#1. Do Not start Outsourcing for at least 1-2 months from your launch date.
This is really the most important part that many entrepreneurs procrastinate over. You’re already doing a lot, why not outsource this, that and before you know it – you’re outsourcing your entire operation. This may sound ideal but this can have an impact in your own relationship with your business. When you start a company, you need to be the mastermind. If it’s your own company then it’s better to do as much as possible from the beginning so that you can tweak the infrastructure, and fix any issues.
Remember, your India or Filipino techs won’t always have the insight to connect the dots and recognize when a part of the infrastructure needs to be modified to increase customer satisfaction. So for example, say there’s a common issue or question people are asking. Your support techs may not think to create a canned reply for your customers that answers all the questions or concerns they might have. This means some customers may receive inadequate or half-witted responses that just leads to more customer frustration, which leads to more support tickets, which leads to a higher churn rate.
It’s important to optimize your business from the inside out, and get as many perspectives as possible in order to ensure your business runs as efficiently as possible. However, at the same time it’s pretty inefficient to run your business this way. It’s hard (but not impossible!) to spread yourself over 12 hours, working day and night. This makes it important to outsource parts of your business as cash flow allows or else you’ll just burn yourself out.
Which brings me to my next point…
#2. Determine your Weakest Strength, and Outsource the Rest.
We’re not all superman. So it’s understandable that we will always have a mammoth amount of things we need to do but don’t have the skills for. So unless you have a massive amount of capital to start, it’s important to learn what you can on your own. For some things it may only be an hour or two of reading or watching a video, so do a quick cost/time analysis to determine if it’s really better to outsource your PPC management for $600/month.
Whether you find one-time-only freelancers from sites like odesk.com, elance.com or freelancer.com it’s generally the best bang for your buck to hire for one time setup jobs. While your at it, you might as well buy a $15 template from ThemeForest instead of paying a web designer $3,000 to make one. It’s always cheaper to pick a template and then hire a designer to customize it for you.
It’s important to know what your weaknesses are, but I don’t recommend time growing them. You should however have a base understanding about how every aspect of your business functions. With this you can function at the bare minimum, keeping costs extremely low and then gradually outsource based on a combination of your current business needs and your skillset.
Your skills, and your employees can’t function efficiently though without a…
#3. Project Management System.
Working with a virtual assistant online can be quite disorganized if you don’t establish an organization system. Sending emails back and forth just isn’t going to be great for everybody due to the increased likelihood for forgotten about or missed emails.
On a side note, this is why I love Boomerang for Gmail. I can set an email to bounce back to my inbox if I don’t receive a reply. This solves that problem of having a task that relied on another person, and then them forgetting about it – leading you to forget about it. I refuse to accept the possibility of losing tasks and have greatly decreased the odds of missing any emails.
Email is of course, still a pretty poor way of communicating, even with Boomerang.
Out of all of them though, I think my favorite is Redbooth.
The interface centers around a dashboard which shows you every comment and action performed on a task that you’re associated with.
The application seems more centered around easy delegation, than it is handling your own tasks. This basically flips the switch in terms of functionality, whereas the other task apps are more centered around your personal tasks assigned to you. This being combined with the fast and easy to use interface makes it a winner in my book.
#4. The Rundown on Support Software (Zendesk vs Freshdesk vs Desk.com)
If you run a company, whether be software or service based, you will inevitably need to outsource the support depending on how involved you are. It’s important not to skimp out on a good support system which will do everything you need it to do.
I look at branding and integration first. I ask questions like how easy is to to customize the software or integrate into our website and service.. Or simply ask your web developer to login and check it out for you if you have one. Most importantly, you need to understand it’s features and what you will need for your business 3 years from now. It may be cheaper to start with the built-in support system but it’s easier to grow when you have all the right systems in place for your future growth.
While Zendesk is the king of support software right now, they are the most expensive.
Followed is Freshdesk which started shortly after Zendesk and competed directly against them. In fact Freshdesk made this page to show just how superior their product was. Zendesk CEO, Mikkel Svane got so pissed he went on twitter to voice his outrage by stating Freshdesk was an unethical troll stealing business from Zendesk. (Hello Capitalism!) Freshdesk went on to make this website to refute his claims, and subsequently wins some kudo points for having the balls to make a big PR event out of it all.
With a cat fight over there, a new player quietly emerged in the field, and by golly I have to call this a winner. With the most affordable rate, it has all the features of the other guys at half the cost compared to what you’d be paying elsewhere. Desk.com (previously known as Assistly) was bought out by Salesforce in 2011 for $55 Million. I’m glad to see they just didn’t sit on it and let the money role in. They poured more money into the company and developed a tight-nit integration with their existing product and others on the market.
I think they’re all great, but in terms of feature/cost analysis, Desk.com wins.
#5. Stop Choosing the one with the Cheapest Support.
