As an up-and-coming entrepreneur, I founded my business with just $24,000 in startup capital. I stretched it as far as it could go. I’ve worked lean, consulted on the side, bartered services, and taken on most of the roles in my budding business.
Like nearly every small business owner, in the beginning, I wore a lot of the hats in my company. Starting off this way not only helps stretch your funds, but also allows you to better understand the process of what it takes to create a product, produce it, and get it in front of customers. However, spreading yourself thin across the business is not sustainable in the long-run. In order to grow, focus on the big picture, and speed up the production timeline, it’s important to realize when to let go of certain pieces of the puzzle. This ‘shift’ of responsibilities has allowed me to work smarter and more efficiently.
Lately, I’ve been comparing the cost of my time against the cost of outsourcing business tasks. Since I have a background in e-commerce and marketing, I can easily manage social media outreach and design a few ads. However, can my time be better spent on the core business? After wrapping up a successful Kickstarter campaign, I wanted to focus on delivering our Revive Tanks to the 273 backers of our campaign. To do this, I wondered if it’d be worth spending countless hours researching and learning in hopes of making a sound decision. At this stage in business, the answer was easily no.
In the past 24 months I spent bringing our Revive Tank to market, I’ve used a handful of consultants and outsourced partners for tactical parts of my business. When weighing the benefits of seeking expert advice outside your company, try breaking business tasks into these four buckets:
Core Business Decisions
I think it’s important to keep control of the core business decisions which is why I manage everything from product decisions, to timelines, communication with fabric vendors, to manufacturing and finance. I strongly feel that business owners should be involved in all interactions with their customer. In that vein, I personally write all PR interviews, blog postings, social media outreach and more.
Business Logistics & Expert Guidance
For all outsourced work, I’m still very much involved. I try to do as much prep work as possible to keep costs down. For my initial patent, I researched existing patents, wrote my claims, use-cases, and drew illustrations. Although this was extremely time consuming and tedious, by doing this myself, I cut my patent attorney bill in half. I also take this same approach with my accountant.
When it comes to special projects, like producing a Kickstarter video, this can be big bucks (i.e. I interviewed 3 companies and a 3-4 minute video averaged between $5-$10K). I didn’t need movie-theater quality; I just needed something that looked “good enough”. So, I hired my photographer who was expanding out into video. As long as I was flexible with some skill sets, he was flexible on the rate. In the end, we ended up with a good product for half the above estimate.
We all have areas we excel in and areas we need improvement on. In my case, the latter was sewing. Since the Revive Tank is a cut and sew product, my first and best hire was a 4th generation seamstress who sewed all of my prototypes. In addition, I hired a technical design consultant who helped fine tune material selections, detailing, and fit. They’ve both been instrumental in the development of the final design and will continue to help on new product designs.
When outsourcing, especially in the beginning, you don’t have to strive for perfection – sometimes good enough is “good enough” to get you to the next hurdle. There is also a balance to be struck between outsourcing to amateurs vs. über-professionals, so you don’t overpay or end up with substandard results. The bar I set for qualifying outsourced service providers also differs; I have a much higher bar when I’m outsourcing a task I’m competent in but not particularly proficient in.
Of course I still make product labels, ads, cold calls and analyze social media traffic– it’s all part of the gig to switch roles quickly and pitch in where you can. But to poise your business for success and growth, you definitely shouldn’t try to do it all on your own. When growth happens, get help.