It used to be a question for the biggest businesses: what do we outsource? Time has levelled the playing field and, today, even small businesses and solopreneurs can outsource virtually anything. Indeed, for ambitious businesses, outsourcing could be a competitive advantage.
- Brainstorming: P&G famously use crowdsourcing to innovate, but it’s just as easy for small firms. Sites like Quora and Reddit can help with simple questions and crowdfunding apps can let you test ‘minimum viable products’.
- Creatives: Manage clever creative types from a distance. Online ‘marketplaces’ are springing up for design talent, ad creatives, writers, programmers… the list is growing: peopleperhour, Upwork and guru.com are just a few places to find talent. Increasingly, this extends across the workforce: contractors from sales to data entry to web design & software application design will work by the hour. (It sounds ruder than it should.)
- Ideas: This is more a case of outpouring than outsourcing, ensuring you get ideas down when they occur to you, either digitally or on paper.
IT and office outsourcing
- Data storage. From document repository Dropbox to bigger gig guardians such as Rackspace, you can get someone else to house big file servers– and potentially do away with the office altogether.
- Servers Web-based activity can be outsourced to ‘hosts’ with far greater server capacity than most small businesses could afford independently. Security is usually included in the tariffs.
- Telecoms: Remote working can ratchet up the communications costs, so cloud phone systems like RingCentral can be very cost-effective.
- Workplace: Like Jason Fried says, ‘work doesn’t happen at work’. You can collaborate online, find a place to park yourself using WeWork and take advantage of the boom in cool, central office spaces cropping up in major cities.
- Retailing: Set up a virtual store and a mobile operation with ease. Then use cloud-based software to manage supply chain and procurement.
Outsourcing professional services
- Project management from our gurus and role model at 37 Signals.
- The FD: Can’t afford a full-time bean counter? Try the Wow Company instead.
- Marketing – from email campaigns to advertising to virtual PRs, this is an area many small businesses would expect to outsource. My business, Articulate Marketing, is an outsourced marketing department for many ambitious technology companies.
- PAs: Use a ‘virtual PA’ to stay on top of things, either with telephone-based services such as Moneypenny in the UK (but your clients don’t have to know that), TimeSvr or AskSunday, to name just a few.
- Funding: New crowdfunding sites like CrowdCube (among others) are an alternative to angel investment and are particularly popular for grassroots arts projects, social enterprises and inventors.
- HR. There’s a lot you can do yourself to improve employee engagement and team productivity but you can also get help from experts like HR Revolution.
Outsource your life
- Fitness: OK, you can’t exactly outsource it, but there are plenty of apps, like RunKeeper and Sworkit and gadgets to help you stay motivated.
- Errands: Check out Taskrabbit.
- Your life: Eating, shopping, travelling – who’s got time for all that? But if you can’t quite stretch to Quintessentially’s ultra-smart service, you could try the more modest offerings of GetFriday.