Photo by Chris Kliefi @Flickr
I’m a control freak. It’s not something that I set out to be. It’s just that when I start a project, I usually have a very clear vision for its outcome. Taking the time to explain it sometimes is too much trouble or feels like time “wasted” when I know that I could just go and do it. Plus, I’m really good at so many things!
In the book The E-Myth Revisited, author Michael E. Gerber discusses the example of a sole proprietor baker who not only makes great baked goods, but also has to run the shop, sweep the floors, pay the suppliers, hire and manage shop clerks, run the payroll and do the taxes. It’s a crazy unsustainable system. It’s the reason why so many family businesses go out of business. The businesses that last usually have a whole family effort with divided – and often unpaid – labor.
Gerber’s solution? Come up with a organized, replicable system that even a monkey could run just like McDonald’s and hotel chains do. Just thinking about breaking down all the steps of all my projects into monkey-fied tasks was so demoralizing, uninspired and boring! Couldn’t I just magically tell someone to think just like me? And where do I find people to delegate to? Hiring anyone in the United States is prohibitively expensive and full of bureaucratic red tape, tax and legal considerations.
Of course we have all heard about out-sourcing. I first heard about it from both Tim Ferriss (The 4 Hour Work Week) and NY Times columnist Thomas Friedman (The World Is Flat), who spoke about outsourcing his job to India. I was fired up but had a hard time getting past some of my own beliefs. I was still stuck trying to control everything! And wasn’t outsourcing for corporations? What could I as a sole proprietor, delegate?
Well, this year, I made a resolution to start learning how to let go and delegate more.
The hardest part of this has been in figuring out what to let go of.
My first foray into delegation was through FancyHands. What a cool service. It’s a network of on-demand Virtual Assistants located throughout the United States. They are all educated, native American English speakers and have been vetted by the company. It’s not a dedicated assistant. Instead, you hand off tasks that can be accomplished within 15-20 minutes that do not require some specialized knowledge. Things like calling to confirm, or booking a restaurant, or researching ski resorts that are kid friendly, or even researching blog posts, are all very well suited to this. After a month of this, I am smitten! This very post is being proofread by FancyHands. Now I’m trying to figure out what I can send to FancyHands.
Why Delegation Can Not Only Save You Time, But Give You More Creative Power
Years ago I read this article about a phenomenon known as decision fatigue. There is a finite number of conscious decisions you can make in a day before burning yourself out. The article discusses parole cases made in an Israeli court and how as the day wore on, judges increasingly denied parole.
This psychology trick seems to be known by salesman, too. I’ve never bought a car, but have heard horror stories of how car dealers rely on “ego depletion,”wearing customers by asking them to make thousands of choices on minute details of the car. Do you want this in grey or silver? Do you want the warmed seats? What about the backup camera? Oh that only comes in a package … and on and on. By the time you’ve gone through them all, you’re softened up and willing to sign for just about any price.
Apparently the president of the United States doesn’t even get to choose what he wants to eat for his meals. That would sap away his precious finite decisions. So, the more you can delegate and give empowerment to someone else, frees up more creative energy for yourself.
So delegation is really super-charging your ability to think. Make better creative choices. Don’t sweat the small stuff.
Outsourcing for Dedicated Assistance
So after my success with FancyHands, I’ve tried out a few other services looking for a more dedicated virtual assistant. A dedicated assistant could be either specialized for a specific skill like transcription, proofing or coding. I could also train someone to do repetitive, complicated tasks that wouldn’t be conducive to handing off to FancyHands.
I’ve used Guru in the past to hire coders. That’s been pretty good, though I felt the interface was a little clunky. I also was rather unsatisfied when a coder I hired delivered a great first portion but never finished. I was out $300, and they had no real resolution. Lesson learned: divide your projects into smaller portions. This way, when you do pay out, you may lose something, but not as much.
For the last month or so, I’ve been using ODesk to find dedicated talent to hand off to, and have been pretty pleased. They are currently merging with Elance, but I like the ODesk interface better. Right now, I have a small team in the Philippines and Poland doing data entry, proofing, coding and data cleaning. (I guess I only hire from P countries! What’s next, Peru?)
One service I have tried but with poor results is Fiverr.com. The whole site is based on the premise that $5 can get you something. That itself is debatable. What can you get for $5 these days? Not even a large latte at Starbucks! But there are a lot of people using the site for things like graphic design, animation, voiceovers and even coding. It’s just that the type of services you can expect from $5 is going to be limited. From the service providers perspective, they need to figure something they can do within 10 minutes and then try to up-sell ancillary services and add-ons to make it a real revenue stream.
This year I’ve also made a commitment to finish a first novel by my birthday, May 20. Just saying that is kind of terrifying. So what can I delegate here? Well, so far I’ve been delegating little bits of research. I’m also considering how to use an audio dictation process for parts and then having the audio recording transcribed.
Dedicated versus On Demand Virtual Assistants
In conclusion, you can dip your toe in the water with an on-demand service like FancyHands. You get 5 tasks for $29 a month, and you can start clearing your decks for stuff that just never seems to get done. Things like researching summer camps for your kid or finding the perfect hotel for your spouse’s birthday getaway. To start realizing real economies of scale, having a dedicated assistant can lead to more and more tasks being handed over. This is more like having your own secretary or admin assistant, only they are not seated at a desk in your office, but perhaps in another town or state or across the globe.
Tim Ferriss – his blog and podcast are outstanding and should be part of your regular media consumption diet. His access to thought-leaders is incredible with in-depth conversations on the art of excellence with people like Arnold Schwarzenegger, Tony Robbins, Kevin Kelly, Peter Diamandis and others. Highly recommended.
His book The 4 Hour Work Week is still on bestseller lists, and he has updated it.
The E-Myth Revisited by Michael Gerber – great book which has spawned several follow-ups. It de-mystifies running a business but also is truly useful for the small business owner. So many business books are aimed at people working in corporations or starting a massive business.
Ready, Fire, Aim – by Michael Masterson – another great book that is truly aimed at business realities of the small business owner. His whole concept of rapid iterations and sales first is just good common sense. It also mollified the perfectionist in me and is in line with Facebook’s mantra of “Done is better than perfect.” Unless you are working in a life or death critical industry like airline safety or automobiles, done is better than perfect. Micheal Masterson is the pen name of Mark Ford, who is creator of investment newsletter The Palm Beach Letter.
National Novel Writing Month – NaNoWriMo – each November, thousands participate worldwide in a month-long writing event to finish a 50,000 word novel. The accountability and encouragement are so helpful.
Slate – Article about Decision Fatigue
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