Once again, I’ve discovered something obvious: there are two kinds of people in business; insourcers and outsourcers. And it makes a world of difference to know which one you’re dealing with.
For years I was an in-sourcer; I would never pay another person to do something I thought I could do myself. Design a PowerPoint for a pitch? Sure! I knew the program, I could draw a box and color it in. What’s the difference? Create our own bookkeeping system? Why pay Quickbooks when I had Excel spreadsheets?
Computers exacerbate this tendency. It’s natural to think that a program gives you a capability to do something well. And for the past three decades, business consultants have pushed the cult of cost-cutting. Notice what that’s done to our economy?
So for years I thought I was being a good entrepreneur – saving money at every turn. But then something interesting happened. As the business grew, I found out that my time is valuable. And once I began calculating the cost of doing something in terms of my time – in terms of all the things I wouldn’t have time to think about because I was doing something else – I took the first steps to becoming an outsourcer.
Now, I have to admit part of this may be due to my gender. As a type-A female, I grew up with a drive to ‘do it all’ and ‘do it myself.’ My self-worth was tied up with all the skills I could amass. Design ? I’ve watched designers for years, I’m smart, I can figure this out. Technology? How hard could ones and zeros be? Then I went to a seminar taught by a gifted teacher, Margaret Prusan. We talked about what my job should be – promoting my business, setting the direction for growth and creating the culture of the company. Know what I realized? I hate to admit this, but I was avoiding the big questions by doing all the little tasks. Network? How could I have time to network when I’m writing PowerPoint presentations? Nurture talent? I knew how to outwork people, but I don’t think I knew how to train.
Clearly I had some skills to acquire, and clearly I needed help. It was time to change from insourcing to outsourcing.
If you’re nodding your head right now, you know how scary it can be to trust other people with tasks and decisions. Some of the potential clients we meet are clearly still in the ‘innie’ phase. All the processes and case histories in the world won’t convince them that outside help will bring them better results. Sometimes it’s a job security fear. I get it. Because I had the same challenge. Until I realized it was less about Leaning In and more about Letting Go. I can’t grow and acquire new, bigger skills until I let go of the tasks someone else could do, and do better. (Well, I said it was obvious.)
Here’s some of what we outsource now:
Design: It turns out people who are trained in design, who think about it all the time, and who live and breathe it are much better than dabblers like me. So I give the design work to the designers. The PowerPoint presentations look much better.
Technology: My business partner loves this stuff. He spends his spare time reading about it. And he’s good at explaining it. Together, we’re good at figuring out how it’s useful in marketing and how it can all fit together. So I’m not good at technology, but I’m very good at learning.
My hair: Laugh all you want, but ask Hillary if it isn’t a major issue. So I stopped deciding what to do about it and outsourced it to my Creative director. He spent 17 years on the Estee Lauder account and 7 at Revlon. Why wouldn’t I ask him what to do?
Do you see the trend here? It’s expertise. Every one of the people I turn to is an expert. And what makes someone an expert? They have a passion for what they do, they think about it in their spare time, they’ve spent years making decisions and judging the outcomes of what they do. And they keep learning.
With the help of these sources, our presentations now look professional, we add to our tech knowledge daily, and after a lifetime of agita, my hair looks great. As a result, I’m confident about presenting my company. Which is my job as an owner of a full service advertising agency. And in the long run, the money I spend outsourcing will repay me. Because it gives me the time to think about my client’s businesses and my own.
If you look at the people you encounter through this lens, something else will become obvious. Outsourcers move up. Because they aren’t clinging to a task list. They’re looking at a bigger picture. Once you start thinking, ‘who could help me make this better?’ you’ve switched your job description to leading a team of people who will pour their passion into your project. How can the results be anything but great? And those results will reflect on you. Because that’s what companies look for. Leadership and results. You can’t acquire those skills if you’re busy doing everything else. And you know what you’ll get for doing all the little tasks? More little tasks.
It turns out, I wasted a lot of foolish years thinking I had to know how to do everything myself. But now, I’m an Outie, and I’m proud.