comes a time when it’s best to call in the pros. This post is designed to help you realize when that time has come.
You know it’s time to hire a PR professional when…
It’s in the budget – even if it’s limited. Every aspect of business ownership is competing for your money, but if people haven’t heard of your product or service, they simply can’t become your customers. Getting the word out is a critical must. Even if dollars are limited, a creative approach can get you a long way from where you started. Can’t afford to hire a big-time PR firm or a boutique agency? No problem. Get in touch with a local college or university with a public relations/communications program – students routinely get practical experience by creating a PR strategy for a local business with a limited budget. Be that business!
You’re ready to graduate from local coverage. If you’ve already nailed getting in the community paper and on a local TV station, congratulations! Great first step. Ready to move up to shows with a higher profile and a bigger viewership? It’s time to consult the experts. Crafting the right message and determining a unique story angle is what’s going to help your media pitch stand out. The pros have a strong network of contacts and are well-versed in how to be noticeable among a flood of emails.
There’s a huge launch coming up. You’ve invested the time, you’ve invested the money and now it’s time to unleash the latest from your business unto the world – congrats! Bill Gates famously said “If I was down to my last dollar, I’d spend it on public relations.” And rightly so. Even Richard Branson noted that a good PR story is infinitely more effective than a front page ad. Make sure that your message gets delivered to — and resonates with — your ideal customer, and that it inspires them to take action, ensuring a successful and profitable launch. Keeping in mind that magazines work with a four- to six-month lead time, start investigating PR providers at least eight months in advance of your launch. Even if you don’t sign a contract immediately, through talking with PR professionals, you’ll get a realistic sense of the time needed to create the requisite materials (i.e. a media kit and spec sheet), then plan and execute your campaign.
It’s difficult to see outside your business. You’re in your business all day, every day — often all night, every night too! It can be near impossible to see your business from a removed, third-party perspective. When you think it’s ‘newsworthy’ that you’re offering the same product in a shiny, brand new colour, or offering the same service but at a different time of day, you’re guilty of being too close to your biz to see the bigger picture. Bring in an expert who can see the newsworthy factor of your brand’s story while marrying it with the hottest news topics of the day. For example, maybe your story could fit into a home magazine, a tech site, the lifestyle section of a newspaper and a morning news show! There are more opportunities aside from the obvious ones and a seasoned expert with an outsider’s perspective can help identify all of them.
You’re in crisis mode. When a major event or negative news affects your business, it’s definitely not the time to navigate PR on your own. To come out on top of a bad situation, the right messaging, timing, and image will be crucial – and a communications specialist with the right skill set will be a lifesaver for your brand and its perception.
Once you’re ready to test the waters with a PR pro, here are a few tips to keep in mind:
Look for a provider who offers a short-term contract (between three and six months is ideal), rather than a traditional firm that works on a minimum one-year retainer.
Negotiate a project fee for a set amount of time and deliverables rather than working with the hourly-rate model where you can be surprised when you get your invoice at the end of the month.
Rely on referrals — similar to contractors, you’ll want to put your faith in someone who has a reputation for doing a good job. Reach out to trusted friends and colleagues for their recommendations.
Pick a PR pro’s brain if you’re still on the fence between going pro vs DIY. More and more PR pros are offering “pick their brain” consultations or sessions where you can share your PR challenges and they can share a solution-oriented approach that you’ll be responsible for executing.
Stay in the loop with sites like PR Daily that cover the latest industry news and best practices.
When you’re ready for the big leagues, DIY-ing just might not cut it anymore. With the proper “foundation” established by professionals, you’ll be on your way to publicity success!
Editor’s note: We’re kicking off outsourcing month here at OWS! This post serves as a primer for deciding what tasks you might want to hire a pro to take on.
For many of us, we start our businesses out in bootstrapping mode.
You Google search. You consume blog post after blog post. You ask for advice in Facebook groups. Basically, you biz hack.
And even though this is more time consuming (and can be more frustrating) than turning to an expert, the DIY method does have some tangible benefits for a new business.
For one, it gives you as the biz owner a clear picture of what it takes to complete a task. (This is helpful intel to have when you do eventually hire support.) DIY-ing can also save you some cash in the short-term, something that is usually crucial for new business owners.
Let’s be honest, though. No matter how much of a well-oiled machine your one woman shop is, you’ll eventually need to call in reinforcements.
As your income streams diversify, you may no longer want to do your own bookkeeping. Maybe you’d like to hire a copywriter to really get that sales page converting. Or you might need a VA to get your newsletter off your plate and on a regular schedule.
Everyone will need support at some point. But how do you know when it’s the right time? How can you tell if your biz has hit that magic tipping point where your energy is better spent on other parts of your business? When I’m trying to make that call, I do a mini biz audit.
Here are the three questions I ask myself that help me know when it’s time to outsource a task:
1. Is it out of my zone of genius?
Does copywriting or web design stump you? Is it stopping you from expanding your biz? Could your time be better spent elsewhere?
No need to fret if you’re not great at a particular task. You’re good at what you do, so don’t be afraid to be honest with yourself about the things that keep getting pushed to the bottom of your to-do list. While yes, there’s a case for learning some skills (read more about how to evaluate where you invest in your education here), unloading the tasks you’re not suited for will free you up to better serve your clients.
