And Why Outsourcing Works
I’ve noticed a trend in many small businesses lately—and it’s super concerning, even though these businesses themselves are having great success. They are growing, they have good people, they have plenty of work, and so they’re trying to expand what they do.
Here’s a common small business trend…
Let’s say the business wants to better their website. Maybe the company started out with a site made with one of those free templates, and now it’s time to build something truly custom-made. The only problem is nobody on staff really knows how to build a website from scratch. But Kayla, the office manager, did take a programming course in college, once, and she’s good with graphic design, so the boss asks her to take care of the new website.
Of course she says yes. This is a small business, so it’s always all hands on deck. There’s a lot of figuring things out on the fly, a lot of just finding a way to make it work. And surely Kayla wants to please the boss and the rest of the team. But Kayla’s the wrong person for the job.
At the end of the day, she’ll do her best. She’ll probably figure out how to build a functional website, but the site won’t be as good as what a real site designer could do. And the difference is going to show. The company’s online presence is going to look amateurish.
Worse, Kayla is going to know she’s not doing a great job. She’ll be stressed and unhappy. Meanwhile, the time she spends trying to teach herself website construction is time not spent doing her real job—the thing she’s actually really good at. She’ll know that, too, and feel even worse.
So the company now has a bad website, a frustrated and demoralized office manager, and a poorly-managed office.
The company may still be successful, I’ve seen businesses survive this sort of thing, but it won’t be as successful, or as enjoyable a place to work, as it would have been if they’d put the right person on the job to begin with, either by outsourcing or by hiring someone new.
Have you heard of the phrase “jack of all trades, master of none”?
A jack in this context is like a trainee. It means someone who learns how to do a little of everything but never gets really good at anything. Some people are just like that. Hopefully, they’ll come up to speed on something. Occasionally you might find someone who comes up to speed on everything, a true “Master of Many.” However, if you force your people to try to do everything, you could keep them from getting good at anything. You could be creating Masters of None.
That’s bad for your business, bad for your employees, bad for your workplace culture, it’s just bad.
So what are you to do? Well, I would be remiss if I didn’t admit having done this in my own company. I learned what not to do the hard way, but I also learned a couple of better ways to handle growing a business:
Identify Your Options
Do you have any Masters of Many? If you do, you can go ahead and assign them odd jobs, because they’ll be good at it and they’ll enjoy it. You could also have someone who is truly ready to master a new skill and will appreciate the opportunity. But a person either is this or isn’t, and if you don’t have a Master of Many, you can’t manufacture one.
Let’s say you decide to ask an employee to handle the project—just because they say yes does not mean they should be on the project. Maybe the person just likes to please, or maybe they’re worried about their future in the company, but either way, a lot of people say yes when they shouldn’t. It’s your job to make sure your people are comfortable saying no to you. The possibility that they might not has to be part of your decision.
If you do give the project to someone internally, check in with your team regularly. Is the new assignment working out for everybody? Is anything getting neglected? Are employees getting overworked? Is efficiency going down? Even Masters of Many can get stretched too thin, and since they tend to say yes to everything, you may have to help them manage their time. Be ready to pivot. If you made a poor decision, it’s better to admit it and make the change sooner rather than later.
If nobody on your team is the right person for the task, you’ll have to find someone else. If it’s a short-term project, or if it’s not enough work to justify taking on an additional employee, you can hire a freelancer or an agency to do the work for you (outsourcing). Unfortunately, your employees might resist your decision—they might fear being replaced since outsourcing usually has a much lower overhead than employing people directly. In order to keep your team happy, you’re going to have to share your reasoning and your plans. Once they understand that you’re taking on help in order to strengthen the team, not replace it, they’ll get on board.
If you have ongoing work that nobody on your team can do well, it might be time to expand the team. Even if the extra work is short-term or intermittent. If you’re going to have a lot of short-term projects coming up, you might want to hire someone to manage all the freelancers you’re going to need. In either case, don’t hesitate to take on new people if that’s what you need to strengthen and grow your company.
Now, none of this is to deny that a small business needs all hands on deck.
Everybody on the team needs to be flexible. If a new client is coming to the office and you are out of coffee, someone needs to pitch in. If the server crashes, you may need to have everyone become the IT Department for the day. But when it comes to recurring, predictable responsibilities, if your team doesn’t have the capacity, then you need outside help. And there are people who can help you—and want to.
Now deciding on who to use is a different topic!