10 most popular things to outsource and where to outsource it

Outsourcing Guide

An important component of business is being self aware. Many entrepreneurs tend to want to be a jack of all trades, but if you really want to scale your business you’re going to have to find out what you’re best at and delegate the rest.

“Musicians play their instruments, I play the orchestra.” – Steve Jobs 

Whether hiring in-house or outsourcing, the real problem lies in hiring good talent. We’ve detailed this in one of our most popular posts, Upwork vs Freelancer.com: Why It’s a Battle YOU Won’t Win.

Of course, this all depends on what you want to outsource. Outsourcing development for an ambitious technology startup is vastly different from outsourcing data entry or even personal tasks. Though this list is designed for businesses, USNews.com also has a list of tasks to outsource for your personal life which include hiring someone to clean your home, run your errands, mow the lawn, etc.

Today, we’re going to be covering the most popular and best things to outsource for your business. 

We’ve polled our readers, and we’ve utilized external data from Entrepreneur and Investopedia to compile a list of things that you should consider outsourcing:

  1. Virtual Assistants
  2. Graphic Design
  3. Web and App Development
  4. Manufacturing
  5. Bookkeeping and Taxes
  6. Legal
  7. Marketing
  8. Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
  9. Customer Service
  10. Writers

1. Virtual Assistant

The most popular hire is a virtual assistant (VA), perhaps perpetrated by one of the best selling business books over the last decade, The Four Hour Work Week by Tim Ferriss. Most virtual assistants can be hired for under $10/hr, even as low as $3/hr. Though most of these options will be overseas, where language barriers may be an issue. Ferriss’ detailed his experiences in his book, from good to bad, thus his book would be a good place to start for a guide to hiring and working with virtual assistants.

My advice for hiring a virtual assistant is to find simple tasks that you can outsource. Do them yourself first, thus you can break it down in explicit detail and you know about how long the task takes. You have to make it so easy that a child can do it. And if you’re hiring overseas, excellent (not just good) English is a must. In my experience, many have stretched their tasks for hours, visible through Elance/oDesk (now Upwork) screenshot software… and these are VA’s with “good reviews.” Thus if you do hire an assistant, do it through Upwork, where they have software that takes a screenshot of their computer at random intervals to ensure they’re working on the outlined tasks.

Personally, I’ve hired multiple virtual assistants over the years on various freelance marketplaces and couldn’t find the right fit. Mostly because I don’t have recurring tasks that I need done and didn’t want to keep a VA around for a couple hours a month.

Nowadays, I use FancyHands, a service that allots you a certain number of tasks per month for a monthly fee. Unused tasks are rolled over to the next month. A perfect fit for me.

A few things I’ve had them do lately is call mechanics for quotes for my car, call in to my insurance or phone company and patch me in so I don’t have to be on hold for 30 minutes, etc. Most of the tasks are personal, but occasionally I do have them do a few simple business tasks like research for a blog post, sales leads, data collection, etc.

FancyHands employs thousands of virtual assistants that are waiting for requests, however this means that you can’t build a relationship with your assistant. If you’re running a business and you want your assistant to learn on the job, than you might opt for hiring a virtual assistant on UpWork.

2. Graphic Design

Virtual assistants are popular because even though we can often do those tasks ourselves, we really hate doing them. Graphic design, on the other hand, is a different story. Not everyone is an artist and that’s why graphic design is #2 on the list. Here are a few recommendations based on budget:

  • Broke – If you’re broke, you have one option, Fiverr. Where a logo will set you back $5. Though you get what you pay for and buyer beware as some sellers are selling you stolen artwork. But hey, what can you expect for $5? See our list of The Top 7 Business Gigs on Fiverr. Another option is buying a template from GraphicRiver for a few bucks and modify it to your needs. Others might have the same logo, but it’s better than Times New Roman with Clip Art from the 90’s. Both Fiverr and GraphicRiver have more options than logos, just using that as an example as it’s the most popular thing to outsource for graphic design.
  • Best Bet – Go with the crowdsourced model, essentially a logo tournament where designers compete for a prize. I’d recommend 99designs (see our review), the company that essentially created the market. $300 will save you a ton of time and net you dozens of designs to choose from. It’s a win/win situation as they offer a 100% money back guarantee if you don’t get a logo you love. Another crowdsourced option is DesignCrowd.
  • Scrooge McDuck Rich – Some companies have invested $10000+ on a logo. Sometimes there’s a lot that can go into a logo, such is the case with AirBnB who hired DesignStudio for their redesign.   