Many small and independent business owners shop based on price thinking that every support company is the same. This is a fatal error that can have devastating impacts on customer loyalty with your business. If you want recurring business you sincerely need to invest in reasonably good staff. This may be common sense but I’m going go as far as saying you shouldn’t outsource until you have enough money to pay for good coverage.
The customer experience DEFINES your business, and what’s at the center? The staff who man the phone, the chats, the tickets. I know a company that provides Unlimited Chats / Tickets for only $25/month. This being for a web hosting company is an insane offer. I was commonly getting several thousand tickets a month. Not to mention he advertises “US” based support when in fact I know he hires random freelancers on web forums. The cheaper guy, or the cheaper company may not always be what’s best for your business. So keep that in mind before you pick simply based on price. It’s much harder to repair your reputation than it is to grow your company.
#6. Document Collaboration (Dropbox vs Google Drive)
Organization is super important in life, but is enormously important to the success of your business.
It’s easiest to use a cloud syncing file system – like Dropbox or Google Drive.
While I was a fan of Dropbox, I had to stop using their product of which I explain here. I consider Google Drive the best thing in this case as they have a full office suite of editing tools. It’s possible to have your whole company looking and editing a document as you guys all write parts of it at the same time. Not to mention the available extensions in the Google Apps market makes it compatible with just about everything, from PowerPoint, mindmaps, and countless others.
#7. Accounting Software (Xero vs Quickbooks)
You need to have a system in place to record payments. Now for accounting I highly recommend Xero over any other accounting software. It’s much easier to learn than Quickbooks, and offers all the same features you would expect. Your accountant will also be able to extra all the reports she needs to file your taxes.
In terms of outsourcing, you could outsource the management of your bookkeeping, but I think it’s unnecessary. Unless you’re generating a massive amount of volume in transactions it doesn’t take a whole lot of time to log in once a week on a late Friday afternoon to categorize any uncategorized transactions. Furthermore with Xero you can easily setup automated rules for each merchant to ensure it is automatically categorized and all you have to do is approve the transaction. For me, analyzing the transactions takes less than 10 minutes a week, and gives me a greater overhead on my overall cost/profit ratio.
#8. Keep a Payment Log
While you can log payments via the accounting software. Nothing beats being able to look at a quick excel spreadsheet showing all the payments for each contractor/employee on what date and payment method. Then just setup a sum value for the amount column and it will auto-update the total for each person or company. I recommend doing the same even for an outsourcing company, as it allows you to be more conscious of your monthly support cost. Providing support is a linear process that will constantly be evolving. You don’t want to get to $5,000/month in potential support costs without first analyzing when might be the best time to switch to in house employees.
In fact, here’s a link to a payment sheet I made you can use to keep track of payments with your own team.
#9. Solid Non-Disclosure-Agreement (NDA)
When outsourcing, you want to have a good document that covers everything. With hiring a virtual assistant it may mean putting in the date they start, expected job expectations, salary and pay date.
If they are in a foreign country then realize that the agreement won’t be worth it’s weight in gold. NDA’s across the broad are more like informal agreements between both parties. Nonetheless that doesn’t mean you should cut down on wordage in the agreement. It’s easy to find example NDA’s you can find simply by searching “contractor nda template” but I highly advise you to get it reviewed by a lawyer.
One way you can get that is by…
#10. Outsourcing your Legal Department
There are a few options when you’re just starting out. You could either have nobody, and just outsource the business registration to a service like LegalZoom’s Document Review service which will review documents for $10/month. However I recommend taking a look at LegalShield. They’ve been around for a long time and offer a reasonable service. They will review up to 10 business documents (10 pages each) per month for your business. Additionally should you ever have any legal issues they will write a letter on your behalf at no cost. Their personal service is especially great for getting out of apartment leases, gym contracts and others.
It’s surprising just how powerful a letter from an attorney is.
Legalshield, Legalzoom, or any other pay-by-month lawyer service is of course not even close in terms of quality of a real law firm. Legalshield lawyers often never more than glance at the documents you give them and do their bare minimum with any request or conversation to get you off the phone. Of course your experience may vary however after dealing 3 different Legalshield provider law firms in 3 separate states, they are all quite similar in their work ethics. Ohio’s provider was by far the best but Texas and California’s law firm is quite sub-par.
Still worth the money? I think so.
Whenever your starting a business it doesn’t hurt to have instant access to a lawyer for legal advice. This combined with an acceptable-ability to review and write documents makes it a necessity. At only about $40/month it’s not a huge expense but has the potential to save you thousands, and your business.
It’s obvious to know that running a business can drain your willpower with the sheer amount of decisions that need to be made. The methods I proposed above were things I discovered through trial/error and personal experience. By creating a functionally efficient organization it’s much easier to get setup on the path to success, well in advance of success. The foundation on which you start your business is the most important one of all. This is why that initial dedication is extremely important as only you fully understand your business and what your customers needs are.
While by no means this is a conclusive list, I hope I provided some ideas on functional ways you can structure your company, and do outsourcing around it.
Have any other ideas? Let me know in the comment section below.