Everybody dreams of a unicorn – a special somebody with broad business expertise, excellent communication skills, an utter delight to deal with, who’s cheap to boot!

This person may come to you, so they can also give you a back rub and fetch your coffee order. Or perhaps you prefer them to work remotely? In which case, when that bright idea wakes you up at 2am and you send them a quick text message, they have the prototype ready for review by breakfast.

I hate to break it to you, but that fantasy you’ve invested so heavily in? It’s just that – fantasy.

Over the last 12 years I’ve been running my business, I’ve seen and done it all. I’ve contracted to clients as their outsourced marketing department. I’ve dealt with everyone from managing directors, marketing directors, business owners, soloists, and outsourced marketing contractors, who hired me as their subcontractor.

I’ve also hired dozen of contractors, subcontractors and freelancers, for short gigs as well as over many years (my current website designer has been working for me for three years, my last one worked with me for more than five).

Here are the most common mistakes and hiccups that I’ve experienced in outsourcing, and how to delegate effectively, so you can rest easy, poolside, with a daiquiri this summer.

Being ruthlessly objective and organised

The two yardsticks that I use to decide whether or not I’m going to outsource are whether or not the person will be contributing directly to my business’s bottom line, because their services are contributing directly towards servicing my clients, or they’re training or coaching me, and as a trainer or coach, professional development is crucial.

Most everyone I speak with wants to delegate their social media marketing. But unless you know that your social media is:

a) giving you a constant supply of quality leads that you’re able to
b) convert a percentage (what percentage?) into new paying clients, and
c) you are making a good profit margin…

…then you simply can’t afford this. (Consider social media marketing training instead, where you learn how to schedule quickly and efficiently).

Outsourcing admin might also sound lovely, but again, where’s the payoff? I’d rather redesign my systems and use software to either automate or significantly reduce the amount of admin I have.

Getting organised

Either you have money or you have time. 

Let’s say I’m looking to employ a web designer. But I don’t know what platform I want my website to be built on, I don’t know what I’m selling, exactly, my prices and terms and conditions are still a work in progress, I intend to hire a photographer for my new website (but haven’t yet), and I’m writing my own copy but don’t know where to start.

Good luck to me!

I’m going to be paying several thousand dollars extra, as web designers that I ask to quote me realise that they’ll be holding my hand as I pontificate and ruminate.

If, on the other hand, I know what platform I want my site built on, have booked a photographer, my web copy is ready to go, and I’ve put together a Pinterest board to make it easier to communicate my style with my designer, then I’m going to save money simply because I’m organised.

Yes, you can pay professionals to help you get organised. But can you afford to?

Tasks versus outcomes

Are you delegating tasks that need doing, or seeking a particular outcome? If you’re delegating tasks, you need to clear and precise, and the person you’re outsourcing to needs to good attention-to-detail to follow your directions.

If you’re seeking a particular outcome and don’t know how you want this achieved, or aren’t keen on getting involved in the details, then you’re outsourcing to a professional who specialises in this outcome.

Typically, you’re paying much less to the person you’re outsourcing tasks to, and you’ll need to get more involved in leading and delegating details.

Typically, you’ll pay more for the person you’re outsourcing an outcome to and won’t need to get as involved as they’ll be leading you through their briefing process before going off to deliver the outcome you’re seeking. Or, you’re working with a business coach to help guide your actions and decisions.

Regardless, you’ll still need to give either a clear brief or a clear objective. Don’t rely on telepathy.

Where to find people

I’ve spent many years developing my network, and if I don’t know exactly who I’m looking for, I have smart people I can ask questions of to help me get clearer on what I’m needing, as well as where to find that person.

The Freelance Jungle, Rachel’s List, and the Digital Mavericks Facebook group are all good for finding marketing and digital people. But the best people come word-of-mouth.

If someone is voluntarily praising a marketing professional, I always ask for that person’s details to save for later.

Emergencies don’t make for great work

Clients in an emergency are like a fire that consumes everything in its wake. The casualties of emergencies include a clear head, planning and due diligence.

Don’t hire people when you’re struggling to keep afloat with your workload. Hire people before that happens and keep them close so that when your workload increases, you can delegate accordingly.

Price, scope and budget

I prefer to pay a set fee rather than an hourly rate, although with contractors that I’ve been working with for some time, an hourly rate is fine.

If you’re on a strict budget, don’t try to bargain or bully down the quote you’ve been given. Instead, reduce the scope or negotiate payment terms (such as spreading out your payment rather than paying a lump sum).

A common tactic is to withhold the final payment while “just this one little thing” – and a hundred more – are requested beyond the original scope. Don’t be that prick. A clear scope, with parametres, terms, conditions, and a price, is what you agreed on. You are only as good as your word.

Communication and manners

You get far further with honey than with a stick. Good manners never go out of style. You like being paid on time, yes? So don’t treat your freelancers and contractors like a source of credit – pay them and say thank you.

I’ve referred thousands of dollars of work onto others over the years, but only once to people who don’t forget their manners. Ghosting is not just lazy, it’s cowardly and selfish.

I’ve had all manner of bullies, narcissists and time-wasters over the years, and while bullies are easy to spot, charming people can be tricky.

In self-employment, word spreads. And while I may ignore one person rubbishing another, if multiple sources are telling me about someone’s bad reputation, I’m avoiding that person and telling others to do the same. Your professional reputation is a bankable asset, so treat it as such.


Trust is crucial to delegating and outsourcing effectively. You need to trust the person you’re delegating to and not micromanage their every move. But you also need to trust yourself – to clearly state what you want and not use outsourcing as a way to delegate your business successes and failures, and hide from your responsibilities, as well as your power.

Trusting yourself makes it far easier to trust others. And that includes having trust in the process of outsourcing and delegating even when (and it’s inevitably when) you have a bad experience. One bad or mismanaged experience is no reason to give up and do everything yourself forever after. Summer’s here, and that daiquiri by the pool awaits.