So far, we have talked about the importance of outsourcing. The right team of support frees your valuable time for areas where you make the most impact in your business and frees you to pursue your passions outside of your business. Since many of you are business owners, I think it’s safe to assume that you have a pretty good idea where your skills lie: I mean what else are our businesses if not an expression of what we do best and where we’re most confident? Your business is an expression of these skills. We know what we’re good at, yet the problem is recognizing what others can do better. The process of that crucial decision about what we should outsource to others can be daunting, and the hangup most people experience through this process is what to outsource.
Never fear, because this episode seems like the perfect time to share how I determine what to outsource. Ideally, my experience will guide you through this process and break a somewhat abstract concept down into actionable steps.
When I think about what to outsource, my initial reaction is to ask myself a series of questions. While you don’t have to answer these questions right now, I bet some answers will jump to the front of your mind as I go through them.
- What tasks do you naturally gravitate towards? What tasks do you avoid?
- What activities energize you and what activities drain you?
- Where do you excel in your business? And on the other end of the spectrum, where do you fight an uphill battle in your business?
- What specifically are you doing when you feel most successful?
Asking myself these questions—and coming up with answers—helps me to determine what I actually want to do in a day, and the goal is to fill my schedule as much as possible with the positive answers and move the tasks that affect me negatively to someone else. I do this because doing things I’m good at and passionate about fills me with joy—this isn’t rocket science, and when I’m passionate about something my business usually benefits, which makes me even happier. It’s funny to think about, but people often comment on the fact that I am a happy person. But this is only minimally about me.
What if you could fill your schedule with tasks that you enjoy doing and filled you with feelings of success? How would you feel If you looked forward to everything on your to-do list, knowing that the task would energize instead of drain you? I started my business to control my schedule – to stay home with my children, to free my time for acting, to start each day with a cup of coffee instead of rushing to an office by 9am. I quickly realized owning my own business meant doing a bunch of things I wasn’t tremendously good at and didn’t enjoy doing. You probably feel the same way, and let’s just agree that is not what we signed up for when we started out businesses.
My typical day as an entrepreneur before outsourcing started around 4:30 – 5:00 am – depending on how many times I snoozed my alarm- and ended around 11:00-11:30 pm. I didn’t host an AM radio show so I wasn’t getting up any earlier, and I certainly couldn’t stay up any later when my alarm went off so early. Needless to say, I consistently felt I was running on empty.
Colin, my wonderful husband… I’m always mentioning Colin because he’s so much more than my college boyfriend turned husband. He keeps me grounded, and I’m lucky to have someone who balances me in almost every area of life. But anyway, he eventually sat me down for a much needed heart-to-heart, because my schedule was anything but balanced. His realism keeps my optimism focused and in reality. I’m always up to do more where work is concerned, but I have him to remind me the value of quiet and rest. Even though I go big in everything I do, which often means I’m overloaded, he helps me maintain balance in all those things which ultimately helps me succeed.
So our talk helped me acknowledge something I knew in my heart, my lifestyle wasn’t sustainable. There wasn’t enough of me to go around, and everyone and everything was suffering as a result. Most importantly, my family – the reason I started my business was suffering because of my business.
Colin felt neglected: I often missed our set aside quality time after our kids’ bedtime because I had to catch up on e-mails. I would miss family time in the evening, because I frequently found myself tied up in a client ‘emergency’ that I as a one woman show was responsible for solving. Colin would handle dinner, evening play, and eventually bedtime, and he was always such a trooper when he received my text saying, “I’m still not done. Text me and I’ll come up for kisses and bedtime prayers before they’re asleep.”
My children saw me work – a lot. Colin captured a video of our oldest daughter playing when she was 3, almost 4. She was talking on her play cell phone and pretend “working” at an old laptop saying, “My work is complicated,” because that’s what I modeled for her. The video is cute, but is that really what I want to be my daughter’s take away from my day-to-day example? It was a reality-check – one I needed to let me know I needed to evaluate my priorities.
So during our heart-to-heart, Colin and I started to game plan what to do. I didn’t want to give up Check Off Your List, but work was taking over my life. Sound familiar? We narrowed it down to two solutions – fire some clients or hire someone. It’s funny, Looking back, that conversation, more than anything else, started my personal journey toward outsourcing. At first, I made a lot of mistakes figuring out exactly what to outsource. I tried many solutions, and it’s taken me several years to truly learn what works and what doesn’t. I’m going to save you the stress, and share the process I use on a daily basis to determine what to outsource.
I start by writing down everything I am responsible for. A master to-do list, if you will. What do you do on a daily basis to keep your company moving? Now go one step further. What do you wish you had time to do? What would you do to grow your company or streamline processes if you only had the time? Write down everything that comes to mind, and don’t forget to include anything around your house – activities with your children, preparing meals, volunteering, or charity work. Heck, if you wish you had a few more minutes to floss your teeth a bit better, include that.