2. Is it a have to and not a want to?
Are you capable of completing this task, but you simply don’t want to? Is it simple, but too time consuming? Does it light you up, or inspire an “ugh?”
If you don’t want to do it, then don’t! It’s important to build a business you love. Naturally, there are going to be tasks that you aren’t enamored with as a business owner, and it’s normal not to love every minute, but there’s no sense escaping the 9-5 and bravely launching into self-employment just to feel like every day is still a drag, right? So go ahead — outsource that stuff, girl.
3. Is it necessary?
In other words, should you even be going after this at all? Or is it a dead end? A shiny object project? Should it be on a stop doing list?
In Good to Great, Jim Collins says that successful businesses should not just have to-do lists but stop doing lists. Some things just distract you from doing what you do best and they need to be cut out for your business to meet its goals and grow. IF it’s a “stop doing,” it might not even be worth outsourcing — but you won’t know until you evaluate all of your tasks and activities by these parameters.
How did you answer the three questions above?
If you’ve found a task that’s out of your zone of genius, is a “have to” and not a “want to” and is absolutely necessary to your success, don’t be afraid to don the boss lady pants and consider outsourcing.
Get your mini biz audit on, and get outsourcing
It can be a scary thing to bring another person into this business you’ve built with your own two hands. But taking the time to reflect will really make you more confident that you’re making a smart move — one that could propel your business forward.
One Woman Shops: What have you considered outsourcing — and what’s holding you back?
When you first start growing your business, you’re likely dealing with a small budget and bootstrapping your way to success. While this strategy is smart for your finances, it’s not always smart to get overworked and do everything yourself.
Here’s how to leverage outsourcing, even when you’re on a tight budget.
Why Your Business Needs a Spending Plan
We all know that having a personal budget is vital, but do you have one for your business? A spending plan is just as important for you professionally as it is personally.
How? A business budget helps you see where your hard-earned money is being spent. Having a spending plan in place for your business, you can see what areas are bringing in the most revenue, and which ones aren’t worth the time or effort.
This will help you streamline your business expenses, cut out any non-essential spending and find better ways to save money.
Why waste your precious time and hard work by wasting money on things you don’t really care about, or on stuff that doesn’t give your business the most bang for its buck?
How Delegating Work Helps You Work Smarter Not Harder
As an entrepreneur, running a business of one, there are only two ways you can leverage your time:
Raise your prices
Outsource work to team members
That’s it. Those are the only two options for ensuring your business grows. Of course you could always work more hours, but then you’d probably have to sacrifice your health, sanity, time and freedom.
I’m pretty sure you didn’t quit your job or turn your back on the daily grind, to not have control of your time and schedule as a small business owner. In order to achieve your dream of creating a life of freedom and a business that funds your dreams, you’ve got to work smarter not harder.
That’s where outsourcing comes in!
Prioritize the Right Tasks to Outsource
When it comes to outsourcing work, or delegating tasks, there’s definitely an art to doing it. As any freelancer and small business owner will attest, you likely don’t have access to unlimited funds to hire help.
The key is to focus on outsourcing tasks that are directly related to bringing in revenue — or that have the potential to. If you do marketing for a client by prepping email newsletters, a virtual assistant can format the content, or create templates. This will save you time, and help you focus on turning leads into sales for your client.
The more sales your client gets, the happier they will be, which means they’re perfectly primed for hearing your pitch about upping your prices.
Another example would be if you run an ecommerce shop. Having a shop that’s easy to navigate, and has the least amount of clicks for a shopper to complete their purchase, will create more sales. You want to work with a web developer who understands how certain colors or copy can affect sales, so you can see the best return on your investment (ROI).
When working with outside contractors and assistants, it’s vital you choose projects that can create revenue for themselves, so your up-front investment pays off.
Inexpensive Resources to Get Started
Like with any business opportunity, there are freelancers out there that charge a premium for their skills and talents. And that’s great if you really need that kind of help. But what if you just want a small task done, or a daily task completed?
There are lots of inexpensive resources for you to get started, whether you’re looking for someone to work with every month, or just a one-off deal.
Fiverr: Thanks to Fiverr, it’s now easier than ever to find experts who are willing to do random tasks for as little as $5 each. I recently needed several videos transcribed and hired someone from Fiverr. It only cost me $20 in total, but saved me over 3 hours of tedious work, and enabled me to spend my time doing other things — like closing a new deal with a client.
TaskRabbit: This site is great for both business and personal use. If you’re too busy at work to pick up your dry cleaning or go grocery shopping, you can hire someone from Taskrabbit to do it for you. Likewise, if you need a delivery driver to deliver a load of goods to a vendor, you can hire someone from this site to help you out. No long-term contracts or hassle.
Twitter. If you’re interested in finding a tech-savvy assistant who knows a bit about social media and online publishing, then Twitter is a great place to look. I found both of my VA’s this way and now they are bonafide members of the Careful Cents team. We agreed to only a few tasks that cost less than $100 month, then we increased it as time went on.
Using these types of online tools is where outsourcing work can really be used to your advantage. Even if you don’t have a big budget for hiring a full-time assistant, you can spread work out among other experts and team members. Doing so enables you to use your time for more important things!
So what are you waiting for? Take the first step to outsourcing work today and see how much your business flourishes.
Do you outsource parts of your work? How has it benefitted your business?