So you know you should be working ON your business as well as IN it, but how do you actually do that when you're busy? If you've got more work than you can handle, need some help to trim your to-do list, or want to outsource but are not quite sure where to start, this episode is for you.
Outsourcing expert Lisa Tennant runs a virtual assistant service and joins me on this episode to talk about all things delegation and outsourcing. Letting someone else into our business for the first time can be a daunting prospect, but Lisa shares some great tips about how to go about it.
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Louise Shanahan is a freelance health and medical copywriter and a big fan of finding your freelance niche. She's on a mission to help others build a freelance business that feels easy and works for them – in weekly snack-sized bites.
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Welcome to 15 Minute Freelancer, your snack size guide to being your own boss and building a business that works for you. I'm your host, Louise Shanahan. I'm a freelance health copywriter and on this podcast I take you behind the scenes, so you can borrow from what's worked and what hasn't as you grow your own freelance business. We'll also have some practical tips and tactics from special guests along the way, so you can skip a few steps on your own freelancing journey. So without further ado, let's get started with today's episode. If you enjoy it, hit follow so you don't miss the next one.
Louise: Today on 15 Minute Freelancer I'm talking to Lisa Tennant, who runs a virtual assistant service, and we're going to be talking all things delegation and outsourcing. So if you're feeling like you just don't have enough hours in the day and you might need some help to trim your to do list, but maybe you're feeling a bit reluctant to outsource or you're not quite sure where to start, then this episode is for you. Hi, Lisa, thank you for joining me, how are you?
Lisa: I'm good thank you, Louise. Thanks for having me.
Louise: I mentioned delegation and outsourcing just there. For freelancers, this might look like hiring a VA or hiring subcontractors, or maybe hiring specialists for particular tasks such as designing your website or something like that. Sometimes that process can be a bit daunting, so I wonder if you could maybe kick us off with some insight into why so many of us solo business owners find it so hard to delegate?
Lisa: Yeah, I think one of the mistakes that we make, especially when we're freelancers and we're on our own is that we get very stuck in the detail. When you're starting out in business, I think you do get very stuck in the process of your own business and the order in which you do things. And as that goes on, it can feel quite difficult when you reach a place where you know that really you need help. It just becomes almost too much, you know, how am I going to explain to somebody else how all of these processes work, or in which order I like to do things. And some people just wait too long to delegate and really should have probably done it sooner. Concerns about someone not being as passionate about your business as you are, that's always a big one. Because obviously, you've grown this business, you've nurtured it, you love it, and it can be really frightening to think that you're going to let someone else into your world and they won't be able to have those same feelings that you've got. And of course, financial worries, some people just worry about the cost, can they actually afford to delegate to somebody, I'll wait until I've got a few more clients or there's a little bit more money coming in. But more often than not, that doesn't ever happen. Because you get stuck in this place where you haven't delegated, you're trying to do everything, you don't actually have enough income coming in, because you can't grow the business because you're trying to do everything yourself. It's a bit of a vicious cycle, really. I've been there myself in a previous business where I didn't delegate, and it was just me working flat out 24 hours a day, seven days a week, for like 10 years. And this time around, I have made sure I've delegated right from day one.
Louise: I know for me when I first started working with a VA the things that I was a little bit anxious about were things like the idea that I've got a certain way of doing things and I don't know if someone else will do it the same way as me. What will it be like giving feedback to someone, I don't want to upset them, you know, things like that. And then also an element of feeling a bit embarrassed to show someone behind the scenes because, you know, I like to think that I give this impression of being super organised, and you know, I'm pretty organised, but actually letting someone see what that looks like behind the scenes. It's kind of like you might hire a cleaner and you think I better clean my house before they come round, there's a bit of that. I wonder if you've got any advice for what we can do to overcome some of these mindset blocks and practical blocks to outsourcing work or getting help?
