Grow Smart BusinessUMDNetwork Solutions

Small Business Success Index 4

Index Score*   Grade
73 marginal
Capital Access 67
Marketing & Innovation 65
Workforce 76
Customer Service 88
Computer Technology 73
Compliance 92
*Index score is calculated on a 1-100 scale.

Search Articles

Posts Tagged ‘outsourcing’

The Ethics of Outsourcing

November 24th, 2010 :: Thursday Bram

These days, you can outsource anything. You can have a virtual assistant in India checking your phones, a call center in the Philippines handling your customer service and a manufacturer in China creating your product. But there are some ethical questions that go along with the decision to outsource your business’ tasks. Those questions won’t stop you from outsourcing, but they may cause you to think about what you’re outsourcing and how.

Am I Being Fair to My Employees?

If you’ve been working with certain employees for the long term and plan to fire them once you outsource the tasks they currently handle, it’s worth thinking about what that will mean for your employees. You have no obligation to keep on an employee if you find an outsourcing opportunity, but if you have a great working relationship with your employees, simply letting them go can be an uncomfortable prospect. Take a look at the situation and see if there are other opportunities, like offering them some of the tasks that simply can’t be outsourced.

You might also think about your new employees. You might find an outsourcing company that swears $1.50 is a fair wage overseas, but it’s important to look into that for yourself and decide if you’ll really get the value you need from an employee paid at that rate. You may find that not all local organizations are comfortable with the idea that you might be paying such a low rate for your labor, and you’ll need to be able to assure them that you’re paying a fair wage if you want to work with them in the future.

Am I Providing the Best Value to My Customers?

It may sound well and good to hand your customer service off to someone else, but that can easily mean that the first person a new customer interacts with doesn’t speak English as a first language. That’s not necessarily as helpful for your customers as you might hope, and it can make for a less than ideal experience for customers whom you would like to continue selling to. The same goes for manufacturing and other parts of your business you might outsource. You want to be sure that your customers are continuing to get the value they expect from your business if you outsource any part of your company.

If you can’t guarantee that value, that might be a stopping point for your outsourcing plans. You may have a lower margin of profit using local labor or doing something yourself, but you might have lower profits entirely if you can’t keep your customers happy. The changeover just may not be worth it for a small business.

Image by Flickr user Marc Smith (Creative Commons)

The 4 Hour Workweek

October 5th, 2010 :: Monika Jansen
The 4 Hour Workweek book cover


I don’t know about you, but the thought of working less and playing more is very appealing.  Even though I have my own business, I am most definitely not a workaholic.  In fact, I would always rather be on vacation.  During a recent week-long vacation, I ignored email (both personal and professional)—and it was awesome.  Everyone with whom I was working on a project knew I would be unreachable for an entire work week, and no one bothered me.  Projects are still on schedule, and the Earth is still rotating.

So it was with great interest that I read The 4-Hour Workweek on the plane ride home from vacation.  It was written a few years ago by the then-30 year old entrepreneur, Timothy Ferriss.  This is book is not an Anthony Robbins-type, become-a-millionaire-and-everything-will-be-great book.  Tim actually has his own business manufacturing and selling nutritional supplements. He figured out a way to legitimately game the system so he could still earn money but spend his time pursuing interests outside of work.  And he wrote a book about it, which shot to the top of both the New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestsellers lists.

His main argument for reducing your work load centers on the idea of regularly taking mini-retirements.  It’s a much better plan, he argues, than what we’re expected to do (and what everyone else does): work like a dog during the prime of our lives, take a short vacation once a year, and retire before we drop dead—at which point we can (hopefully) enjoy life and the fruits of our labor.  Tim refers to this as the deferred-life plan, and I wholeheartedly agree that’s a stupid plan.

In the book, he outlines exactly what to do to gain time and mobility, as they are the keys to living like the New Rich.

  1. D is for Defintion.  This section introduces the rules and objectives of the new game—lifestyle design.  Tim assigns some homework to get you motivated.  He asks you to write down and confront and what is stopping you from doing what you need to do to be happier: quitting your job, expanding your business, etc.  He also asks you to write down your dreams and calculate how much they will cost to achieve.
  2. E is for Elimination.  Time management is turned on its head in this section, which is based on “Pareto’s Law” that states 80% of the outputs result from 20% of the inputs.  By using selective ignorance, consuming less information, and ignoring the unimportant, Tim argues that you can do your work in very little time—and thus gain lots of time.  He gives you ideas on how to effectively use your time, some of which I have already implemented myself (yes, they work).
  3. A is for Automation.  Because work still needs to get done so you can get paid and fund your lifestyle, Tim explains how arbitrage, outsourcing, and not making decisions can put your “cash flow on autopilot,” a term I love, and thus ensure you a steady income.  I’ve already started outsourcing more work to my intern to free up some of my time.
  4. L is for Liberation.  The final section of the book focuses on mobility, mini-retirements, controlling your business from a distance, and escaping the boss.  Because of the nature of my work, I can already work anywhere. Until I conquer my fears, expand my business, and hire employees, though, working 4 hour days and taking mini-retirements will have to wait.

I highly recommend the book.  If you’ve read it, I’d love to know if you have made significant changes and altered your life for the better?  If not, what is holding you back?

Outsourcing Your Marketing: Your Options

February 9th, 2010 :: Thursday Bram

As a business owner, it’s easy to get caught up in the day to day details of making sure you keep the clients you already have. That can take attention from marketing and finding the clients that will help your business grow, though. Those ‘some day’ projects that will help market your business need to move up your priority list. Rather than trying to jam more into an already packed list, though, marketing can be an area where it’s especially easy to delegate.

That doesn’t necessarily mean bringing in a new employee just to handle marketing and public relations projects. The fact of the matter is that many business don’t need a full-time staffer for marketing — bringing in someone just creates stress as you try to find enough work for him or her to do. But it’s very easy to outsource marketing projects. Even better, there are benefits with working with a marketing professional outside your company. A freelancer or a firm offering public relations and marketing services often builds up a wide network that just isn’t available for an employee starting from scratch.

Beverly Flaxington is a consultant, as well as the author of two books. In order to handle the details of marketing her business, she relies on help from outside the company. She actually also brings in graphics, administrative and other kinds of help as needed, as well. Her business doesn’t offer enough work to keep full-time employees busy, but Flaxington does need help from marketing specialists every so often: “…Having people who are very talented, yet virtual independent contractors works great. Over time, they are a part of our firm and we work great together but we don’t have the pressure of full-time employees to keep busy!”

From a financial point of view, the arrangement has been very effective for Flaxington. She’s able to match her expenses to client work, making her cash flow much smoother. Since you can outsource on an as-needed basis, you can customize your project, based on your budget. Depending on who you’re working with on a press release, ad campaign or other marketing project, you may find that your consultant can offer help on getting the most bang for your buck, as well.

Flaxington found her marketing specialists (including graphic designers and proofreaders) on Guru. She suggests, “Ask to see samples of their work in advance because marketing and graphics are very much ‘personal taste.’” It’s important to find marketing help that not only understands your goals and knows how to reach your key customers, but who can also present your business in a way that you like.

There are a wide variety of ways to find someone to help you with marketing, beyond Guru and similar sites. While there are plenty of firms out there with full staffs, you also have the option of finding individual specialists for each type of project you’re considering. Maybe you need a graphic designer to put together a few ads, or an SEO specialist to increase your website traffic. You can find any sort of marketing specialist with just a search online.

Image by Stock.xchange user danielcruz