I’ve always recruited a team. My first company involved cutting lawns. I could have done all the work singlehandedly, but I couldn’t have scaled. Like a lot of people, I digested The 4-Hour Workweek and started outsourcing whatever I could. When I got a traffic ticket and needed to take an online driver’s test to keep points off my license, I outsourced it. When I accepted a contract at a Fortune-500 company, and their HR department required diversity training, I outsourced that, too. When someone asks how many employees my current company has, I say “none.” I’m proud of the fact that I work collaboratively and collectively with other contractors, free agents, and independent professionals, and outsource the rest. My team is big, my capabilities strong.
Work and life are seamless. My worker bees test my websites, cross-reference specialists by proximity and doctor ratings, proofread articles like this one, research obscure statistics, make veterinary and restaurant appointments, organize spreadsheets, and check with my dentist about the length of a procedure. I don’t just outsource anything I can; I specifically break work of any kind into components that I can delegate vs. the parts that really need me.
And yet, there are SOME things that can’t be outsourced. No matter how many experts are recommending it, and regardless of how many people are doing it, it’s not getting done. If we think no one pays for work that’s consistently worthless, just look at government contracts. From storm relief to disaster prevention, collectively, we outsource “nothing” all the time. Nothing is big business.
Here are some things that we’re told can be outsourced but that actually should not:
- Marketing—IF we don’t have a compelling brand story. Sure, we can outsource marketing-like behavior. Outsourcing can SIMULATE marketing, the way we might give a toy lawn mower to a toddler to “help” us as we actually mow the lawn. He might even do it without us after that (though the grass isn’t getting shorter), but it’s not real. If we have no idea about what unified story we’re telling, stuff is getting posted, shared, even liked, and followers are getting added, but we’re not marketing. What’s your newest follower done for you lately?
- Sales—IF we don’t know how to do it. Theoretically there are people who are “better” at sales than we are, and we can use their skills, but it would be like outsourcing the question, “Who am I?” Sales isn’t primarily technique. You can get someone who WILL call people up. If you’re just trying to get a pass from doing that, then relax—you’re buying comfort. If you want the actual closed business, however, no one gets that for you, not in any real or consistent way, if you don’t have a pitch that worked out that you’ve been able to use to close deals. If YOU can’t close, no one else can close for you. People don’t believe this; they’re sure it isn’t true. I invite them to compute their cost vs. revenue for their outsourced sales program accordingly.
- Organize—IF we’re not committed to being organized. If I pick your laundry up off the floor every day, and you continue to throw it down, you’re not paying me to organize for you. You’re paying me to preserve your lifestyle.
- Lead—IF we’re not sure where to go. We can’t outsource the running of our business. Sure, people hire “business managers” to “handle everything” while they practice a trade skill. That’s fine, but you’re not really outsourcing leadership; you’re hiring an employer. This might seem far-fetched until said person asks for 50% of your commissions. Happens every darned day in the art world. And why do they do it? Because you’re not making them enough money, and you’re not making enough money yourself, because you’re trying NOT to run a business. You can’t outsource your vision or your plan for growth—your career blueprint—but you CAN outsource it once you know what it is.
If you have a clear, compelling brand story, you can outsource a lot of your marketing—just not the role of being the keeper of the story.
If you have a working, effective sales pitch, you can outsource a lot of the selling—just not the role of ensuring that your sales program stays true to the company.
If you’re committed to putting your business in order and prove it by making that order “sticky,” you can outsource some of what’s needed to get it organized. An example would be hiring a bookkeeper or a tax accountant. You can’t outsource the commitment to an organized enterprise, however. That rests with you.
And if you’re willing to lead—meaning, first and foremost, that you know, live in, safeguard, and insist upon your career blueprint, business vision, and professional objectives—then you can bring in other leaders to channel that. You can’t, however—can’t ever—let go of your stewardship of that blueprint. You HAVE to be the CEO of your enterprise.
Being real about what we can outsource requires us to acknowledge that there’s no escape from doing the work. No shirking, no flinching, no malingering. There are no substitutes. You can’t outsource a business; you can only outsource FROM a business. But once you nail those key elements—your career blueprint, brand story, and sales pitch—you can be a work creator for a lot of people. Your business can become a bonfire of opportunity.
This is what I’ve found to be true and why I’m so committed to the brands I’ve built. Done well, we all become carriers of a work culture and ethos that we can live in together—one we can love.
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