Founders of startup businesses are forced to quickly learn that keeping costs to an absolute minimum is critical. It’s a necessity for those with close to zero income but even for those to have attracted venture money they know that every penny saved means a longer runway.
One way for you to get the help that you business needs while keeping an eye on costs is to look to virtual services. While there is some variation these are often delivered on flexible contract terms and don’t need expensive up-front investment or overheads for them to benefit you. Being able to reach out more-or-less on demand for services that you need will make your business flexible and plays strongly towards the lean business model.
Being aware of the potential of what outsourcing can give your business is important. Even if you don’t use all - or any - of the services from day one it’s good to know where to turn to if you find any particular part of running your business overwhelming. It can also be comforting to know that help is available when you need it.
Outsourcing to a virtual service will also provide you with more time to focus on your core business activity. Being buried in administrative tasks isn’t good for a startup business that needs to be delivering value. Add to this the fact that you may not be an expert in that particular task and you take the double-hit of spending time unproductively and inefficiently.
Be clear on your role within the business and be confident to cut out and outsource anything that doesn’t fit with it. If you’re looking for growth opportunities through networking then having to spend a day a month sorting out accounts is not a great fit. Consider outsourcing that bit of work.
Keep in mind that whenever you outsource something, you as the business owner remain ultimately responsible. Whenever you outsource something you’ll get the best value if you do a thorough briefing and provide as many answers to questions as you can. Delegate, don’t abdicate.
We’ve pulled together and are curating a list of resources your business may need from time to time. It should give you an idea of the breadth and depth of the support that your business can tap into if and when it needs to. Keep in mind that we’re not saying every business needs to tick every box. Instead, review this list to see if there are any services your business could benefit from. Think about how outsourcing could free up capacity to allow you to spend more time on its core competency. For owner-run businesses this might mean getting more time to deliver valuable product rather than dealing with administration. For larger businesses your existing team may need an injection of expertise.
However you use it, we’d love your feedback on what you think and to let us know if there are any categories we’ve missed, especially if you have experience using them.
Manually doing things that relate to the list of email subscribers that you’ve built up is potentially a waste of your time. Using an email management service, people can subscribe, unsubscribe and manage their own profile. Your work can then be focused on writing great email content and using the same email management tool to schedule and send them, ensuring that your subscriber list grows.
Also see Social and digital marketing, SEO and Copywriting
If you are dealing with a lot of leads then trying to get them organised can be a real time-sync. Use appointment booking systems to provide prospects with a link via email or directly on your website where they can choose their own date and time from those available. Some services link to your calendar so you can block out times when you are not available.
Also see Lead Generation and Cold Calling
Telephones can be a distraction to a small business and having the ability to screen or filter calls can be very useful. There are many call answering services around and some may be able to do more than simply redirect a call, such as booking an appointment or sending our information. Be careful when using this service, however, and make sure that you choose a company that reflects your company’s professionalism and that doesn’t cut you off entirely from your end users.
Also see Personal Assistant
For many businesses, particularly those in the service industry space, recording prospect conversations can be a great way to ensure you capture all the detail from your meetings. It means you don’t have to spend the time face-down on a notepad scribbling away and wasting the prospect’s time. Once recorded, you might want to turn to transcription services to receive a written record. Turning that into action points or a proposal should then be much easier.
There are both online/virtual services and human transcription services available. The former might be more cost effective but won’t be able to understand context and separate out background noise as well as a human subscriber.
Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn … there are a lot of social media platforms that your business may need to be engaging with. Each have their own audience type and you may find yourself needing a presence on several. Writing good content and interacting with followers is not something everyone is good at. Virtual services can provide a way for you to outsource the interactions while allowing you to retain control of content. You can make the remit broader by engaging a digital marketing expert who may be able to help with overall business branding, website and blog copy and more.
Many of the same people are also skilled in copywriting, taking a story or article and making sure that it is attractive to your target audience. They may also be good at search engine optimisation which - although not necessarily a singular skill any more - works well in combination with content and digital marketing activities.
You will no doubt be spoilt for choice when trying to select someone for this. Make sure that they’re able to demonstrate an understanding of your target audience and that you have a good and trusting relationship with them.
Most people are aware that web design and development can be outsourced. Indeed, it’s rare for a business owner to possess the necessary skills to build their own website or app. That said, there are many services that allow you to do just that through a framework. Depending on what you want to achieve you can lease the domain name, hosting and platform and then add your own graphics and content.
