When you’re running a small startup, resources — from employee knowledge to cold hard cash — are hard to come by. Choosing where to allocate spending is one of the hardest parts of any leadership role. No matter how good your intentions, the wrong moves can have lasting consequences.
It makes sense for businesses to bring on new hires as they grow; you can’t do it alone, after all. But when you’re too small to bear the weight of hefty salaries, bringing on board all the necessary experts can get pricey very quickly. To maintain both your target growth and your target budget, it’s important to determine which roles are necessary and which are extraneous.
When to Call In the Experts
One of the most important things to keep in mind is that you should develop your strengths in-house and leave your weaknesses to someone with more experience. Because every business is different, and each team has its own set of strengths and weaknesses, there’s no hard-and-fast rule on what you should outsource. There are, however, a few indicators that can help you decide.
The first and easiest criterion to go by is the permanence of a need. If a role is temporary, it’s almost always something you’ll want to outsource. Likewise, jobs requiring lots of special equipment probably aren’t worth the investment required to bring them in-house.
Imagine you have your own marketing team members (which I’ll advise against shortly), and they need a video to captivate your audience. Camera equipment is expensive — not to mention audio equipment, lighting accessories, editing and coloring software, and the crew with the skills to put it all to use. Buying the tools and hiring the employees to make your video is a surefire way to blow your marketing budget for the entire year on a single 90-second spot.
Just as specialty equipment is a great sign you’ll need outside help, highly specialized skills are best acquired on an as-needed basis. You probably don’t need tax preparation professionals hanging around the company water cooler for 11 months out of the year, but you’ll definitely want them for the one month when they really shine. Filing taxes for businesses is especially complex, and mistakes can lead to costly audits, delayed refunds, and a whole host of other issues you’d rather avoid.
Prime Outsourcing Opportunities
The above criteria will help put you on the right track when deciding which business operations you should outsource. Your results may vary, but for most businesses, I recommend hiring outside companies for the following four jobs:
1. Marketing: From content development to the execution of strategies on social media, marketing is one rapidly changing area where it pays to have a team on the cutting edge. Instead of losing money as you stumble around learning best practices, leave it to seasoned pros to get it right the first time and put you ahead of the curve.
Companies such as Hawke Media, which pitches itself as your outsourced CMO, will design a marketing strategy that takes into account factors you never even knew existed. CEO Erik Huberman cautions against hiring an agency that promises a guaranteed ROI, saying, “Great marketers will focus on what’s scalable.”
Instead of relying on an empty promise, Huberman advises you to perform your own assessment: “You should look for good past work, intelligence, and knowledge. Instead of a guaranteed ROI, the value proposition should be that they know more about marketing than you do and can bring invaluable knowledge that you don’t possess to the table.”
2. Bookkeeping: Accounting and bookkeeping are great functions to outsource. An outside professional will have the expertise and experience to get the job done so you can focus on things besides payroll.
Bookkeeping is an area where hiring someone in-house and investing in developing their talents just doesn’t make sense. Unless you’re doing something shady (in which case you should stop), a competent outside bookkeeper will still get you what you need with a once-per-quarter investment.
3. Event Management: If you’re part of a large organization that holds regular events, it might make sense to have an event planning professional on staff. Otherwise, a planning platform such as Eventbrite can allow you to do the hosting without the hassle.
If you’re new to event planning, prepare to be shocked at the amount of work that goes into throwing even a small shindig. A planning platform will help you stay organized and on schedule, from setting up registration pages and booking vendors to connecting you with new audiences and tracking impact with integrated analytics.
4. IT: Information technology is another area where change can happen at breakneck speed. The main reason I recommend outsourcing IT roles is because as your business evolves, your IT needs will as well. While freelancers in this space will be more expensive than a salaried employee, they’ll also be specialists in the specific issue they’re being hired to address — and after completing the job, they’re off payroll. In-house IT employees will have a less specific skill set, and even with an in-house team, you may find yourself occasionally outsourcing.
Ultimately, outsourcing isn’t just another way to cut costs (although I have yet to hear anyone complain about saving money). In addition to decreasing your overhead, hiring outside specialists can also significantly improve the quality of your work by giving you access to a much larger pool of talent. Not every role can be outsourced, but delegating even some work can help you free up time to focus on your own specialty: running your startup.