Do you get the idea? The last thing I want to do is add to your to-do list, so we’re going to make this easy. Keep a notepad at your desk or use an app like GoogleKeep to make a list as you go about your day. I’m a pen and paper kind of girl in this area, so I created an easy to use template to help you jot down your responsibilities. More on that in a minute, but use whatever works for you.
We all get sidetracked easily and consistency with this sort of thing can be tough, so if you need, put together your list when you’re passively waiting, like in the car line at school, an appointment waiting room, or the check out line at the store. Whether you do it in one sitting or over a few weeks, the goal is to write down everything that you need and even want to do on a regular basis.
Let’s call this list the Everything List. I call it the Everything List because nothing you do is too small, silly, or insignificant to escape this list—if it’s something you actively do (or wish you had time to do), it goes on this list.
Once I have my Everything List, I make a second list from those tasks. The second list contains only things that require my input or expertise; in other words, the things that will suffer were someone else to do them. This is the Only Me List, and I think the name is pretty obvious. At this point, the tasks on the Everything List that didn’t make it to the Only Me List create your final list – the Someone Else List. The final list are the things that you can start to outsource.
Now, I just mentioned 3 different to do lists in the last 30 seconds, so I created a checklist to easily help you compile your Everything List then sort the tasks into your Only Me List and your Someone Else List. You can download this easy to use checklist organizer by clicking the link in the episode notes, or by visiting COYLwithrachelluther.com
Obviously, there’s more to it than that, so I’d like to break down how to figure out what to keep on your to do list—remember, the Only Me List– and what to outsource to someone else’s to do list – the Someone Else List. There are certain tasks that require my expertise or perspective, so those are my first priority. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe said, “Things which matter most should not be at the mercy of things which matter least.” The things that require your expertise and the things that you are passionate about doing are what should matter most to you. That should be your focus. The other tasks can move to your Someone Else List so you can spend more time doing the important things on your Only Me List.
Once you’ve created your to do lists, the next step is to find out how to outsource the Someone Else List so you can focus on the Only Me List. You now know where you should focus your attention, so it’s time to outsource the other tasks. I’m embarrassed to admit that it took me way too long to realize there are people who are excited to do what I dread. It still surprises me every time I assign a task to someone else. When it’s the right fit, I recognize the energy in their voice, because they are truly excited to tackle the job that I dreaded.
I’m going to take a minute to brag on my girl, Misti. I personally loathe the process of hiring new employees. Filtering through the piles of applications…most of which are people who are not qualified to fill the position… angers me because my time is wasted by most applicants. When I passed the hiring process to Misti, who is one of our Human Resources VAs, she was thrilled to review the applications. She reviewed the same applications I did, but she looked at it as a scavenger hunt instead of a waste of time. Doing the exact same task was a completely different experience for Misti than it was for me, because that is her passion. When I think of the frustration I could have saved myself, and the late night rants I could have spared my husband, Colin…sigh…hindsight’s 20/20. Am I right?
It never fails that I wish I had thought to outsource a given task sooner [but better late than never, right?] Smart outsourcing creates a win-win for everyone. It frees my calendar and mental space for my passions; it optimizes the strengths of others; and it provides a better quality of life for everyone by allowing us each to focus on what we enjoy and love.
Trust me, I understand, as you dive into your to do list and determine what to outsource, things can get overwhelming. It helps to know you’re not alone, so I thought it would help to hear more about what I outsource and how I was able to move those tasks from my to do list to people who were excited to check them off their to do list.
- Basic administrative tasks – The first thing I outsourced, because it’s easy. Takes minimal training. It’s often repetitive and easily maintained once someone gets started. Part of my initial hangup in outsourcing was it seemed easier to do it myself than to take the time to show someone else. The mental space that I have available from not focusing on these mundane things has more than made up for the effort it takes to pass the responsibility to someone else.
- For years I’ve had a cleaning lady – She cleans every other Wednesday, which means I don’t devote mental energy to remembering the last time my bathrooms and kitchen floor were cleaned.
- Marketing is another task I outsource – Other people know the ins and outs of the platforms better than me. Others have a better eye than me. I easily word dump my vision and they turn that into beautiful and appealing marketing I ‘d never be able to create.
- To accommodate my busy life, I use a nanny – Remember this isn’t just for business things. Off and on, I have a nanny or ‘mother’s helper’ who spends time with my children while I’m in the office. Ideally, they help my younger kids with snacks, encourage creative play, and guide them through cleaning up their messes rather than me putting them in front of an iPad to keep them busy. This allows me to focus on work then truly walk away knowing I accomplished my to do list. It’s often a teenager who wants practice babysitting (It’s a cheap option, gives them experience, and I’m right there if there’s a question.). As my children have gotten older, the nanny has turned into a tutor who helps walk my children through their school lessons and chores.
- Speaking of our tutor, outsourcing evolves over time. I recently transitioned the mental load of lesson planning to our tutor. I can spend more time with my children rather than creating lesson plans, which is something I’m admittedly not great at and would prefer to avoid. Our tutor puts together lesson plans my kids actually enjoy in half the time it takes me. So instead of spending a few hours over the weekend planning lessons for the coming week, we’re able to have family pizza movie night. Better lessons for my kids and more quality time as a family is an all around win, which is what outsourcing is all about.
