Vying for first place in entrepreneurial propaganda is the old “outsource everything” adage. Championed by the entrepreneurial bible, Tim Ferriss’s 4-Hour Work Week, what’s not to love?

The story goes that everything which is outside of your “zone of genius” (I’m so sorry), you should outsource, preferably to a third-world country, where you can pay peanuts to get some poor sod to do your marketing, respond to inquiries, create you a whizz-bang sales funnel, allowing you just a few hours a day (preferably less) to actually get on and work.

First, know that I’m not a fan of workaholism and doing everything yourself. Self-employed people are at real risk of becoming workaholics, and this serves nobody. If you’re dealing with the risks, stress and uncertainties of self-employment by always working weekends, learning to do each and every little thing ourselves, and giving up the idea of ever having a holiday again, that’s sadism, not self-employment.

But how do we find the balance? How do we discern between essentials skills you need to develop as a business owner, and what makes far more sense for you to outsource?

Core skills of self-employment

“Don’t outsource something just because you don’t want to do it,” says Jim Lanzalotto, principal at Scanlon Louis, a marketing and strategic outsourcing company. “Sometimes there are things you don’t want to do but they are important to your core business.”

Too often, I see small business owners outsource tasks that they don’t want to do, with disastrous results. When you’re premature to outsourcing, you are vulnerable to exploitation, dwindling profit and, sometimes, create a hot mess that costs a lot to clean up (not just money).

Top of the list of things not to outsource are your vision, mission and values.

As a business owner, you must be able to eloquently express why you do what you do and why this matters to your Ideal Clients. This needs to excite people and work to magnetise your exact, perfect-fit people to you. This is your first, key skill, which you’ll continue to develop and revisit for years and years to come.

If your vision, mission and values are unclear to you and don’t excite people when you express them, practice and get help. Hire a brand strategist or business coach to work with you to dig deep into your vision, mission and values. It’s crucial.

Next, you need to be able to market your business. You don’t need to be expert at all different types of marketing, but you do need to be able to create a simple marketing system to attract leads and inquiries. I suggest you focus on your strengths: these might be writing and messaging, or video, or speaking, or graphic design and photography.

Finally, you must be able to sell what you do, ideally face-to-face or over the phone, so you can then translate this online. There is no ‘right’ way to sell, no script or formula you must follow. Either you can sell effectively, or you have a lot of coffee dates that go nowhere. Develop your own way that feels natural and easy, and do this repeatedly!

If you’re earning less than $50,000

If you’re taking home less than $50,000 per year (profit, not revenue), then your key skills to focus on are marketing and sales. You need to grow your community, online and offline.

Pick one digital marketing skill at a time to focus on and study each for at least three months. This could be:

  • Email marketing and writing
  • Social media marketing and basic graphic design
  • Marketing videos and live videos on social media
  • Search engine optimization and link-building

What to outsource:

Logo and branding
This is too important to DIY. This investment should reap dividends for the next 10 years or longer.
Website design
Yes, you can create a quick and easy website in Weebly over a weekend. But if you’ve wasted several weekends and it still looks like the dog’s breakfast, outsource it.
Professional photography cultivates trust. Just because you can take photos on your phone and use these on your website doesn’t mean you should. I’m still using professional photos that I paid $300 for six years ago. Money well spent.

If you’re earning less than $90,000

If you’re taking home less than $90,000 per year (profit, not revenue), then your key skills to focus on are scaling your marketing and systematising your sales.

Scaling your marketing means growing your email list, experimenting with different types of marketing outreach, and actively collaborating with others. Your email list is most business’s primary source of leads, so keep it growing! You might do this through creating regular (biannual) lead magnets, advertising your lead magnets, or other creative collaborations, such as guest blogging on the topic of your lead magnet or talking about the topic of your lead magnet as a podcast guest.

Systematising your sales mean documenting what you do to sell, automating as much as possible, perhaps introducing videos to personalize the process further, and ensuring you have smart website forms and other onboarding to make the job easier for yourself.

What to outsource:

One-to-one training
Specialist skills take years to develop. Consultants who specialise in Facebook advertising, Google Ads, search engine optimisation, conversion copywriting, email funnels, or specific software will save you time, money and can be invaluable to your business development. I’ve never regretted buying an hour or three of expert’s time, no matter the cost. It’s not the hour you’re paying for, it’s the years of their experience and the time they’re saving you. Invest.
Website upgrade
If your website is older than three years, it’s likely time for a renovation or reboot. Especially if your last website was a DIY affair, investing in a new website design should pay dividends.
Graphic design
Yes, I know Canva makes it easy, but that doesn’t mean we’re all designers now. A good graphic designer makes you look good, and perception is an important indicator of value. Yes, I know it’s superficial, but it’s true.

If you’re earning more than $90,000

If you’re taking home more than $90,000 a year, then well done. It’s time to hone your judgment and revisit your business, goals and lifestyle.

  • What’s working?
  • What’s not working?
  • Are you heading in a direction that you’ll be happy with, in five to ten years time?

You can afford to spend more now, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t keep reviewing your overheads and seeing if you can find savings. One-off spending is easy to account for, but it’s the monthly overheads which most businesses take for granted and, especially with software subscriptions, these are worth reviewing annually to ensure you’ve got the most relevant, appropriate software for your needs (which doesn’t mean the most sophisticated and expensive).

What to outsource:

Business coaching
It’s very difficult to look objectively at your own business. It’s easy to take your unique strengths for granted. A business coach will help you see your blind spots and show you short-cuts to help you accelerate your profits.
Admin assistance
I’m not a fan of outsourcing admin too early, because it’s a low-value activity. Far better to reduce your admin with automation and systems. But once you’ve reached $90,000, you can definitely afford to outsource tasks that are a drag.
Marketing assistance
This could be a creative/strategic marketing assistant to help tease out ideas together. Or it could be an implementer with a wide range of marketing skills to do the work of blog writing, e-news writing, social media marketing scheduling and commissioning creative marketers such as video and audio producers, graphic designers, etc.

Control, discernment and self-insight

Outsourcing is tricky because it requires sharp discernment and self-insight, a willingness to relinquish control, ability to project manage efficiently, and broad abilities to know a little bit about a lot so that you are better placed to know exactly what’s best for you to outsource, and what you must do yourself.

Don’t give up everything. But know that giving up some things is the only way forward sometimes.

“Everything in your business can be outsourced … if you’re not emotionally attached to doing it all.” (Richard Branson)