This post is an excerpt from the Micropreneur Academy, an online learning environment designed to get one-person web startups from zero to launch in four months.
You Must Unlearn What You Have Learned
Using my advanced knowledge of web hackery (i.e. View Source), I grabbed the list of each image URL and put them in a text file. And the following ten seconds made a huge difference in how I spent the next 20 minutes of my day.
I copied the first URL into my clipboard and began to paste it into my address bar when I (for the hundredth time) realized that this is exactly the kind of task that appears to produce something, but is completely rote and repetitive. It would be simple (and fun) to write a Perl script to do the fetching, but that would take around the same amount of time.
So I sent the task to my virtual assistant (VA). It took me exactly 90 seconds to get the request to him, and within 24 hours I had a zip file of the images. It took 20 billable minutes and at $6/hour the 24-hour wait was well worth it.
This morning I realized I needed an image for one of my websites, and a change to the CSS. I’m not a great designer but I could have designed something in about two hours. I could have also made the CSS change and tested it in a few browsers in about an hour.
Instead, I opted to send these simple tasks to someone else at the cost of $15/hour. I wrote up an email and the task will be done in the next day or two.
- Time spent: 10 minutes
- Time saved: 2 hours, 50 minutes
I just received from a woman named Amy who lives in Canada. She has experience with multimedia and podcast editing. I contacted her because the editing process for the audio versions of the Academy lessons takes 60-90 minutes per lesson. Two lessons per week is 2-3 hours that I’m going to outsource to her for $15/hour.
She will likely produce a better finished product than I can.
How Much Can You Really Gain?
These are trivial examples of what I call drip outsourcing, outsourcing small tasks as I perform my daily work. Drip outsourcing has become invaluable to my productivity.
If you total up the three instances above it only amounts to 6-7 hours. But I do this constantly, every day. Before I start any task I think to myself “Could one of my contractors possibly do this?”
Over the course of a month you can easily save 20-40 hours without much effort. These days I save 60-100 hours a month.
This ties back into a topic I’ve spoken about previously: when it comes to your product should you build it, buy it or hire it out?. While you don’t have to (and should not) hire out every aspect of your product, I cannot imagine handling every detail yourself (or within your team).
The roadblock that so many entrepreneurs encounter as they try to launch is thinking they, or one of their co-founders, has to perform every task necessary to get their product out the door.
Just for kicks I’m going to spit out an incomplete list of tasks needed to take a web-based product from idea to your first week after launch. Here we go:
- Niche Brainstorming & Mental Evaluation
- Niche Evaluation
- Niche Selection
- Product Selection
- Product Architecture
- Functional Design
- Database Design
- Graphic Design*
- UI Development (AJAX/JS)*
- Business Tier Development*
- Database Development*
- Creating Unit Tests*
- Creating UI Tests*
- Manual Testing*
- Fixing Post-Launch Bugs*
- User Documentation
- Installation Documentation
- Sales Website Site Map Creation
- Sales Website Copywriting*
- Sales Website Graphic Design*
- Sales Website HTML/CSS*
- Sales Website Programming*
- Sales Website Payment Integration*
- Product Delivery (via email, link on site, etcâ€¦)*
- Setting Up Email List
- Setting Up Domain Name & Web Hosting
- Setting Up Email Accounts & 800 Number
- Setting Up Analytics
- Pre-Launch Search Engine Optimization
- Pre-Launch Pay-Per-Click Set-up
- Initial Social Media /Viral Marketing*
- Pre-Launch Video Marketing
- Pre-Launch Partnerships
- Launch Press Release*
- Pre-Launch Email Marketing
- Pre-Launch Blogging or Podcasting
- And probably a few othersâ€¦
That’s a list of 37 tasks ranging in duration from 2 hours to a few hundred.
You’ll notice many have asterisks next to them. These are the tasks that will be easiest to outsource – the tasks that require a technical or common skill that’s not specific to your product.
Outsource your product architecture? I would consider it only for small applications.
Outsource your graphic design and HTML/CSS? Every timeâ€¦
Avoiding This Roadblock
The best way is to to start small, gain comfort with a contractor, and gradually increase the amount you outsource.
Outsourcing is a learned skill, and you’re likely to screw it up your first time around. Start with non-critical tasks and be very specific in how they should be executed. At first it will seem like you could do the tasks faster than the time it takes to assign them, but as you get to know the person you’re outsourcing to it will quickly begin to save you time. If it doesn’t, then you need to look for a new resource.
Hiring a Virtual Assistant (VA) is a great way to get started with almost no financial commitment and a low hourly rate (around $6/hour overseas, $10-20/hour in the U.S.). I have a few VA’s I use for various tasks, and I’ve had great luck finding them on elance.
Graphic design and HTML/CSS are also great ways to dive in. Graphic design is nice because it’s not complicated and what you see is what you get. It’s either good or it’s not. I’ve found design to be much easier to outsource than programming.
Finding decent designers is a little more challenging – elance is a good route, but asking around is an even better approach. Unfortunately I don’t want the designers I use to become overbooked so I can’t mention them here (I do provide contact info for all of the companies I outsource to inside the Academy).
So take a risk this month: outsource your first task and see where it takes you. When was the last time a single tool or work habit offered the opportunity to save 20-60 hours in a month?