2013 has been the year of “systems” for me. We’ve streamlined a lot of the underlying tech behind IMPOSSIBLE, hired a couple of team members, and started automating a bunch of processes to make it easier to scale things as we start executing the plans for growth around here.
As part of that, I’ve started to really focus on outsourcing tasks. I used to do every single thing myself. Part of it was my control freak nature (I like to be able to sign off on every last thing), and part of it was necessity (I had to bootstrap things).
However, as we started to scale, I realized that I needed to start getting out of my own way. It’s not only that I shouldn’t try to keep doing everything myself, but also that I simply can’t. If IMPOSSIBLE is going to be what I want it to be, I need to get out of my own way.
Note: Sometimes the hardest thing you’ll have to do is to get out of your own way in order to let something be as successful as it can be.
The chances are that you’re working on parts of a project that you don’t need to be doing. So, here’s the challenge: get out of your own way, starting tomorrow. Stop being a control freak, and start outsourcing things you don’t need to be doing.
This can be tough, so I’ve started small, with seven major things you’re probably doing in your business/ life that you should start outsourcing tomorrow.
Not next week. Not next month. Tomorrow.
Here we go:
Table of Contents
Stop wasting your time by posting on social media.
You’re convincing yourself that you need to do it, but you don’t have to. You can outsource 90% of this automatically. You can train someone for 9%, and you can pop in to fix the last 1% when you’re absolutely needed.
Social media posting is not the most effective things you can be doing with your time. Outsource these tasks & spend your time elsewhere.
This might be tough, and it might take a bit of time with your VA before you can outsource your email, but you should do it.
Email is a waste of your time. The reason it’s so insidious is that it’s reactive. Very seldom are you progressively moving the needle by simply responding to email. It feels productive, but you’re not actually doing anything.
However, before you outsource it, you can clean up 75% of your email, by doing these simple things:
- Search “unsubscribe” in your inbox, and unsubscribe from 90% of your newsletters (minus this one of course).
- Remove social media notifications, or create filters that automatically tag them as “read” or “archived”, and file them away in a dedicated folder.
Once you do that, give your VA instructions to clean out your inbox using the guidelines below:
If an e-mail requires your immediate attention, ask your VA to flag it with a star, and then respond to it within 24 hours.
If someone wants your time, use the double opt-in technique Nick talks about here:
Simply ask whoever wants your time to follow up with you on Tuesday next week. Most people won’t actually respond, and you’ll cut the ones you have to respond to in half.
If someone is simply begging for your time with little to no personalization, and it’s borderline spam, have your VA delete the email.
If an item is not urgent, and doesn’t fall into any of the other categories, have your VA flag it as an “action” item. Then, when you’ve knocked out every other important task on your list, answer these emails.
- Feedback of any kind
You should outsource all of these.
Whenever you have a product or service to sell, you’ll have to provide some sort of support. Here’s how to minimize the time you spend here:
Make a list of the twenty most common questions you get via email or support. Answer all of these thoroughly, and turn them into an FAQ. Refer people to the answers whenever they ask one of the common questions.
For refunds, give your VA a script. Here’s an example:
I’m sorry to hear that [product name] didn’t live up to your expectations. I can certainly provide a refund. If you can send me your order number and receipt, we’ll process that right away.
You might have to make three different scripts to start, and you may have to end up with a few more depending on the products you sell, but, chances are, you’ve already written one or two of these already. There’s no need to write them again.
You just need to give your VA access, and share these scripts with them via a Google Drive account, and you’re ready to go.
If there’s a simple problem that most people run into, make a screenshare video to show them how to fix it step-by-step or how to get the information they need. If you want to get customer feedback, make a Google form. Track this, and incorporate the feedback into your next product release or iteration to cut down on even more email in the future.
Do you do anything in Excel?
If you do, first you should make a macro for it.
If you don’t know how to make a macro in Excel, don’t even bother learning. You can hire someone on Elance to do it for you for $50.
Sound expensive? You’re not valuing your time enough.
This is way simpler and much less frustrating than programming it yourself, and if it saves you two hours of work, it will pay for itself multiple times over.
I’ve just started doing this.
I was really averse to this in the beginning. It’s probably the Midwestern work ethic that’s built into me, but I have a hard time having a “maid” or someone come and do seemingly basic tasks for me that I should be capable of doing. It seems way too ritzy for some normal person like me. Only British people have butlers, right?
Then I did the math.
It takes me two hours to clean the house, do the laundry, do the dishes, and keep things from looking like a disaster zone.
Did I mention I hate doing all of the above tasks? They suck my energy, and waste my time. Not to mention, if I don’t do them, my mental space is just as jumbled.
Housekeepers cost ~$60 twice a month. Totally worth it.
Editing & Scheduling Content
Stop doing this yourself.
If you’re a writer, focus on writing. Put it down on paper, write what you need to write, and then let someone else edit it, schedule it, and get it live.
It’s amazing what the last 10% of publishing takes out of you. Writing is the easy part, but the editing (and especially the publishing) provides way too many convenient excuses for you to avoid actually publishing and putting the content out there.
I’ve taken myself out of this phase of writing. Once I get a piece to 95%, I send it to Joanna to edit. Once she’s done that, I take one last look, and sign off on any edits. Then she gets it ready in WordPress, adds any good photos, and schedules it to go live.
