Outsourcing Your Way to Massive Productivity

There’s too much to do and too little time to do it. That’s the problem.

We want to believe we’ll catch up, we’ll get it all done, we’ll be free from the pressure and stress and have it all under control.

Productivity tips help. Focus helps. Routine helps.

But we can’t do it. We can’t expand time. We can’t change the laws of physics. There is only one way to have less to do, and that’s to do less.

If we’re going to stay this busy and expect to get more done, then we’re going to need to add resources to the mix. We need help. We need something to change if we’re going to dig out from down under.

I can do three things at once–sometimes even more

Right now, as I write these words, I’m doing several other things simultaneously. I’m not multitasking. More and more experts are piling onto the idea that there really isn’t any such thing as multitasking anyway. Multitasking at work is kind of like texting while driving. It doesn’t end well.

I’m writing to you from a coffee bar on the island of Ortigia in Siracusa, Italy. But I’m getting things done in other places at the exact same time.

In South Africa, I’m ordering a book from an online bookstore and having it shipped to a Rosen Institute Premium member.

In northern California, I’m building an app for iPhone and Android, and the latest version of the code is being uploaded to our GIT repository as I type here in Sicily.

In Russia, I’m getting my online business management system optimized so that we can do a better job of requesting testimonials.

In Poland, I’m having additional templates made for my WordPress website.

Yep, I’m doing five things at once.

How am I doing it all? Of course the headline gave it away … I’m outsourcing.

I had nearly 50 employees

My law firm had lots of people at one point. We had two tech support guys, an in-house accountant, a mental health professional, a bookkeeper, people for filing, scanning, and updating our library. We had people for copying and delivering documents along with the usual assortment of paralegals, associates, and other adminisistrative assistants.

Then we started outsourcing.

We got rid of the telephone receptionist, the bookkeeper, the accountant, and the tech support guys. We were just getting warmed up.

We got rid of the filing people, the copying people, and the couriers. We eliminated people as fast as we could find ways to outsource their duties, either to people in our country or in other countries. Our jobs became the outsourcing of our jobs.

Well, maybe “getting rid of” isn’t the right way to think about this.

Instead of putting an overly broad help-wanted post on Craigslist and crossing our fingers that somebody within a 30-minute drive of our office would be a decent fit, we found outside professionals to do the things we used to do within our office space.

More often than not, we were able to find people who could not only do the work better, but they also did it for less money, because they had economies of scale and depth of experience on their side.

The word “outsourcing” often conjures up images of sending routine work overseas and getting things done at bargain-basement prices.

Sometimes it was easy to make that happen, like when we outsourced our filing to a couple of virtual assistants in the Philippines.

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But more often than not, we ended up with contractors closer to home, as in the case of outsourcing our financial functions (including bookkeeping, accounting and Human Resources).

As luck would have it, our bookkeeper is within a 30-minute drive, and we did find her on Craigslist. But she wasn’t interested in sitting in our office 40 hours per week–she was interested in expanding her bookkeeping business.

On an hourly basis, she’s more expensive than the full-time employee we had doing the same job, but she does it much better and in a fraction of the time, so we ended up saving an enormous amount in overhead that was no longer required.

It’s not always that easy.

Sometimes it was challenging, like when we outsourced the drafting of retirement plan distribution documents. Or when we hired a remote computer service company–our remaining employees had to get used to having someone far away move the cursor on their screen.

Often, the outsourcing adjustment took longer than expected because our team had to adapt to a new way of thinking–like when we moved to direct-dial numbers and outsourced our receptionist duties to a service. But sometimes it was instant and automatic, like when the checks started popping out of the printer written by someone working remotely for another company. No one seemed bothered by that, as long as the checks kept coming.

We cut the team by 60%

Overall, our headcount dropped, and dropped, and dropped. Outsourcing saved us lots of management headaches, recruiting hassles, and overhead.

As we traded employees for contractors, we became the client, and our needs became a top concern.

We had a yard sale featuring extra Herman Miller Aeron chairs formerly used by full-time team members. We put quite a few bucks in the savings account that day.

It was much easier to manage a much smaller team. Management had always been a challenge for us. Managing fewer people meant fewer challenges.

I know some lawyers are great at managing people. They scale a team from two or three to 100 times that number with grace. The systems work, the managers know everyone’s first name, the culture thrives. That was not us.

The team that remained did more important work

Getting rid of work didn’t always mean getting rid of people.