- Then there is HR – I guide my team through the hiring process, but already told you about Misti. She enjoys filtering applicants, reviewing sample tasks, and interviewing in ways that I can’t. I merely email Misti what I need and a few new applicants just show up in my inbox. She thrives on tracking down answers to the payroll issues that come up with having payroll in various states across America. I send Misti any information about the issue, then she’s busy hunting down a solution while I do anything else but that.
- Bookkeeping is another – Bookkeepers actually enjoy the routine of invoices, payments, regular expenses, and monthly adjustments. As the owner of Check Off Your List, my time is better spent making informed decisions based on financial reports rather than devoting my time to the day-to-day bookkeeping required to create those reports.
- Lastly, there’s home delivery – Curbside pickup, Instacart and Amazon Prime save me so much time. I frequently joke f it doesn’t get delivered to my doorstep, I must not need it. But seriously, services like these are lifesavers and businesses savers. When I think about the time it takes to shop for necessities and the return on investment I could have if I just focus that time on my business, it’s worth any delivery fee to check that off my list.
You see, I take advantage of many capable people and resources because it’s what works best for me, and no matter what you decide works best for you, outsourcing and utilizing a team has a learning curve, so patience is key. I intend to do a whole podcast later about the role of an integrator and how they can help you manage a team of contractors. Yes. further down the road on this journey is having a point of contact between you and the team you utilize.
But for now, I want to explore with you three things that would have saved me some headache as my team first expanded.
- First, keep a running to do list of your responsibilities…Once you start your Everything List and organize into the Only Me List and the Someone Else List, maintain that list to save you time later. You don’t want to list all your responsibilities from scratch again, so keep updating your lists. Things that stay on your to do list too long possibly need to go to someone else.
- Second, schedule time every so often to review your responsibilities. As business grows, responsibilities evolve. Setting aside time to consider what’s still on your to do list and ask why you need to devote your time to those tasks will ensure you continue to focus where you make the most impact with your time.
- This isn’t just a professional thing, so third, don’t forget the personal tasks. This often gets overlooked, but less stress and responsibility in other areas of your life free your mental energy to better tackle responsibilities in your business.
As you can see by now, when it comes to outsourcing these important decisions tend to change over time, meaning what’s good for your Only Me List right now, down the line, might be better on the Someone Else List, and visa versa. It’s what the mathematicians, or is it the linguists, call recursive, meaning that the decision-making process does not just start at point A and end in Z in a linear fashion, rather it might skip to J, jump to C, go back to A, and then Q; the point being as your business and personal needs change, so do your decisions when it comes to choosing what to do on your own and what to allocate to others. Maybe even, someday, when you become a master outsourcer you’ll be able to hire someone else to make the tough outsourcing decisions…… But if not, that’s ok, you’re going to do fine because now you have a plan. The next step, and it’s one you’re going to have to take, is…
Deciding where to start. Looking at your to do list can be overwhelming, so I recommend starting small. Once you know what tasks you can move to someone else’s to do list, you can systematically pinpoint which tasks are easiest to transition and which tasks need more of a game plan. You won’t outsource everything on your Someone Else list immediately, but you can create a plan to outsource more and more over time. A virtual assistant can be an invaluable resource in determining what tasks are easiest to outsource, so be sure to talk to your VA as you strategize what to outsource and create a timeline of when to outsource the next tasks.
Looking back, the primary thing I wish I would have done differently is outsource more quickly! My alarm doesn’t go off around 4:30am anymore. Colin wakes me up for our morning coffee at 7, because we want to spend time together before the day takes over. My evenings are spent at rehearsal or shuffling my older kids to various events then cuddling my little children to sleep. There’s even time for relaxation with Colin after their bedtime. I’ve never outsourced a task, regretted it, then moved it back to my to do list, and I’m willing to say that with the right support team, you won’t either. And as my team of support grows, I evolve and the value I place on my team grows exponentially.
One of the most important laws of business is to evolve or become obsolete, and this rule translates to all areas of businesses, even the leader. If you outsource correctly, a surprising benefit is it forces you to evolve as a leader and business owner as you become surrounded by qualified, motivated people. My team continually challenge me, just as I challenge them. They provide new perspective as individuals with varying backgrounds and other life experiences, and I can keep my businesses successful and cutting edge because they see things differently than I see them, and that in turn makes me a more effective leader. The end results is better communication across the team, better customer service, better marketing strategies,, and overall a better service.
Now that you are surrounding yourself with a team and other people are checking off your list, how can you use your time to tackle your day in a new way? On the next episode, we’ll explore some ways to make the most of this new opportunity you’ve created for yourself, starting with some of the tips, tools, and tricks I use to be more productive. You’ll be able to make the most of your newfound time after listening, so subscribe to be sure you don’t miss the next episode of Checking Off Your List with Rachel Luther.