As a self-employed professional or creative, you’re used to doing most things on your own. But there will likely come a time when the assistance of others could help your business grow, and help you feel less stressed. Here are some questions you might find yourself asking, and suggestions about the next step to take.
Q. When is it time to get help in my business?
A. Look sooner rather than later. The best time to look at getting help is before you need it. By the time you decide you need a hand, you may already be so overloaded that you don’t have the time to find it. Every time you make a choice that expands your business, consider what will happen if your expansion is successful. Plan at the launch of each new service, program, or marketing campaign how you will manage when sales go through the roof. Also, keep in mind that getting help may be just what you need to buy yourself enough time to expand your business in the first place. If you are interested enough in this topic to read this paragraph, you probably already need to look for help.
Q. But can I afford it?
A. Try this simple equation. Divide the gross income you would like your business to bring in this year by the total number of hours you wish to work. So if you want your business to earn $100K and you wish to work a 40-hour week, divide $100,000 by 2080, which is 40 hours times 52 weeks. You may wish to subtract 80 hours to give yourself two weeks vacation, so $100,000 divided by 2000 hours is $50. That means every single hour you spend working on your business needs to bring in $50 in order for you to reach your goal. That’s working hours, not just billable hours. Now does it start making sense to find someone to help you?
Q. What kind of help do I need?
A. Analyze your needs. To determine what sort of help to get, take some time to figure out why you need it and what resources will bring you what you need. Don’t jump at a solution just because it works for other people. Consider these elements:
1. Workload. Make a list of all the tasks you can think of that really don’t need to be done by you personally. Keep a notepad next to you for a week and add to the list every time you find yourself doing something that perhaps someone else could do. Look at Nina Feldman’s 101 Ways to Use a Virtual Assistant for more ideas. You may think you don’t have much work that could be farmed out to someone else, but if you keep asking this question, you may find that your list grows quickly. If you are being offered opportunities for more paid work than you want or can handle, you might also consider subcontracting to an associate.
2. Workflow. What do you wish could be handled when you are not available? What are the routine tasks that need to be done in your business that it would be great to have taken care of automatically while you are with clients, on the road, or on vacation? What are the monthly, quarterly, or annual projects that take up a lot of your time? When you host a program or launch a new product, what are the one-time activities that are an extra burden for you to manage alone?
3. Expertise. In which areas do you potentially need help because you don’t have the right knowledge or tools to do the job? Self-employed folks frequently hire experts to handle bookkeeping, tax preparation, graphic design, web design, IT support, social media management, editing, and other responsibilities. It can be less expensive to hire someone who can do things quickly than to spend many hours of your own time trying to figure it all out.
4. Inclination. There may be tasks you know how to do but just aren’t interested in doing. Give yourself permission to hire out jobs that drain you, even if you could do them yourself.
5. Goals. What is the ultimate goal you want to accomplish by getting help? Is it to have more time available to serve clients, or to create products and programs, or to take time off? Is it to earn more money? Is it to have a turnkey business that runs itself when you are not around, and that perhaps you could sell one day? Be clear on what purpose you want any new help to serve, so you can make the right choices about getting it.
Q. Could I use a virtual assistant?
A. You probably can. Virtual assistants are ideal for accomplishing regular tasks that can be handled online, by phone, or on their own computer. They can also help with many one-time projects as well as with vacation coverage. Most VA’s have a wide variety of skills and may be able to help with areas such as bookkeeping, graphic design, web design, and IT support, as well as jobs you might normally think of as administrative. VA’s usually prefer to work collaboratively with their clients on an ongoing basis, rather than only on short-term projects. But if you have a number of such projects, using a VA might still be right for you.
Advantages. VA’s have all their own tools and equipment, work from their own space, and need minimal training in many cases. They work as independent contractors, not employees, so you have no payroll, insurance, or taxes to worry about. A good VA will help you figure out how to delegate better. Once your VA gets to know your business, you will find that you can turn over whole areas of responsibility and know they will be handled.
Disadvantages. Especially if you have never worked with an assistant before, it can be difficult to trust important duties to someone you may have never met in person. Working virtually requires a certain comfort level with technology on your part. VA’s can cost more by the hour than an on-site assistant. And they can’t perform some tasks that require an in-person presence like handling physical products or running errands.
Q. Should I use an on-site assistant?
A. Maybe. If you feel you need to supervise someone directly, or you have tasks that can only be handled in person, you may need an on-site assistant as well as, or instead of, a virtual one. A local assistant can handle registration at a workshop site, shop for supplies, update your computer, ship products, and process mail. They may also double as a personal assistant, picking up your dog from the groomer or ordering dinner.