Lisa: I think it's important to recognise that asking for help is not a loss of control, and that it's okay for somebody to see behind the curtain and they're not going to judge you for it. And being honest with yourself about where your strengths and weaknesses lie, because we're not good at everything. I'm not great with the numbers, to be honest, it’s not my strong point, so I'd rather get rid of that straightaway. I think it is important, I mean, you're not going to be the best person at finance or marketing or sales, and the trouble is, if you try to be good at everything, you can end up leaving jobs to the last minute and pushing them to the bottom of the pile all the time, or not doing them at all. And as a result, your business can really suffer. I do think being honest with yourself is key and recognising if you're making excuses. Are you saying to yourself, oh no, it's not because I'm not good at that, I just don't have the time. It's really about being aware that actually maybe you're not doing that job because you're not very good at it, you don't like it, it stresses you out. And if you can be honest and answer those questions, then it will help you decide who to take on, if you should take somebody on, what you should give to somebody. I mean, one of the things I would suggest is completing the time audit of your day-to-day business tasks. Probably over like a month, gathering that information will help to see which jobs you could outsource and how much time they will take. It will also help you decide who you need, do you need a full time person, or a part time person, a temporary staff member if it's just for a one off project. Do you need somebody who specialises in their field, like a copywriter or a graphic designer, or a VA, for example, if you want somebody but you don't have quite enough hours to give a part time person. I think you just need to understand what it is that you're not great at, where your strengths are that's where you should be. I mean, you went into this business because you love it and if you end up stuck doing jobs you really hate you'll end up resenting your business in my personal opinion.
Louise: You mentioned the time audit, how does that work in practice, how can people do that?
Lisa: I actually have a template, which I'm more than happy to share with you.
Louise: Yes, great, we can add that into the show notes.
Lisa: There are apps like Toggl, for example, which you can use to press the start and stop button every time you do a job, and you can just add that into the template. Then at the end of the month you can have a look at that and see where were you spending most of your time and was it on the jobs that you wanted to do. Was it on the work that you really enjoy or is your focus somewhere else because you're knee deep in the invoicing or the sales or the admin. And is that something that you could actually say, well, you know, I don't need to do that. A time audit is a great way for you to see where your time is going, what you could release, and how many hours you really need to give to somebody to do that.
Louise: It’s like you were saying earlier, this is really about making space and time to work on your business rather than being stuck in it, which we hear a lot. But what does that actually mean in practice, and it sounds like the time audit can be a great way to free up that space and time to do that, or just to make time for other things. You know, if you want to reduce your hours or something like that, then outsourcing would be a way to do that.
Lisa: And also, you know, spending time with family. I think that's paramount spending time with your family, that shouldn't be compromised and I know it often is when people feel like they have to work really long, hard hours. But actually, I think you should know upfront when you start the business where your compromises are going to be. For me, this time around in with this business that wasn't going to be a compromise I was willing to make. I've got young children and I want to make sure that I'm not neglecting the time I spend with them to run the business. I think if you can factor that in early on as well, that will really help you with that delegation process.
Louise: Have you got any other suggestions for how people think about what tasks to delegate and when to do that?
Lisa: It's kind of like a chicken and egg situation, but I do think you should delegate as early as you can. I've heard people say they were worried about the money, but they just did it anyway and thought they'd figure that out later. And that's because your kind of pushed more in the direction of having to sort it out if you are delegating, you've got to pay somebody. It might seem difficult to understand the concept of delegating early when you might not have much money coming in. But if you do get bogged down with the work, you won't have the time to bring in new business anyway. So your income is never going to grow to the point where you're going to take somebody on. I think one of the first people you should delegate to is an accountant. Nobody should do their own accounts, it's just an awful thing to do, especially when you're running a limited company. And then set yourself a realistic goal of what you want to live on. So in the early stages, not what you want to make, just what you need to live on. So that once you hit that target, or get close to it, then you can start to delegate the work that's slowing you down or making you stressed and unhappy, and the work that's fundamentally distracting you from what you love about your business. Once you get to that point, that target amount, I think that's a good time then to start delegating. But not to be tempted with, oh there's another client coming in and that will be an extra few 100 pounds a month, I'll just keep that client for me. That's probably not a good idea, because if you do that you'll never ever, ever get to that point where you outsource. My strapline is, without time you can't scale. If your goal is to grow your business, you're going to hit a ceiling at some point in how far you can grow it if you don't build a team, if you don't have that support. If you're not trying to grow your business and you're just trying to bring in an income then fine, it's completely different. But if you're trying to grow your business, which most people are, then delegating early before you've got knee deep in the detail is much better than then doing it later when it just feels like a mountain to climb.