When we handed off tasks like document labeling and uploading, we suddenly had an administrative position with several extra available hours per day.

She started organizing parties, handling the invitations, catering, and entertainment, so that our attorneys could get to know local referral sources.

She started working on client satisfaction projects like regular check-in calls, online reviews, and testimonial videos.

All of a sudden, an employee who was fairly expendable became much more valuable to the practice, because she was directly involved in driving new business.

Outsourcing doesn’t always mean jettisoning every employee. Often, it means freeing up the time of the employees you have so they can focus on more profitable work.

Profits went up, hassles went down

We began to struggle with management and culture as soon as we grew to five employees. It got easier over time, but it was never easy. By outsourcing many roles, we were able to get back to a place where the remaining team members felt connected to the business. Trust increased. Turnover decreased.

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The people to whom we outsourced our work had to be managed, but many were self-employed and managed themselves. It was important to them to keep us as a client.

Sure, we still had to manage our projects and track the progress of outsourced work. But we didn’t have to deal with the upsets, the conflicts, the family issues, the praise, the feedback, the unpleasant messiness inherent in the employer-employee relationship.

Our much smaller team got more done, at lower cost, with a team of outside contractors, each dealing with their particular specialty.

Our brave new outsourced world enabled us to accomplish more in less time. We increased our productivity. We decreased tardiness, delays, complaints, and unhappiness. We increased our value.

When I sold the law firm, the value of the business to the buyer was higher because of outsourcing. Instead of having to build her relationship with the team from scratch, she got a functional machine. Instead of one-to-one meetings with employees, she got finished projects from contractors. Outsourcing doesn’t solve every law firm problem, but it goes a long way toward streamlining an otherwise management-intensive business.

A law firm, like any business, is valued primarily based upon profits. Outsourcing lowered our costs, drove up our profits, and increased our overall valuation. That meant more money in my pocket and more profit for the buyer.

Now, a year after selling the firm, nearly all of the same vendors, contractors, and others handling the law firm work are still in place. The choices we made years ago were solid. The team is reliable. The law firm continues to chug along with most of the same people handling the tasks that were outsourced to them.

I’ve done it again

When I left the law firm and turned my full focus to Rosen Institute, I knew it would grow quickly, and it has. I also knew, based on my experience at the law firm, that it would be unwise for me to grow a big team. I’m better with a small group–that way fewer people are directly exposed to my difficult personality.

I’ve kept it small by outsourcing.

Rosen Institute thrives because of an amazing team of contractors, around the world, handling our projects, tasks, and assignments.

If you listen to our podcast, you’re hearing audio edited by a contractor. Reading the transcript of one of our classes? Another contractor.

If you visit our website, you’re seeing the results of vendors handling the hosting of our webpages, our video files, and our audio files.

When you see graphics on our site, you’re seeing what can be done by outsourcing graphic design.

These words are edited because we outsource the editing. When you make payments to us online, you’re seeing the work of a contractor. When we send you a thank you gift–yep, it’s outsourced (but that doesn’t mean we’re any less grateful).

Everything is outsourced. We outsource bookkeeping, payroll, payment processing, web development, editing, app development, research, administrative tasks, Slack management, audio and video editing, office space needs, etc.

We limit our engagement with the business to:

  1. creating and maintaining the vision
  2. providing services to our members
  3. managing the outsourced projects and tasks

Work time is value-adding time

When I sat down in this coffee shop to write today, I ate my outsourced breakfast. Have I mentioned the cappuccino, and the pistachio-cream-filled cornetto? I’ve now been here ten times.

Getting the restaurant to handle the cooking, and the aforementioned team of Russians, South Africans, Poles, and Americans to handle the rest, means I can focus on my words–and on you. I’m not catching up on administrative tasks, financial maintainance, or stalled technology projects. I’m focused on each and every word I write. And I’m definitely not making my own breakfast.

Getting more done, through outsourcing, lets me think clearly about what to say next as I mop up the last bit of the pistachio cream with the end of the cornetto. I can go deep into my writing zone and find good stuff to say to you without fear of what’s not getting done.

There is too much to do and too little time to do it–if you’re the only one trying to get it done. When you let others help, especially those with expertise in the things that need doing, then much more gets done.

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You will catch up. You will have time. You will get things done. Instead of being distracted, rushed, and pressured, you’ll find the mental space you need in order to bring your best to your clients. You will catch up.

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