Outsourcing is your personal time machine

In this extract from his new book Ian Child explains the extraordinary power of delegation, and why the counter-arguments just don't stack up
Ian Child

The other part of outsourcing is this: It simply says where the work can be done outside better than it can be done inside, we should do it.”

Alphonso Jackson

What is outsourcing?

On our journey together through this next part of the book, we’re going to be diving into the rather wonderful world of outsourcing. This is where you get someone else to do stuff instead of you, so you can free up your time to do something else that you’d much rather be doing instead. Sounds fantastic, doesn’t it?

There are several ways in which you can get someone to do stuff for you. In order of morality, and possibly legality, the main ones are:

  1. Pay them a lot
  2. Pay them a little
  3. Ask them nicely without paying them
  4. Make them feel guilty
  5. Threaten them
  6. Waterboard them
  7. Kidnap their relatives

We’re going to be focusing on the first three of these in this edition of the book. Depending on how sales go, I may release a ‘black-ops’ edition covering the others - check with your usual under-the-counter book supplier.

One of the perceived challenges faced by pretty much everyone is a lack of time. Everyone has different objectives, but quite often, time is the standard challenge. 

Here are some very common questions that I’ve just made up:

  1. How can you free up the time to work on your business when there are no hours left at the end of each day?
  2. How can you take a well-earned holiday, go on a scuba diving course or learn to play the ukulele when you can’t find the time even to do the things you have to do?
  3. How can you start a new business, when you’ve got to work all hours in a day job to put food on the table?
  4. How do you find the time to do a training course, degree or masters which will push your career forward, if you’re already working long hours?
  5. How do you find the time to support your favourite charity or give something back to the community, when your day job sucks up all your time?

The list is almost endless. No matter what your goal is in life, time is the fuel that will help get you there. And most people believe they don’t have enough gas in the tank to make the journey.

Outsourcing provides a potential solution to a big part of the problem, which is why it’s such a powerful tool. But despite how attractive the whole outsourcing thing sounds, some issues can stop people from going ahead with it. 

I want to be upfront with you about what these are so that you can weigh them up in your mind; to see how you feel about them.

So, let’s kick things off with the first of our four outsourcing challenges, which is:

The cost argument

In these enlightened times, you will invariably have to pay people to do these outsourcing tasks for you. This is generally regarded as a bummer, but we just have to roll with it.

Ok, so if you could free up 42 hours a week through outsourcing, then you’d have another working week to play with. How productive would you be then?

But this presents us with an egg and chicken dilemma (or is it chicken and egg?). Do we outsource once we become wealthy enough to be able to afford it? Or do we outsource NOW, so that we can free up the time to enable us to build a business or career that will make us wealthy?

And if the latter, then who’ll pay for all this outsourcing malarkey, if we’re not yet wealthy?

This is the moment where you’re doubtless hoping I’ve got a brilliant, radical, yet easy-to-implement answer for you. And to be honest, that makes two of us.

The thing is, there’s no easy answer. Yes, I guarantee that only a few pages into the next chapter, you’ll find yourself thinking, ‘I like the sound of this, but I’m not sure I can afford it.’ And you might not be able to. Yet.

Of course, a lot of people think, why should I pay someone else to do something that I could do myself for free? So let’s take a quick look at why you might want to.

The first thing to point out is the mental shift needed to spot a flaw in this argument. And that flaw is this; 

Your time doesn’t come for free

Yes, it’s true that you don’t pay yourself to do things, but that doesn’t mean that your time has no value. 

Imagine that you were an entrepreneur trying to start a fledgling business. It’s quite easy to imagine that your company was a living, breathing thing. The only person in its little world is you. Every hour you get to spend on it (as a result of outsourcing your other tasks to someone else) is precious to it. Because it’s the only thing that moves it forward, that stops it from dying.

And of course, this little business of yours could be a very successful business. But only if you take the time to nurture it.

Let’s leave your fledgling business for a moment and go to the other end of the corporate scale.

I’d like to introduce you to a lovely chap called Tim Cook, who happens to be the CEO of Apple Inc, one of the largest companies in the world. In case you’ve been living under a rock, Apple sells very expensive packaging in which it hides free electrical devices.

How much would you expect to pay for a 30-minute one-to-one coffee consultation with Tim? Where you and he could discuss your fledgling business, and he’d give you the benefit of his incredible knowledge and experience.

Well, let me put you out of your misery because someone paid $610,000 for that exact benefit. That’s an hourly rate of over $1.2m. Admittedly, it was at a charity auction, and I suspect there may have been alcohol involved. I mean, imagine going back to the office and explaining that one. But even so, it’s one heck of an expensive cup of coffee.

Of course, the reason Tim’s time is so valuable is not that his coffee lies beyond Blue Mountain or that he always serves nice biscuits. No, it’s because of the value he’s able to give through his unique knowledge, abilities, and experience. All these things could dramatically improve your business.

So here’s the question that I’m sure has leapt salmon-like into your brain (but don’t worry if it didn’t):

Does Tim Cook mow his own lawn?

I’ve not been round to Tim’s place, so we’re going to have to make a few assumptions here. But stick with me if you will.

I suspect he has quite a big lawn at home, and let’s assume that, armed with a nifty, state-of-the-art, ride-on mower, it would take around 4 hours to mow.

So if Tim were to cut it himself, then the theoretical cost would be $4.8m, given his not-insignificant hourly rate. 

Now, as lawncare goes, that sits at the pricier end of the scale. You’d definitely be expecting some pretty neat striping and possibly a quick strim around the borders thrown in. 

But let’s be realistic. You’d think that Tim would get someone else (who might be called Bob) to mow the lawn for him for, say, $25 an hour. Tim could then spend the time doing something more valuable instead.

