I remember it like it was yesterday.
We were new parents and our newborn baby boy had a severe case of reflux. He was in pain, constantly crying and waking up six to eight times every night.
My wife had very little time for herself. She was exhausted. I did everything I could to help out in the evenings and on weekends, but my demanding job at the time prevented me from helping more during the day.
One day, as my wife vented her frustrations to a friend, the perfect solution to our dilemma emerged. My wife's friend simply asked her, "Why don't you just hire a housecleaner? You'll have one less thing to worry about."
It was such a simple idea. But (and I hate to admit this) we'd never thought of it!
That very day we found a housecleaning company. I still remember how great it felt to have someone take that burden away from us.
Shortly after that, I started taking a home-study copywriting course. But I had only weekends to work on the course assignments. With all my other personal responsibilities, something had to give. I'm not very fond of yard work, so I hired a lawn-care service. That alone saved me two to three hours every weekend - time I desperately needed!
Launching, growing and running a successful freelance business is no easy feat. There are only so many hours in a day! You can't expect to do it all. And if you try, you'll crash and burn out sooner or later.
That's why one of the biggest secrets to succeeding as a freelancer is to outsource both personal and business tasks you're not fond of, especially if someone else can do them for less.
In fact, if you learn how to strategically outsource some of these tasks, you'll not only free up a tremendous amount of time for billable work, but you'll also have more time for yourself, your family and other personal interests.
A Sign of Laziness?
Now, some may say that paying someone else to take care of some of your personal or business responsibilities is a sign of laziness. I completely disagree. The idea behind personal outsourcing is to farm out tasks that you do not enjoy AND that add little or no value to your life. Tasks that, if outsourced, could add productive time to your busy week.
If you would rather mow your own lawn because you enjoy being outside getting fresh air, then by all means do it. If you don't mind making runs to the post office because it gets you out of the house occasionally, then go for it!
But if you hate doing those things - and you'd rather be working on billable work, spending more time with your family or enjoying more leisure time - then why not at least consider having someone else help you?
Sure, outsourcing some of these tasks costs money. But don't just focus on the costs. Think about the benefits. If you're pressed for time and you're earning (or soon will be earning) $50 or more an hour, isn't it worth outsourcing tasks that someone else can do for much less (say, for $15 an hour)?
Better yet, if your kids are old enough to help around the house, outsource some of these duties to them!
Here are 15 outsourcing ideas that could help you boost your freelance income and increase your free time:
We're still outsourcing our housecleaning and lawn care. My wife works part time and we now have two kids to take care of (including a baby). Plus, we don't enjoy those chores anyway. We'd rather spend our free time on other, more rewarding activities. No, it's not cheap, but it's reasonable and well worth it.
My "honey do" list grew out of proportion a couple of years ago. So I hired a handyman to work on some of the higher-priority projects on that list. And recently, my retired father-in-law, who loves to work on projects around the house, has tackled some of the more labor-intensive jobs. He does great work and loves doing it, and my wife is happy that we're (finally!) getting these projects done.
Standing in line at the post office is about the most counterproductive activity I can think of. So I order postage stamps over the Internet. And I pay my sister $12 an hour to take my packages and important letters to the post office. (If you live in the U.S., check out Craigslist.com for people who are willing to run your errands for $10 or less per hour.)
Office Depot will deliver orders over $50. But even if I have to pay, say, $7 for shipping, it's a bargain when compared with driving to the store, standing in line and driving back home. But why stop there? A local car wash will pick up my car, wash and detail it, and bring it back. A dry cleaner will pick up our clothes, launder them and deliver them the next day. In some cities, local supermarkets will even deliver your groceries to you!
The U.S. tax code is 67,000 pages long, and other industrialized nations' tax codes aren't much better (in terms of complexity). I wouldn't even think of filling out my own tax returns. If you don't have one already, hire a good accountant today. It'll be money well spent. Just recently, I also started outsourcing my bookkeeping (yet another activity I can't stand!). I can't tell you how relieved I feel now that someone else is handling that task - and how much time that has freed up for me!