This not only saves time, and keeps me organized, but it also lets me create more content on the whole, and keeps my stupid lizard brain from stopping me doing what I need to do.
These are seven tasks you can start outsourcing tomorrow. I’m going to talk more about automation and outsourcing in future posts. If you have more questions on this, let me know in the comments, and I’ll do what I can to answer them.
Photo credit: D. Sinclair Terrasidius
Adam Hagerman says
These are great tips! I literally just went through my email and eliminated at least 15 newsletters. As I was going through them, I noticed that they were never even opened. The just went straight to the trash. What a waste of time!
The social media thing really bugs me personally. I feel like it’s the only way to be “discovered” in this day and age which is complete B.S. Personally, I just schedule a couple of Tweets and Facebook updates once a week and forget about it. I don’t think I can afford outsourcing it at this time but believe me, when I can, it’s going to be one of the first things to go!
Great tips! I definitely have to unsubscribe to newsletters! I would definitely try all of this tips. Thanks for sharing this
This is the 2nd time in a month I’ve found a list of tasks to outsource to a VA. I’m ready for this but I’d love some pointers on where to find a reliable one. Looking forward to future posts on this topic.
Great post and great tips, Joel. I look forward to the day that I get past my bootstrapping phase and can implement all of these ideas. I’m glad that I am looking at these now because I can incorporate them into my goals. Thanks!
Trevor LaRene says
Wow! I can’t believe how much work you just took away from me. So simple, so obvious…and I was so oblivious! Thanks!
Like Monique above, where is a good source for VAs? I have heard of a few sources, but what is your preference and why?
Michael Wilson says
I read this and agreed with 95% of the content and will put some of this in place…but I think outsourcing customer complaints is a slippy slope to get on. Removing yourself from the customer and its feedback (especially for a small biz) can sometimes leave you blind to what is happening in your business and you could miss a opportunity to improve or create a new business…if your processes are good and you still see the complaint all well and good, but outsourcing too much can put you at risk.
Joel Runyon says
You can outsource the collection of the feedback without outsourcing the response to it.
Soooo… you’re saying that the line on your contact page about reading every email personally is no longer entirely accurate?
Joel Runyon says
I don’t always take my own advice 🙂
IMPOSSIBLE emails I actually read. My emails for my other businesses are a bit more automated.
Great advice in general, but with some stuff I don’t quite agree. For instance when you say, that “If you don’t know how to make a macro in Excel, don’t even bother learning. You can hire someone on Elance to do it for you for $50.” it may save you some stress and cognitive input, but on the other side, you don’t learn how to create stuff from scratch. You are consuming, but not creating.
Joel Runyon says
You’re a coder / programmer. If someone wants to learn programming – I think it’s worthwhile to do on their own. However, if there focus is elsewhere – its easier to outsource that task than take the time to become a domain specialist skilled enough to complete it.
Yeah I see the point. But let me be meticulous for a bit: One of your goals is to become fluent in several languages. Wouldn’t it be easier to just stay with English and hire a translator once in a while if you really need to speak another language (Rarely, given prevalence of the English language)?
Therefore, I’d propose a new impossible goal: Become more or less programming language. For instance, Python. It’s a very versatile language and by investing one hour daily, you are on a productive level within 5 months (So could could have made the inventor of the computer proud :P)
To utterly specialize in your unique strength is not always good I guess. Sometimes I think that I want to learn as much as possible in my early twenties and then, between 30-50, you have planty of time to make money.
But then again, I am also influenced by some books of Robert Greene…
Anyways, keep up the good work!
While I can wholeheartedly agree with most of what you are saying in this list, I still can’t agree with all of it.
There are some who are giving building a business online a go because they simply can’t afford to do anything else and as such, must do most of these tasks themselves.
They are out there. When I first got started, my situation was so bad, I was living on my father’s couch without ANY source of income. The only thing I had was time. I did odd jobs to pay for hosting month-to-month, I learned coding and mastered WordPress myself, because I couldn’t pay someone else to do it. It is only within the past year that I now earn enough to outsource.
“Sweat Equity” should not be downplayed. You should do whatever it takes to build the life of your dreams and let no situation or circumstance get in the way. I don’t believe it is fair to ostracize people by telling them they don’t value their time enough if they cannot afford to outsource. Instead, you should encourage those who must do it all by posting articles on how to manage those tasks more effectively until they are able to outsource.
This business is not easy. 99% fail for a variety of reasons but for those who persist, the reward will blow your mind and change your life. So if you must do these tasks yourself, keep on pushing! Keep doing social medial, keep writing emails, and keep looking ahead to the day when you can outsource, because if you keep at it, that day will definitely come.
Joel, loved this blog. It came at the right time as business is picking up and reminded me what is important and what I am wasting my time on. Thanks for another kick in the butt.
I was a control freak but I started to realize that I can’t do everything myself. It’s hard to invest all of your time in your new business AND be in a relationship AND spend time with your parents that are growing old and need more of your time AND keep the house clean. I started talking with the guys from remoteworkmate.com and for my surprise they found a great VA for me that costs me only $5 per hour. It’s only been a month but things are looking good. Thank you for sharing this, Joel.