Louise: I think that makes a lot of sense. But even if that doesn't feel like something people can do straightaway, it certainly makes sense to document your processes so that when you are in a position to start delegating, or outsourcing, you've got something at least as a starting point to share, this is how I do this kind of task, this is how I do this, and they can build on that.
Lisa: Absolutely. I actually wrote a blog post about that recently, that's something I've done from day one, where I almost write like a manual for the business. So when that person eventually comes in as our business grows, then it's already there, all the processes are all laid out, written down, the links to all the documents, files, and whatever are already well documented. So I think that's an absolutely brilliant idea.
Louise: And it probably helps us stay organised ourselves as well, doesn't it? Because we’re forced to think, how should I do this, what would this look like if I do it in the ideal way?
Lisa: Yeah, absolutely. And then little things it's hard to remember, so I've got automations set up and I can't even remember sometimes what they're set up for. So I actually developed a workflow, so if somebody comes in and they're being onboarded I don't have to double check myself and think do I have to send them an email, it's already there, I've written it all down. I think that's a really good thing to do and like you say, it does help keep you organised as well.
Louise: And that approach makes sense if you were to work with a virtual assistant equally if you were to be subcontracting some of your actual project work as well.
Lisa: If you've got your processes already set up, let's say in Trello, or something like that, it just makes that whole situation of delegating so much easier because you're not training somebody up from scratch, if you know what I mean.
Louise: When we're working with other people and we're outsourcing often that requires us to give people access to our passwords, through a password manager hopefully. You might be letting someone else liaise with clients on your behalf. You might be worried about subcontracting work, are they going to deliver on time. And all of this comes down to trust and finding people that not only will do a great job, but that you can trust them. I wonder if you've got any thoughts on that, how do we find the right people and how do we nurture these relationships that are based on trust?
Lisa: I think this can be a difficult one for a lot of people and sometimes it just comes down to trial and error. But generally, you would ask for recommendations. So if you're going to be taking on somebody who specialised in graphic design or something like that, then you would be asking other people that you know, or for a VA the same thing, you'd be asking for recommendations. I also think if you can try before you buy it's always a good option. With us, for example, we offer a one hour free trial so it gives you a little bit of a taster on how we work and the benefits for you. If you're going to be employing someone, then obviously you want to pick someone with the right skills, and who comes with the right references. But fundamentally somebody who is aligned with your core values, and it's doing your due diligence, just checking. We make sure all our VAs are insured, we do use password managers, we’re insured for data and cybersecurity and all of that kind of thing and registered with the ICO. It's making sure that you're choosing a company that has all of the right credentials, who is willing to sign an NDA if you need them to. But sometimes things don't work out, sometimes there are compatibility issues. But for me, I'd say it's just like a driving test, you just have to get straight back in and do it again. Because you can't feel like you know, it's too scary, I've been burnt once, I'm never gonna go there. It might take a couple of tries before you find the right fit, but it shouldn't put you off.
Louise: Yeah, it's part of the process, isn't it, it's part of doing business. Thank you so much Lisa that's been great, there's loads of great tips for people there. If people want to ask you any questions about any of this or find out more about your services, where can they find you?
Lisa: People can find me on Twitter and Instagram at LTVA services. Or they can find me under my personal name, Lisa Tennant, on LinkedIn or visit the website for that one hour free trial which is ltvaservices.com.
Louise: That's lovely, thank you so much, Lisa, and thanks to everybody for listening. As always if you've enjoyed it please like, review, share, subscribe, all of those calls to action. And until next time, happy freelancing.
If you've enjoyed this episode of 15 Minute Freelancer, please consider leaving a review or sharing it with a freelance friend. Hit subscribe or follow so you don't miss the next one and remember, you get even more bonus content when you sign up for the 15 Minute Freelancer newsletter. All the links are in the show notes and at 15minutefreelancer.com Thanks and until next time, happy freelancing.