3. Website and/or App Development

This will be the toughest thing to outsource because developers write in another language that you probably don’t understand. But it can be done successfully and I recommend checking out our guide on How to Hire Online Freelancers without Losing Your Sanity. Here’s a couple options I recommend:

  • For Short Term Projects (eg. less than 60 hours, small tasks, simple websites or plugins, etc.)Upwork is going to be your best bet. However, remember that good software developers in the US command salaries over $100k. So though there will be plenty of options thrown your way, outsourcing for $10/hr will be really tough to do. I advise looking for developers in the $20-$50/hr range who’ve had a long work history with good reviews. And this might sound counter intuitive, but for the first project(s) don’t hire on a per hour basis. Breakdown your tasks into milestones and release payments accordingly.
  • For Long Term Projects (More than 60 hours or something where you’ll need ongoing support such as building a startup, an app, etc.) Much like the best software developers head to Silicon Valley, the best head to TopTal because of the clientele tends to think more about value than price. TopTal promises the top 3% of talent, and I’ve seen first hand that is true. With UpWork, you have to sift through and screen the talent yourself… and if you’re non-technical that’s almost an impossible task. With TopTal, they’ve done the work with screening designers and devs through coding tests, interviews with other developers, etc. And a proposition of value is built into the platform with a no-risk trial:

All of our engagements begin with a trial period of up to two weeks. This means that you have ample time to ensure the engagement will be successful. If you’re completely satisfied with the results, we’ll bill you for the time and continue the engagement for as long as you’d like. If you’re not completely satisfied, you won’t be billed (and we’ll pay the Toptaler out of our own pocket). From there, we can either part ways, or we can provide you with another freelancer who may be a better fit and with whom we will begin a second no-risk trial.

4. Manufacturing

Local is always an option, or you can go with Alibaba, the global marketplace who in 2014 claimed the title for the largest global IPO ever. I’m not a physical product guy, but have had clients who have used Alibaba with success.

5. Bookkeeping and Taxes

Another popular thing to outsource, it’s best to find a specialist with your software. In other words, if you use Quickbooks, find a Quickbooks specialist. Personally, I use Wave (free), and have a specialist that helps me with bookkeeping. Wave has a directory for locating specialists. Everyone else can check on Upwork.

6. Legal

Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer, this is not legal advice.

There are many legal services online that can help you save thousands of dollars from hiring a lawyer. Most lawyers online will tell you that you should never attempt to DIY when it comes to legal, and they’re probably right for most situations. Let’s take incorporation for example, if you’re a single member LLC, that’s relatively simple to incorporate yourself in my experience. You need legal documents drafted? Chances are there are templates online. Starting a bootstrapped business is hard enough, if you want to plunk down a couple thousand on a lawyer before you make a single dollar, that’s your prerogative.  

There are plenty of options out there, with LegalZoom as the most popular option for incorporation.

Also See: 50+ Must Read Resources for Starting and Growing a Business

7. Marketing

You don’t want to pay someone to twiddle their thumbs, whether for $10/hr or $50/hr. You need a marketing consultant that can show you that for every $1 you invest that you’re getting $5 in return. Think about value, not price.

8. Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

I’ve worked for the last few years as a SEO consultant. This industry is filled with snake oil. You don’t need a degree, or any accreditations. You could read a Wikipedia page on SEO and the next you’ve decided you’re the next big SEO consultant.

My advice, 99% of the industry makes money selling SEO… not utilizing it. The best hire is someone who has their own websites that are generating at least $1000/mo in passive income. Find the 1 percenter. They’re out there, I know I can’t be the only one.

9. Customer Service

Another popular thing to outsource, such that their are entire companies dedicated to helping businesses outsource their customer service overseas. My advice, and I might be bias, is to go with call centers in the Philippines.

10. Writing

Again, like with hiring a SEO consultant, you want to find the one percenters. If it’s for content for a blog, find writers who have successful blogs. If it’s for a book, find a writer who has experience as an author or ghost writer.

And make sure to hire a writer with an expertise in the subject you want written about. For example, if you’re a tech startup focused on security you’re not going to want to hire a fashion blogger and vice versa.

What are your favorite things to outsource and what tips do you have? Let us know in the comments below!

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