Just keep in mind that retaining a portion of the service for you to do yourself might still leave you with too much to do. You may also not possess the necessary non-technical design skills. Therefore, make sure you position your business in the right place along the spectrum from having complete in-house control to completely outsourced updates.
Outsourcing of a business' financial matters to an accountant or tax advisor is one of the more common services. If doing it yourself then not only do you need to be wary of time spent and the efficiency with which you are processing your accounts but you also need to ensure you are legally compliant. Despite this, 6 out of 10 business still handle it in-house.
For businesses that already have staff and overheads, the accountant or bookkeeper becomes even more important. Yet even for individual or side-hustle founders there’s a need to ensure compliance and to efficiently store and track expenditure and receipts.
For businesses that charge for effort, recording the time spent on each project is critical to ensure correct and transparent billing. While a spreadsheet is fine, there are services that can make it easier to record start and stop times, add value by making reports easier and even convert the time directly into an invoice for the client.
For a lean startup, there are great efficiencies to be had by doing as much as possible “in the cloud”. Not only does this remove the need for the purchase and storage of any hardware but the opportunities to scale and work from anywhere are enhanced. The same principle can be extended to productivity software provision where the need to purchase software outright has been replaced by a small monthly fee. For those requiring less functionality initially these services may not incur a charge at all.
It’s always important for a business to keep in touch with their users and to be there if they need any kind of support. Depending on the nature of your product, adding a customer chat service to your website or having a support ticket system will add value without the need for you to set anything up and with minimal or no cost.
Where customer support has to be by phone and you can’t handle it all yourself see if there is opportunity for a PA to handle the more basic enquiries or consider reaching out to freelancers. If you employ on a geographical basis you may be able to provide extended opening hours through their timezone locations.
It’s rare for a startup founder to want to do cold calling or lead generation. However, it’s vitally important for the business owner to engage as closely as possible with their target market. When outsourcing the initial contact with a prospect, we need to be sure we’re getting adequate feedback from each call and that potential leads are passed on to you as quickly as possible.
The services that do exist should be used in association with the knowledge that you have of your target market so that the leads and prospects that are generated are as close as possible to your ideal customer.
Depending on your offering, getting out and about and attending events could be a way to expand your pool of prospects or to network within your industry. If you attend one or two of these then you’re probably fine to arrange everything yourself. However, if events are a key part of your marketing strategy then you may want to attend a good number each year. Therefore, having an event management expert assist you can free you up to run the business. It doesn’t mean that you yourself can’t attend the event - indeed you might find it very useful to hear from prospects first hand - but the booking, setup and administration (there can be a lot of it!) can all be handled by someone else.
Unless you’re operating in a particularly litigious arena you’re perhaps not going to want to have any kind of retainer with a legal body. However, tapping into the knowledge of the legal industry at an early stage can save you worry and problems further down the line. By using legal templates for things like terms and conditions and contracts you can not only save yourself time on setup but know that you have got the basics covered. You may also find legal practitioners useful to ensuring you have adequate insurance coverage.
Although templates are good you must read through them to ensure that they align with your understanding of how your business is run. If there is any dispute it’s going to be the words on the legal document that win out rather than what you imagined they said.
Your business is going to be based on data to some degree. Even having a list of clients puts you into the data management category and that means that you have responsibilities through GDPR and other laws. Therefore, having a tool that can handle your data in a secure and professional manner is often a good idea. Again, rather than investing in a software purchase you can look to cloud solutions such as ERP and CRM systems. As well as storing your data, these tools may also be able to add to the efficiency of your business.
Lastly but by no means least is the PA. There are a huge variety of experts that fall into the PA bracket but common amongst them is the ability for them to work as part of your business and be flexible. The majority are now virtual and their company - as opposed to the individual - may also overlap into other services such as telephone answering or customer support.
When choosing a PA make sure that they are familiar with your industry and ideally have expertise in working in it. Also make sure that you feel comfortable working with them and be sure to be clear on what scope and time they may be able to commit to your business.
We love hearing from startup founders. In particular we’d love to hear from anyone who has experience in using a virtual service that we’ve listed above or one that we can consider adding in to our list. Just contact us. We hope it’s been a useful first step for you and we wish you every success with your startup.