Learning how to outsource while running a small business is a huge mental and financial hurdle. Most small businesses are a one-person show. One entrepreneur or one partnership handling everything on their own. It’s easy to see why this happens, entrepreneurs like problem solving and most small businesses are on a shoestring budget, if that.
But in the back of our minds, we all know outsourcing is out there, and you’ve probably wondered if your business could be better off if you outsourced some of the work. I’ve wrestled with not knowing if or when I should outsource, and even when I made the decision to go ahead, finding the right people was even scarier than deciding I needed them.
I’ve started several businesses before, and never outsourced anything. Outside of paying for basic services like printing, whenever something had to be done, I did it or learned how.
This wasn’t really negotiable at the time, and that’s fine if that’s your situation as well. My previous businesses were started with $0 and the budget to hire people never really grew above that. Additionally, I was in my early 20s and I didn’t really feel like I could be anyone’s boss.
However, starting my ecommerce business is a different situation. This business has a start-up budget of a few thousand dollars, I’m already working full time, and I have the knowledge I gained from my previous businesses. Basically, there’s more on the line and I’m already busy. Plus, it can be really fun to learn Photoshop so that you can create your own graphics and ads, but it’s also really difficult, slow going, and time consuming.
So that was my general mindset when I started prepping for this business to open, but don’t get me wrong, I was still planning on doing everything myself for a long while. I definitely didn’t have plans to outsource anything before the shop actually opened. Then two things happened.
1) My pre-launch list of things to do became unmanageable
2) Scary legal paperwork scared me
My other businesses were one-woman project side hustles. There was no time table or deadline, I just knew that as soon as I started the business I could start making money. This made doing everything myself easy, I was just a little bubble on my own.
Opening my ecommerce store The Snarky Raven is different. For one, I’m blogging about the experience, so I don’t want to have months and months where I’m not posting about it. Additionally, I’m communicating with the Abound team and several Abound makers, so I don’t want to leave them hanging. At first, I was waiting on various permits and paperwork to come in, so there wasn’t any pressure because I couldn’t legally be open.
Once the last permit came in, I realized the deadline was really on me. Even then, however, I was not planning on outsourcing. My years of do-it-yourself and fear of hiring anyone scared me away from even thinking about it.
Instead, I decided I would just work harder and longer until opening. Armed with this plan, I decided to do what I had been looking forward to most before I began an entire day of work: design our logo.
I’ve casually cartooned and done graphic design for years, so making the logo was really important to me. With a name like The Snarky Raven, the logo design is pretty straightforward, so I sat down and started sketching.
After making this quick sketch, I realized a few things. I may have cartooning experience, but that is not the same as logo experience. I think my design is cute, but it doesn’t have the simplicity and sleekness that a logo has, and I didn’t know exactly how to change my design to turn it into one. I knew a bunch of blog articles could help me figure it out, but I just couldn’t afford the time. I saw the rest of my Saturday right there, I would tweak and re-design and slowly get a logo I was really happy with, sometime near the end of the day.
Meanwhile, I knew this happy day of logo design would result in exactly zero of my other list items being taken care of. And I also had knowledge of this tiny little website called Fiverr, which was weighing on my entrepreneur conscience.
Wanting to be responsible to my business, not my personal desire to spend the day drawing, I did a quick search for logo design on Fiverr.
As soon as I saw all the results listed with how affordable this task was, my heart sank with the knowledge that there was no way I’d be designing my own logo. Within 15 minutes, I made an account, picked an artist, and paid $25 to get three possible logo designs. Here are the results I got back only 3 days later.
Getting these back, and seeing how professional and logo-y they were really gave me the encouragement to continue experimenting with outsourcing. The reality is that the vast majority of my to-do list can only be done by me, so getting some relief on things that can be done by others when it makes financial sense to do so is the best decision.
Armed with the knowledge that outsourcing for my business could be quick, cheap, and produce better results than if I had done it myself gave me the courage to do the outsourcing I really needed to: hire a CPA.
Throughout the process of setting up an LLC, getting my reseller license, and figuring out all the different taxes I’ll have to pay, I was determined to figure it out on my own. I really want to understand every single part of my business, and that means understanding the numbers. I was sure that by reading enough blog articles and watching enough YouTube videos, I could get to the point where I knew I was doing it right.
However, that moment where I ‘knew I was doing everything right’ never came. Instead, the financial area of the business became more and more scary to work on. There was never a blog article comprehensive enough, specific to my region enough, and said at the end, ‘if you’ve read this far, I guarantee you understand everything!’
I also didn’t just want to hire a CPA who claimed to have everything under control, and kept me in the dark about how things work. It was really important to me to find someone who would treat me like a student who wants to learn the ropes.
Armed only with my knowledge of the internet and the vague idea of what I wanted, I crafted a pretty high maintenance note and sent it out to 10 different CPAs in California on Thumbtack.
Most got back to me with a generic ‘yeah sure, we’ll do your taxes,’ message, but one response stood out. Her reviews were very positive, and they all mentioned that she does free phone consultations, which I knew was really important to me.
Since I don’t know anything about the details of business finances, I couldn’t judge her on her knowledge during our conversation. I realized all I could really judge her on was personality and temperament. I continued to be a high maintenance version of myself and asked her every pesky financial question I had been piling up for months. She answered them all thoughtfully, politely, and didn’t hand waive and tell me not to worry.
At the end of our phone call, I was really relieved and felt happy to become one of her clients. The overwhelming fear of forgetting to file some random thing with the city and being asked for thousands in late fees isn’t completely gone, but it’s been beaten down quite a bit.
If you’re still on the edge of outsourcing your small business, consider the paranoid thought I had throughout all of these interactions. You don’t have to use their work. If you pay someone for something and they do a bad job, you can always eat the money and do it yourself. How much you spend on outsourcing and what you spend it on is a personal decision, but for now I know I would never spend more than I could afford to lose without affecting the business.
Although both of my experiences have been positive, I’m sure I’ll have to deal with a negative outsourcing experience sooner or later. But I’m certainly glad that I cracked the seal, which allowed me to keep my original opening date. Also, after actually experiencing the rewards of outsourcing, I had to ask myself, ‘Am I really the best person to do this job, or is my ego and my fear of the unknown getting in the way?’ Sometimes the answer is staring you in the face.