And by handing over a $100 bill and saying, ‘Give it a quick trim please, Bob,” he would have theoretically saved $4,799,900. 

Now, of course, I’ve exaggerated things a little to prove a point. You’re probably thinking that Tim Cook is something of an extreme example, him being the top person at Apple and all.

But believe it or not, there’s an important fact staring you in the face:

You are the Tim Cook of your life

Your life (and your business, if you have one) need your time for them to be successful. To them, you are a complete hero, the best CEO in the world. 

How does that make you feel? I’m sure you feel humbled but also very important. What an amazing responsibility to have; they’re so lucky to have you. I’m welling up just thinking about the two of you together.

Well, I hate to put a dent in things, but here’s the rub; you’re the only possible CEO they can have. I’ve looked, and I’m afraid there are no other candidates in the interview waiting room. Your life and your business are 100% dependent on YOU to be their CEO. Frankly, Hobson had more choice.

Worse still, it’s not a job you can turn down and hope that a better opportunity comes along. You’re on the payroll, and what’s more, you’re in it for the long haul.

Given you’re the CEO of You Inc., the value of one hour spent moving forward towards your life goals (or growing your business) is priceless. And it’s certainly worth a lot more than $25 an hour.

So, if your thought process was, ‘why would I pay a Bob to mow my lawn when I can mow it myself for free,’ then you may want to put your CEO hat back on and think again. 

But, whatever you do, don’t look round. I wouldn’t want you to see the tears streaming silently down the face of your life or your business as they see you choose to cut grass, instead of being their CEO, and helping them grow. 

Right, that was the compelling yet unnecessarily emotional cost argument against outsourcing. Let’s now turn to:

The training argument

This is quite a simple argument because it’s based on the premise that it takes longer to train someone to do a work task than it does for you to do it yourself.

Imagine you’re trying to outsource a task to a colleague or some other third party. The job takes you half an hour, and you’re super-fast at it because you know it inside out. We’ll assume that this is a recurring work task since there’d be no real point in training someone to do a one-off job.

You sit down with your protégé, who, for the sake of argument, we’ll call Bertie. You talk Bertie through the task step by step, and he responds by asking you some questions and making lots of notes. He even offers to make the tea. So far, so good.

After you’ve walked it all through with him, Bertie then has a go on his own and, frankly, he makes a complete Horlicks of it. Royally so. In fact, he’s a total disaster area.

So you go through it all with him again, paying particular attention to the bits he wasn’t so good at. This time he does it better, but he’s still a country mile away from taking the stabilisers off.

By now, it’s taken you two hours to train Bertie how to do what you consider to be a simple task, and he still hasn’t got it. Seriously, where do HR get these people from?

This, then, is the painful reality that can dissuade many people from outsourcing. They think it will be a lot of pain to train people, and they’re not wrong. Of course, it will take a lot longer the first time, and maybe even the next few times.

As a result they end up settling for the status quo. After all, they can do it quicker than anyone. And because they’re busy, swapping a 30-minute task for a two-and-a-half-hour training session isn’t really selling itself.

This is a shame because, of course, it’s the long-term view that’s important here. It may take four times as long to train someone to do a weekly task. But after a month you’re in profit. Bertie has now got the hang of things, and he’s settling into his routine. And you now have very little involvement. You might give his work the once over and answer the odd question, but otherwise, you’re not involved. And he might continue to make the tea, which is a win.

So, some short-term pain, but a massive gain in the long-term.

Let’s turn to the third argument that I often hear about outsourcing, namely:

The quality argument

If we return to the hapless Bertie once more, we can easily imagine the quality problem.

You’ve been banging out these reports for donkey’s years, and they always go out perfectly. Now young Bertie’s been at it for several hours, and his efforts look like an elephant wiped its bottom on it.

There’s a well-used expression, ‘if a job’s worth doing, do it yourself.’ This sums up a lot of people’s sentiments regarding quality. No one can do it as well as they can. Therefore there’s no point in getting anyone else to do it.

There are two problems with this approach:

  1. You’ve made yourself indispensable. And you don’t want to be indispensable for a task as menial as issuing a simple report. If you have to be indispensable, make it for something a bit grander, or not at all
  2. We usually overestimate the quality level that’s required

Taking this second point, Bertie’s reports are somewhat lacking this week, but next week they’ll be a bit better. Next month, they’ll be better still. But although your reports were perfect, they didn’t need to be as perfect as they were. People won’t complain because Bertie’s reports are not as good as yours. They’ll barely notice. As long as they can read them and the data is accurate, they’ll be thrilled to bits.

So, when considering outsourcing, yes, you’ll need to accept that the job won’t get done as well as you could do it. And no, it doesn’t matter because it will be done well enough. Plus, you’ve now got your time back, so you can work on far more important things.

In other words, get over yourself and get real. Please.

The final argument against outsourcing is: A lack of knowledge

This differs from the other three arguments as it’s based on ignorance, rather than perception.

You see, many people are unaware that outsourcing options exist in their life or their workplace. As a result, it never occurs to them that they could outsource anything. And so they carry on regardless, doing everything themselves.

This is the exact opposite of where you need to be. You need to have what is known as:

An Outsourcing Mindset

Having an outsourcing mindset means regularly checking whether any tasks that you do could be done by someone else other than you.

It also means understanding the full range of outsourcing options available to you for each of the tasks that you do.

In this next part of the book, then, we’re going to be getting you more familiar with the various types of outsourcing and what can be achieved. The art of the possible, if you like.

But we seriously need to start freeing up some of your time. So why don’t we aim high, and begin with what most people think is an impossible task?Outsourcing your Day Job.

Your Own Personal Time Machine: Get Your Life Back by Ian Child is available from bookstores and Amazon including Kindle

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November 26, 2021