Advantages. When you have someone on site, it can be easier to hand over tasks on an ad hoc basis, as they come up or as you think of them. You can show someone on site how you need a task done, step-by-step. Assistants who work in your space using your equipment are often cheaper by the hour than virtual assistants. When using an assistant for the first time, it can be easier to become comfortable with the idea when your assistant is near you.
Disadvantages. You may find it difficult to locate someone reliable who is willing to work for you only a few hours per week. In a rural area, travel time can be a problem, and in an urban area, your assistant may be hesitant to pay parking or transit costs for a short shift. You have to provide space for your assistant to work, and perhaps share a computer. Also, you may not be able to legally pay an on-site assistant as an independent contractor, depending on your working arrangement and the assistant’s employment status elsewhere.
Q. Should I hire a professional?
A. Sometimes, yes. When you need specific expertise for a short-term project, hiring an expert is often the way to go. You could hire someone to help you design your website, create a flyer, edit a workbook, convert your database, review a contract, or prepare your taxes. There are some professionals you might hire to perform a specific function on an ongoing basis, such as a bookkeeper or social media manager.
Advantages. Professionals come equipped with all the knowledge and tools necessary to get the job done. They don’t require any training, except in the specifics of your business. In some cases, they may even provide training to you. They can get projects done quickly and efficiently, often with much higher quality than you could produce yourself.
Disadvantages. Professional help can be expensive. In some cases, the person you hire may have a higher billing rate than your own. If you hire someone who turns out not to be competent, you may not know it until you have invested quite a bit of money. With a professional who has many clients, your project may sometimes be delayed while they work on someone else’s.
Q. Should I subcontract work to an associate?
A. It’s worth considering. If you are being offered paying work that you can’t or don’t want to do, subcontracting to an associate can earn you passive income and build the reputation of your business. Associates are professionals like yourself, highly skilled in a particular line of work. You might subcontract training, coaching, consulting, facilitation, assessments, writing, editing, web or graphic design, artwork, and more. Subcontractors may work with you serving your existing clients, or serve other clients that you aren’t working with yourself.
Advantages. Subcontracting can expand your business quickly and earn you substantial amounts of passive income. By having the work of multiple people contribute to your gross revenue, you can justify an increased budget for marketing and support to grow your business even further. Your enterprise can expand beyond your own expertise, and pursue larger projects than you could handle alone.
Disadvantages. Since subcontractors may work directly with clients and without supervision, they must be people whose skills you have confidence in. Since they will have other clients than yours, you can’t always count on them being available when you need them. As the owner of a multi-person enterprise, you will have increased responsibilities for management and marketing that may take you away from doing the work you love the most.
Q. How do I find the right people?
A. The following ideas will help:
Ask for referrals. The best people are often those who are referred to you by someone they have already worked for. Ask your personal network or social media connections to recommend someone whose work they have personally experienced.
Search online directories. Explore the directories offered by professional associations and training schools to find qualified professionals and virtual assistants. For example, AssistU for virtual assistants or EFA for editors.
Use online communities and message boards. Look for posts — or make your own — in relevant groups, like those operated by an association you belong to, or on Facebook or LinkedIn. To find someone in your area, use community resources such as Chamber of Commerce directories, and local message boards — both online (like Craigslist) and the old-fashioned kind with cards and tacks.
Hire from a freelance marketplace. Online platforms like Fiverr and Upwork allow you to search for freelancers who have the exact skills you need for a specific project, check their reviews, and review their prices. You can hire here for even the smallest projects.
Learn how to interview. Learning to ask the right questions of your candidates is an important skill to master, and will serve you well many times over the life of your enterprise. To get specific tips for what to ask before you hire, Google “how to hire a professional x” or “selecting a professional x” (in quotes). Substitute the title of the type of professional you wish to hire for either “x” or “professional x” in the phrase.
Check references or reviews. When considering a candidate without a visible track record of reviews or testimonials, get two to three references and take the time to contact them. Ask specific questions about areas that are important to you and anything that concerned you during an interview. If you are hiring an assistant who will have access to confidential information or make financial transactions on your behalf, you may also wish to perform a background check using a service like Mind Your Business.
Q. What if it doesn’t work out?
A. Keep trying. Not every person you hire will be the right fit. This is not a good enough reason to avoid getting help. If you hire someone who turns out to be flaky, incompetent, or unreliable, fire them and start over. It may take you more than one attempt to find the right people to help you. To help your business survive and thrive, it’s worth the effort to try again.