Skills: What to Learn and What to Outsource

Summary

Every entrepreneur thinks they know this but I will reiterate it: you cannot do everything yourself.  Your ability to quickly learn new skills and be able to pass them on to your team is a fantastic asset and will serve you well in business.  You can inspire and encourage your team and take the lead in developing them personally and professionally – they will appreciate it.

There are however some areas that require technical knowledge, are repetitive and time-consuming, that don’t fire your interest or that you are just terrible at.  Accept this as fact and hire the right people, in-house or by outsourcing, and spend your valuable time focussing on the areas of the business that are your strengths.

Read on to find out how……

The Background

I am sure you will be aware of the debate that centres around Generalist vs Specialist.  The generalist is the jack-of-all-trades, willing to give anything a good go, but perhaps never the very best in his field.  The Specialist is very focussed on his specific niche and is excellent at that job, but outside of that sphere struggles to adapt as successfully to changing situations where a different skill-set may be required.

Well, recruitment specialists can continue this debate as long as they want; because you’re not trying to get hired you want to start your own business.   As a business owner as far as I’m concerned there is no debate – you must be a generalist.  If you have specialist skills in the area in which you plan to start your business that’s great, but if not don’t worry – you can hire those skills.  You need the ability to stay across all facets of your business.  You are the person tying everything together and developing the strategy; this person cannot and should not be hired.  If you don’t want to do this you should go and work for someone who does!

You need to be on top of planning, execution, marketing, financial management, hiring and training your team, developing processes to secure your exit from the tactical level of the business all on top of health and safety and a host of other mandatory requirements.

The ability to manage this range of requirements is similar, in theory if not content, to the J1-J9 functions that many of you will have been involved with at some level in the Armed Forces.

If you have served any length of time in the Armed Forces you will have fulfilled numerous job types including some of; instructor, staff officer, translator, searcher, ceremonial duties, operations, media operations, medic, driver, vehicle commander – the list is endless.

For many of these roles you are trained in short cadres and are expected to transition from novice to instructor level in a short period of time – this sees you well placed for owning your own business.

The skills you will require as an entrepreneur are wide ranging but can be learned, to some greater or lesser extent, depending on your business.  Resettlement courses can help in this area as can using resettlement time to research and teach yourself.

Once you start your business you are likely to get caught up in the daily operation so it becomes more difficult to learn new skills.  There needs to be a decision made on whether to invest your limited time in learning something new or developing a partnership with a service provider who will often be able to do a much better job in a shorter amount of time at a reasonable price.

Diagram

I have sketched out a quick mind-map detailing some of the functions I conduct within my business and areas where I outsource to other professionals.

A mindmap showing learned skills and outsourced skills

Decision Making

When it comes to making the decisions on what to outsource I would consider these five elements:

Importance – how vital is the function?

Interest – does this area of the business interest you?

Achievable – can you carry the function out to a level acceptable to the business?

Cost – how much will you save by doing it yourself?

Time – how much of your limited time will you have to devote to this function?

It is important to consider your decision alongside a timeframe and review it regularly.  It may be cost or time effective to carry out a function yourself in the early days of the business and then look to outsource (or hire someone in) to complete the task as the business grows.

Example

In my business I feel graphic design is an excellent example.

Important?

When starting my own business I knew that a well-designed brand image would be important to fit in with the ethos of my business and the Scandinavian heritage behind it.  It doesn’t mean that I didn’t experiment in giving it a go myself though!

Achievable?

Below is an example of my logo design compared with the designs you see all over this blog – it’s embarrassingly bad!  I don’t like to think much brand visibility we would have earned if I had gone with my own design.

Logo 5

Cost?

Design can be expensive but if creating a professional looking brand is important to you then the outlay will be worth it.  There are a couple of ways to get graphic design work done that include:

Local Designer.  I chose the local designer option.  The process has been collaborative and I think we work really well together as a team.  From the outset our interaction has been based on mutual benefit and creating a long-term relationship. We have developed our own set of unspoken brand guidelines that we both understand and work within.  I owe a lot to my designer Dan Gardner.

Online Designer.  Included at the bottom of the blog are links to various outsourcing websites where you can hire designers online to work to a brief.  This method can be cost effective and would work well when you have a clear idea of what you want.  You do run the risk of not being able to use the designer again and if you require small changes there can be an additional turnaround time.  Personally I would consider an online designer for small one-off jobs, but I wouldn’t go there for brand/logo creation.

Time: Most designers will use Adobe Illustrator to design your logo; this is a very powerful but complicated piece of software.  Teaching yourself to use it or doing a course may be very useful in the long-term especially if you have an eye for design, but if your business does not use this tool as part of it’s operation you should consider this carefully.  Skill fade will be an issue and you have to remember that knowing how to use the tool is only one part of great design.

Cost: Adobe Illustrator is not only complicated it is also expensive.  I have spent in the region of £1500-2000 on graphic design in my first 18 months of business and I believe that is a reasonable price for the power it lends to the Baltzersen’s brand.

Additional Benefits

There are other less-tangible benefits from using service providers from within your local community.  My accountant regularly recommends my business, brings clients for lunch and has introduced me to other business contacts during networking events.  Our local video production company and photographer feature us on their websites promoting our business to their clients. 

Further Reading

Below is a link to an article that talks about the entrepreneurial superhero complex, the idea that many entrepreneurs think they can do everything better than everyone else:

http://www.mikemichalowicz.com/manage-entrepreneurial-growth/

Sites to consider for design work on a project basis:

www.odesk.com

www.elance.com

www.99designs.com

If you’re thinking about a move into business and want to make some useful contacts and get some great advice why not come along to the free Heropreneurs ‘Be Inspired into Business’ event on 24th September 2013 at the Crowne Plaza – St James, London. You can reserve your ticket here.

Heropreneurs logo and tagline

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