Have you ever heard a tradesperson talking about a building project they’re working on and describing the wasteful, unnecessary expense involved in completing a project? If they were managing the job, they could have had the building up with the same finishings for half the cost.
It could have been the fault of the architect adding in extra steps to the process.
It may have been caused by an unorganized site manager not getting the materials to the work site on time.
Or maybe there was no clear delineation of tasks between the different workers, so that people were inefficiently working over the top of each other, racking up more man-hours than were initially planned for.
The same type of wasteful expenditure goes on behind the scenes in online businesses too! But if you’ve got your finger on the pulse with your virtual team (or you’ve appointed someone to do that on your behalf) then you can easily avoid it. Save yourself dollars while having the exact same business building outcomes achieved with a whole lot less of the ‘filler’ task time.
And nope, it doesn’t involve outsourcing your projects to offshore freelancers at half the hourly rate. If you’re paying freelancers by the hour, no matter what the rate, you can do this!
1. Delegate as much of the detail as you can in the initial task request.
It can feel like a real weight off your shoulders to shoot off a one-liner email to your trusty VA or freelancer, assigning them a task that’s been stuck in the backlog for days. But if none of the necessary details or ‘raw materials’ are included in the task request from the outset, what you’re effectively asking your team member to do is two things:
a) First, consult – review the current status, determine what resources are available or required, find previous examples in your business materials to determine the components needed, compose a well thought-out email asking you for the pieces they still need to obtain.
b) Then second, complete the actual work.
Now, this scenario is absolutely perfect if you have deliberately contracted this person to do just that – figure it out and then get it done.
But if you’re on a limited budget for support services and you already know where to put your hands on the materials (logins, graphics, images, links, draft copy etc), then it’s not a wise investment to pay your freelancer for 30 minutes and upwards, per task, to do the investigative work for you. Those extra time chunks for ‘just figuring it out’ really start to add up over a month.
Effective delegation does take time, so to really speed up the process, create a stockpile of Google Doc delegation templates ready to duplicate, ‘fill in the blanks’ and share with your team member.
Here’s two to get you started:
Download the free Google Doc templates linked within each of the two blog posts above.
2. If a certain task component is not meeting your expectations, retain it for yourself, or, hire up!
Do you review all the projects that are completed within your business before they’re published and live for the world to see?
If you do, and you’re finding that there’s a particular element that you’re rather ‘specific’ (picky) about that’s just not meeting expectations, despite your best efforts to communicate what’s needed, it’s time to make a change! You could very well be incurring hours upon hours of unnecessary billable time from your freelancer in correspondence about revision requests, when what you really need to do is to just…
a) do that part yourself, or,
b) reallocate the task to another freelancer that’s a better fit.
Let me give you an example here. Let’s say that you have your virtual assistant format the text, images and links for your business newsletter each week, and as part of that process, they brainstorm and write the email subject line before sending you a test version of the newsletter for final review. They do an amazing job of formatting, paying attention to the details even more than you would, and always have it completed on schedule.
But week after week, you find that you’re not quite satisfied with the email subject line, and so reply back with feedback in the hopes the subject line will be more on point next week.
Only it never is. Your amazing and trusty VA is not in fact a copywriter, as it turns out!
So save yourself the:
- 15 minutes per newsletter your team member spends brainstorming possible subject lines that will hopefully fit the bill this time around.
- 10 minutes per newsletter your team member spends reading and responding to your feedback and revision requests.
- 5 minutes per newsletter your team member spends logging back into your email marketing system to tweak the subject line and reschedule each time.
You can write the subject line yourself in 2 minutes flat, right? Because you know your market so well. So do that, either at the time of delegating the draft text for your newsletter, or, when reviewing the final formatted version of newsletter after your team member has collated the relevant pieces of content. Let your team member know directly that you’ll manage that component so you’re both on the same page and you can avoid any confusion.
At a rate of $40/hour and a newsletter send frequency of once per week, that’s a saving of $80 a month right there! And to go along with that, a major boost in the working relationship for both yourself and the freelancer, because you’ve removed a niggling part of the process.
Now if you’ve hired your team member with generalist experience, specifically to groom them into being a writer for your business, that’s a completely different story. You’re not trying to save money in that case, but to invest communication time into a longer term vision of freeing up your own time.
With that scenario aside, if you don’t want to write those email subject lines then your other option is to ‘hire up’ (which likely means pay a bit more per hour) for a specialist – in this case a copywriter. Depending on your stage of business growth, and the specific tasks you’re aiming to free yourself up from, you’ll know if this is a potential money saving strategy or not.
3. Define one point of contact for your entire team, or, one per project or division.
If your team has now expanded beyond yourself, one VA and a techie person, then a higher percentage of your overall support services budget is going to be spent on your team members communicating with each other. At the outset you were delegating, answering the questions and paying for just the work itself. Now… you’re paying for the work, and, the correspondence… the discussions, the brainstorming, the collaboration, the requests for input and advice.