Do you find yourself putting off your marketing efforts because you hate prospecting? If so, you may want to consider hiring an experienced virtual assistant or prospecting expert to help you out. When it comes to lead generation for professional services, the best approach I've found is to use a combination of direct mail and phone.
First, send out your letters. Then have your assistant call all recipients to try to schedule an appointment (or phone call) for you. Not only will you save time, you'll also be giving the task to someone who might be more experienced and effective. Plus, to some prospects, it can make your business appear bigger and more impressive.
Similarly, when you have to assemble your mailing list for your marketing campaign, you can hire an assistant to help you collect the necessary information and even verify all the names and addresses for accuracy. This might seem like a waste of time, but if you're trying to put together a very targeted campaign - or if you're sending out an expensive dimensional mailer - list accuracy can pay off.
Mailing Campaign Help
Folding and stuffing letters is very labor intensive. So why not recruit family members to help you out? You'll get it done in a fraction of the time and they'll be glad to contribute. Last year, we drove to Florida to visit some family. I took 300 letters, envelopes and postage stamps with me and had a group of eight relatives help me fold, stuff, seal and stamp all 300 letters. We were done in only 45 minutes!
Go on vacation and forget about the long list of emails and voice mails that will be there waiting for you when you get back! A virtual assistant can check both your email and voice mail while you're away. He or she can summarize and prioritize voice mail messages into one document and even respond to urgent requests, if needed. When you get back to the office, you return to a manageable environment, not chaos!
Gifts and Cards
We all want to show our appreciation to our good clients during the holidays. But taking time to find and ship (or personally deliver) appropriate gifts can be extremely time-consuming. If you find yourself in this situation, why not get some help?
Don't worry, it doesn't need to be a stranger. Ask your spouse or another family member to help you shop for and deliver your gifts. Provide spending guidelines, office addresses and driving directions. You can even ask him or her to address and mail your pre-signed greeting cards and run them to the post office.
Personal Tech Support and Help Desk
As a writer and consultant, my laptop is arguably my most important work-related tool. But that doesn't mean I know everything about how it works and how to fix it. So I outsource my tech support to a remote help desk. And I'm about to outsource physical repair services to a local IT pro who does house calls. I don't mind paying these specialists for their services because, again, we're talking about a piece of equipment critical to my business.
If you have to interview people for a living, it pays to record the conversation (with the other party's permission, of course). Trouble is, going back to the recording to find specific information can be a hassle.
That's where a transcription service comes in handy. A skilled transcriber can convert a one-hour interview into text in a day or two. And once you have the transcript, you can easily use the "Find" feature in your word processing program to locate key words and get to the information you need quickly.
If you need a lot of data entered, a typist with excellent data entry skills can take on the task for you, saving you countless hours and a ton of frustration. Maybe the information you need is available only in a printout but you need it in a Word document. Or maybe you have a big stack of business cards that need to be entered into your prospect database. In either case, a skilled typist can save you a great deal of time.
Scheduling Appointments and Reservations
Setting appointments and keeping up with a busy schedule can be overwhelming. And that's one area where a good virtual assistant can help. He or she can schedule appointments for you (both personal and for business), handle schedule changes, make travel arrangements (or at least do most of the research for you) or even find a great restaurant and make reservations.
Hey ... don't knock it until you try it!
My colleague Pete Savage recently told me a great story about how he managed to turn a bad situation into an opportunity. Turns out that his car broke down on the morning of a very busy day. He had a very important client meeting scheduled, followed by a doctor's appointment he couldn't cancel. So instead of bailing out, Pete paid his college-age nephew to be his personal driver for the day. Not only was he able to keep both appointments, but as his nephew drove him around town, Pete used the idle time to get caught up with his email and calls through his smartphone.
As you can see, the possibilities of personal outsourcing are limited only by your imagination. Again, do what feels right to you. Do only what will add value to your business and make your life less stressful. Keep the tasks that are core to your business or that you enjoy doing.
At the end of the day, the goal is NOT to squeeze every possible billable hour out of your week. It's about keeping your sanity by letting others help you. That way, you can get more billable work done AND have more free time. There's no right or wrong. YOU make the rules!
I mean , isn't that why you became a freelancer in the first place?