We’ve all heard the saying “play to your strengths”, and we’ve all heard the word “outsource” – but do we take as much notice as we should of these two very important parts of business? The reasons for wanting to play to our strengths are obvious – when we put our hands to something we’re good at, the results are often pretty good. When we try our hands at something we just know we’re not too great at, the task is doomed from the start, save for a miracle.

You might be wondering what this has to do with running a startup, but it’s really quite simple. The thing you’re good at; do them, and do them well. The things that fall well outside of your expertise, don’t agonize over them or spend hours doing what will inevitably be a bad job, outsource them! Dotted around the internet are lots of different websites giving you the facility to outsource lots of everyday tasks – from content writing to graphic design, from hiring a virtual assistant to outsourcing the creation of your website – there is definitely someone out there waiting for you to find them. The easiest example of ways in which we outsource as business owners is an accountant – an accountant is usually one of the first people we appoint to assist us with our business activity.

Taking my own example into account really highlights the importance of playing to your strengths and outsourcing your weaknesses. I’m an “old school” manager, I like to keep abreast of everything that’s going on, without getting my hands too dirty. I’m firmly of the belief that a good manager needs to take a step back, and stay back – if I’m not messing about doing little jobs every day I can manage my business effectively, and that’s what I do.

From an early age it was clear my creativity and artistic skills were almost non-existent, and this was a huge problem for me at first when it came to starting a business. I’m of the belief that branding is essential for a business from the very beginning – having that catchy slogan and that vibrant logo will help you stick in the minds of customers – having a strong brand identity is extremely important. I had no problem dreaming up long lists of slogans, but I could never even begin to draw up a logo. Sure, I could have gone to a PR company who would have charged my thousands upon thousands of dollars to come up with some kind of image for my company – but what’s the point when there’s a world of freelancers out there, who can do the same job, just a whole lot cheaper?

My logo design wasn’t the only thing I outsourced, in fact I actually went on a bit of an outsourcing spree! It might sound costly, but it’s not – the time I saved by outsourcing tasks I knew I just couldn’t complete to the standard I required was amazing, that time was then invested on other areas of my business – and that time was well spent.

Here are just some of the other tasks I decided to outsource within just a few months of forming my startup:

  • Graphic design: I had my logo designed by a freelancer, I then asked that person to complete some promotional flyers and other marketing materials using the logo they’d created and the same color scheme.
  • My website: I’m quite good at building websites, but I’ve never made a professional shopping site – so I left this one to the pros. For less than $500 I had a fully working shopping website that was crisp, clean and very easy to use. I could probably have done the job myself, but in amongst the other things I had on, it would have taken months, maybe years. Instead, I outsourced to one keen freelancer, the job was completed in 2 weeks, flat.
  • Website copy: as you’ve probably guessed I’m pretty good at writing, but I still decided to outsource the content writing for my website – that includes all the help pages, and the product descriptions. I wanted a fresh tone in my web copy, I knew if I did it myself there would be a fair chance of the “salesy” language being in excess, so I left it to a copywriting professional – they did me proud.
  • Website pictures: we’re all aware of the legal implications of stealing someone else’s pictures to put on our own website, so I took proactive steps to avoid any trouble – I paid a freelancer $30 to photograph all of our products, they then ran them through Photoshop to get rid of any minor blemishes and sent my stock pictures to me via email after just a couple of days. It cost me less than $50, and the stock photos look fantastic.
  • Marketing: You may remember my previous article on how to save startup cash and become an internet marketing guru – well, I did it all myself for the first 6 months or so. However as the day to day operations became more intense with increased customer interaction, more orders to fulfill etc, I decided to remove the burden of running our marketing campaign. I outsourced it for less than $100 per month, and the results are even better than what I achieved when doing it myself – I now feel silly for being so reluctant to outsource this crucial part of my business for so long.

I’m currently looking to outsource the customer service side of my business, but the logistics of doing so are easier said than done. This might be one step too far when it comes to outsourcing, so I may end up having to employ someone from the local area to deal with customer complaints, emails and calls – but even if I do have to employ someone locally as opposed to a freelancer, the merits of freelancing should not be underestimated.

Think of the tasks you could outsource in your startup (or even your established business!) – you could save precious time and money by having someone else complete them for you. Even if you don’t run an online business you might still benefit from having a website, and even if you don’t have a website, outsourcing customer services or even having a freelancer create some brand identity for you could turn out to be a great investment!