And that’s a good thing, right? It means your business is growing, and you have the opportunity to take a step back from the daily details. But if you don’t structure your team well, clunky team correspondence can take a major chunk out of your bottom line each month.
The good news is that it really doesn’t need to be that way. All you need to do to ensure your team are receiving the support and guidance they need in the most efficient (read: money saving) manner is to purposefully onboard new team members. Give them a clear indication as to who they should contact with questions and to have their work reviewed.
What you don’t want happening is a new freelancer emailing 3 or 4 different people on your team asking “Can you help me with this?”, “Do you know where I can find that?” when for each and every one of those emails you’re paying double time (two people) and for many of them, your team member hasn’t moved closer to actually completing the project. That type of ‘team crowdsourcing’ approach to getting work done becomes a habit over time, and unless you’re specifically going for that team model, then it’s time to appoint one of the following:
- An online business manager as the point person for your entire team of freelancers.
- A project or division leader for each section of your business.
- An team-based VA business or web agency.
If you’re concerned about not building a ‘hierarchy’ and you don’t want to refer to certain team members as managers or team leaders, that’s completely fine. You don’t need to. Just let each team member know who it is that they should call on in each case. They’ll be grateful for the clarity, and you’ll be grateful for the extra cash in your PayPal account at the end of the month.
4. If you need to Skype about it, schedule a time in advance.
On almost every blog post you read about working in virtual teams, you’ll see the recommendation to make use of a team chat app for daily team collaboration. Skype instant messaging is a popular choice, along with it’s purpose-built counterparts like Slack, Unison and HipChat.
These tools can be incredibly effective in saving time (and money) but… only if they’re used in the right context. When two or more members of a team are both working on the same business more or less on a full time basis (or at least on the same part-time schedule) then that is the perfect context in which to make use of team chat. Think start-ups, remote teams, established online businesses where the team members are contracted on a full-time basis.
In contrast, when you have contracted a freelancer to provide some type of online business support on an ‘as needed’ basis, and either yourself or the freelancer/s aren’t sat at the computer focused solely on that work throughout the whole day, correspondence via instant message adds very little in the way of efficiency and a lot to your total support services bill at the end of the month. There’s a few reasons for this:
- You’re paying your freelancers by the hour, or in a package of services which are broken down into time segments.
- When a focused block of work is broken up with instant messaging correspondence, it can take up to 50% longer to complete the very same task. This isn’t of great concern in remote teams where the monthly salary expense is fixed. In those scenarios, the overall productivity of team brainstorming and collaboration outweighs the potentially longer time for completing individual tasks. But, it sure does make an impact when you’re contracting individual freelancers for each area of business support.
- If you haven’t contracted your team member on a full time basis, then it stands to reason that in order to support themselves with a full time income, they’ll likely have other client projects they’re working on throughout any given day. This means that Skype instant message conversations can be jolted and clunky with delayed response times while you and your team member aren’t each available at the exact same time for a quick exchange. And you know what that means? Lots of unproductive correspondence time and instant message ‘tag’, adding unnecessary expense.
I like to think about it like this: if you were to have instant message access to your accountant or your lawyer (outsourced professional service providers) you’d expect to have a pretty hefty bill at the end of the month if you were calling on them each day for quick questions. We may not be paying all of our freelance team members the same hourly rate as our accountant or lawyer, but it’s the same concept.
And the solution to saving money is as simple as booking an appointment in advance with your service provider, so that you can be prepared to discuss all the important details in one sitting, just like you would with your lawyer or accountant. It will save you big time!
5. Use a project management system to delegate and review tasks.
Making use of a project management app can quite dramatically boost the focus and productivity in your business, but it will also save you dollars once you begin delegating work to team members, agencies or outsourced freelancers. Here’s how:
- Your freelancer or agency will be focused on one single task thread, with all the details, versions, final decisions, files, graphics and links right there at their finger tips. Single focus task threads mean that a project can move forward without re-reading multiple emails which discuss various different projects at different stages of progress, not related directly to the task at hand.
- There’s much less correspondence time required in requesting and responding to status reports. The progress of each project is always accessible to everyone involved.
- There’s much less discussion time required in re-prioritizing task due dates. The relationship of various tasks and projects, along with their estimated due dates, are always visible to the business owner and team members.
- The time spent in determining best practices and processes can be leveraged in future projects of a similar nature, because most project management systems are designed for efficient search and sorting. Your team members can draw on all those previous decisions and experiences to complete the same projects more efficiently the next time around.
If you’re working with an online marketing or web agency, or a multi-VA team, they may invite you to a dedicated project management space for collaboration. If you’re contracting individual freelancers independently, then invite them to your project management space and make sure they’ve got access to any tutorials they need to really use it effectively. Even consider giving them a couple of days or a couple of hours of ‘orientation’ to really get familiar with how you use your systems, before they begin work.
If you tally up the financial impact of strategically applying all 5 of these support service money saving ideas in your business, you’ll be amazed at how much more progress you can make over the next few months. Take your savings and apply the surplus budget to those projects that have been sitting on the back burner until now!