Outsourcing: it's a wonderful thing. Every business guru, coach and speaker will tell you that the sure path to success is to outsource as much as possible, freeing your time to run your company, plan for the future and create your ideal life by design.
Unfortunately, that's one of those things that's easier said than done. Outsourcing costs money, right? What if you’re just starting out? What if you’ve hit a rough patch? What if you need the money for personal reasons and can’t invest it back into your company at this time? (I discussed this very real possibility in one of my former posts, "Sailing Through Crisis and Taking My Own Advice.") These are all factors that must be considered when deciding what, if anything, should be outsourced in your business.
I remember when I first really grasped the concept of outsourcing at my industry's annual convention. I had taken some advanced classes and learned that common denominator in the success of each instructor was outsourcing. Until then, I had assumed that everyone operated their business as I did, doing everything themselves. How else could they maintain their brand, deliver a specific style, or ensure their customers' happiness without personally handling it all? But here they were, with companies in their name, allowing others to take on their tasks and still excelling. Finally I was able to see how my company could still grow while I let go of some of the aspects that drove me crazy or that I downright hated.
Of course, wanting to outsource and being able to outsource are different things. What do you do when you're ready to embrace the concept, but can’t actually afford to outsource everything you want? I had this very problem when I came home from the convention. I wasn’t at a level where I could pay someone else do do everything I no longer wanted to do myself, as eager as I was, so instead I had to take it one step at a time and to look forward to the future when I'd be able to outsource more.
Does this sound familiar? As ready as you may be to start outsourcing everything, the current reality of your business and your finances may preclude you from doing so. Here are several ways you can approach getting things done now, while you're in that limbo period of not being able to outsource. (Also worth noting: even if you're making great money and have a team working under you, these approaches can be applied at any time - because, let's be honest, there's no guarantee that it's always going to be smooth sailing.)
Do It (All) Yourself
I’m not going to lie. This one’s hard. I spent a good portion of years working my business up to a point where I had outsourcing down to a science. All I was doing myself was photographing (which I love) and actually running my business. It was grand.
Then, my mom got sick. At first I was able to continue outsourcing a lot of my tasks, which allowed me time to care for her. After a year or so, however, my resources were drained and I found myself increasingly having to do everything myself, quite against my will. I was an experienced businesswoman. I shouldn't have to do all this grunt work anymore…and yet, the reality was that I did. So I sucked it up, created myself a detailed workflow, broke the tasks into smaller bits to be spread throughout the week and I cranked out the work myself. It was boring and grueling and frustrating, but having a system helped, as did planning some rewards for when a task is completed. (Beer works for me, but you may have other more healthy ways of rewarding yourself.)
If there's a silver lining in doing everything yourself, it's this: being in the trenches gives you a very clear understanding of all that goes into your business, and can spark some creative ideas of how the various tasks can be streamlined and prioritized. If you pay attention, and even use this aggravating DIY period as an opportunity to document your systems and workflows, it will make outsourcing in the future that much easier and more effective.
The Sliding Scale Method
As with most things in life, outsourcing really doesn’t have to be all or nothing. When you begin to outsource tasks in your business, try to do it in such a way that allows you to scale back when you're not busy and to assign more work during the wedding season. I have one company that does several tasks for me regularly, but that offers the flexibility where I can pick and choose which items I’ll do myself. When the busy season first starts, I have more time and therefore can save money by doing more tasks for my business. Once May arrives, however, it's quite the opposite, and I found myself outsourcing more. I like this method because it can be used in the regular course of the ebb and flow of business, and not just when a crisis ensues.
You'll want to look for companies (such as virtual assistants) that allow you to change the quantity and scope of work as your needs change, without locking you in long-term. You'll also want to experiment with which tasks save you the most time by outsourcing, thus creating the most benefit to your business for the investment.
Beg, Borrow, Steal (well, maybe not the last one)
When you're determined to outsource but money is tight, ask yourself: what else in your business can be sacrificed, at least for the time being, so that you can keep outsourcing? Maybe you only purchase a half page ad, not a full page. Perhaps you only need to belong to one professional organization, not two. Where in your budget can you cut back so that you can still afford to run your business as usual?
When in doubt, try prioritizing this way: if it’s not directly contributing to cash in your pocket or to your clients' satisfaction, it may be something you can cut. Re-allocating that money in your budget will give you back the time to actually run your business, creating a greater return on your investment. As you're making cuts to your budget, you should also think about how you can make up for those cuts in creative (and preferably free) ways. For example, if you're slashing your advertising costs, you may choose to embrace some of the free ways to market your wedding business, such as stepping up your networking or reaching out directly to former clients.
Can You Do Me a Solid?
Sometimes I work for free. I know I shouldn’t be admitting that, but we all do it from time to time. A vendor wants me to photograph an industry event, a college friend desperately needs a head shot, my aunt could use some instruction on how to use her new camera. How many people have you helped out in a pinch because you like them, they needed it or you thought it was a good cause?
Guess what? They can help you now. Don’t be afraid to call in favors in your own time of need. We all have cash flow issues from time to time, run out of capital or just mismanage our own expectations of our income. Fortunately, there are plenty of people in your industry that you can rely on for help, advice or a little organization. Your friends and family outside of the industry can be great resources too. Would any of them love an inside look at your business and to play assistant for a day? Think of things they can do that don’t require technical expertise and let them help you.
As you consider the strategies that will help you save money and get more done, think about this: just because you’re not doing things the way all the successful people in your industry say they're doing it doesn’t mean you’ve failed. The fact is, business is not always on a steady upward trajectory. Sometimes you have to make adjustments along the way to help your business grow. Keep your head up, do the work, be open to making changes and you'll reach your goals.