Experimenting with Delegation and Outsourcing
11 February 2009
Believe it or not, there are really only four ways to complete any task:
- Do it – work on the task until it’s complete.
- Delete it – decide something is not worth doing, then stop feeling bad about not doing it.
- Defer it – decide that you’ll do it later, since it’s not important enough to do right now.
- Delegate it – assign the task to someone else who can complete it faster or better than you.
Most of us default to the first three methods, since they’re under our control – we can decide to do / delete / defer a task at any time. Unfortunately, humans don’t scale – you only have so much time and energy available each day, which limits the amount of things you can get done personally. That’s where delegation comes in – by assigning tasks to others, delegation acts as a force multiplier that can enable you to get more done in less time.
Learning to Delegate
Here’s the catch: you can’t delegate if you don’t have someone to delegate to. It’s common to think you need to hire employees if you want to have someone to delegate tasks to, which is often time-intensive, expensive, and introduces legal/tax complications.
Fortunately, the internet has created many opportunities to work with people virtually from all over the world, as Tim Ferriss teaches in the Personal MBA-recommended book The Four-Hour Workweek. In December, I decided to explore virtual outsourcing to learn how to delegate and free up time for a few exciting new projects on the horizon…
Personally, delegation is a challenge. I have high standards, and I as I mentioned in my interview with Ben Casnocha, I typically default to doing things myself because I don’t want to miss a learning experience. The downside of that predisposition is that I often find myself in situations with too many things to do, which creates an unnecessary bottleneck in moving projects forward. This challenge was designed to help me become comfortable relying on other people to get important things done.
Virtual Assistant Teams / Concierge Services
An easy / inexpensive way to gain experience with delegation is to become a member of a virtual assistant / concierge service. Businesses like Ask Sunday, LongerDays, and TimeSvr specialize in handling tasks that take 10-20 minutes for a small monthly fee. After signing up for the service, you’re able to delegate tasks via phone or e-mail to the service, and the next available assistant on the team will handle your request.
The benefits of the VA Team / Concierge approach are speed of availability and cost. In the next five minutes, you can have a team of people available to handle your routine research and communication tasks for $30-60 per month. In my opinion, there’s no better way to start learning how to delegate – the benefits far outweigh the costs.
VA Team Recommendation: TimeSvr
After testing many different VA Team services, I highly recommend using TimeSvr. For $69 per month (at the time of this posting), you can assign an unlimited number of tasks to the TimeSvr team, which is uniformly very skilled and highly responsive. Most of the team members are from Singapore, India, and Pakistan, and have excellent written and spoken English skills. I delegated many different research-related tasks to TimeSvr, with swift and stellar results.
TimeSvr’s flat rate, unlimited task plan has several benefits:
- You know in advance how much you’re going to spend each month.
- The service is versatile: 8 hours of “project” time are included each month, in addition to shorter tasks. For other services, a separate negotiation / fee is necessary for project work.
- You don’t have to worry about “running out” of tasks – with other services, I would hesitate to delegate tasks because I didn’t want to “use up” my available tasks on something that “wasn’t that important,” which is stupid but true. Having to keep track of usage is a barrier to making the most of your subscription, and TimeSvr’s unlimited plan is a nice end-run around the natural human tendency to conserve what we believe to be scarce resources.
- You can set recurring tasks via TimeSvr’s interface, which is really handy – it automates your delegation for common things you know need to be done in the future.
The closest competing service to TimeSvr is Ask Sunday, which I wasn’t impressed with at all. While they’re ostensibly cheaper than TimeSvr, I found the quality of the work very poor and response times extremely long. I try to communicate my intention and directions very clearly when I delegate, but misunderstandings and mistakes were very common. After a point, delegating to Ask Sunday became more work than simply doing the tasks myself, so I cancelled the service and asked for a refund – which they promptly refused to provide. That’s just not classy. For my money, TimeSvr is the much better solution.
The main detriment of working with VA Teams is continuity – sometimes you need to train people to do tasks that are highly specific to your business process, which is a drawback of relying on a team. To take things to the next level, I experimented with hiring a dedicated assistant.
Meet Samina Arif, My New Virtual Assistant
Samina Arif lives in Karachi, Pakistan and works for TimeSvr as a virtual assistant. I met Samina when she completed a few research tasks for me while I was using the TimeSvr team service, and I was very impressed by the quality of her work and her friendly demeanor. Once I was ready to experiment with a dedicated assistant, Samina was a natural choice.
Working with Samina is very different than working with a virtual team – she knows how I work, and I’ve taught her how to handle most of the common tasks I need to do every day to run my business. Here are a few examples of what Samina’s responsible for now:
- Processing incoming e-mail – and often replying on my behalf.
- Scheduling meetings with new Personal MBA Coaching clients and re-scheduling sessions with current clients as necessary.
- Handling support requests – password resets, technical issues, and common questions.
- Helping me process a backlog of stored research into a new system.
- Assisting with research for several upcoming projects.
- Helping Personal MBA Community members with questions and issues.
Every morning, Samina and I talk by phone for 10-15 minutes about what’s going on. She informs me of my schedule for the day, asks how to handle urgent/important issues, and reminds me of my most important tasks. Our morning conversation is a huge psychological boost: I can focus on my most important tasks first thing in the morning, without getting lost in my inbox or worrying that I’m missing something urgent. In addition, I look forward to our calls – her energy is contagious. (As a side note, scheduling morning calls with your assistant is a surprisingly effective way to build the habit of becoming an early riser – I haven’t slept in since hiring Samina, since I know when the alarm goes off that I need to get up to be alert when she calls.)
Samina now works for me for 4 hours each day, 6 days a week, at a total cost of $450/month. As far as I’m concerned, this is some of the best money I’ve spent on business development in a very long time.
If you’re interested in moving forward with a dedicated assistant experiment of your own, I highly recommend getting your feet wet with a trial of TimeSvr’s basic service, then requesting to work with one of the aides you establish a good relationship with. As with any working relationship, trust is critical, and this is a quick and effective way to know who you’re working with before you give someone access to your information and accounts.
Share Your Experiences
Have you experimented with outsourcing? Don’t know where to start? Have tips to share? I’ve started a discussion in the Personal MBA Community about delegation and outsourcing – see you there!
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