How to Outsource Your Brain for Fun AND Profit
May 22nd, 2008 by
This post is in response to a request for Business How Tos at Sparkplugging.com in response to the question “How can I increase the profitability of my business?”
A little background
Way back toward the end of my time punching someone else’s clock I had an idea for a service I was calling “Outsource My Brain”.
The concept went something like this:
You’re a middle-manager or executive with more work than you feel like doing. So instead of pulling an all-nighter, or even foregoing American Idol with the kids, you drop that outline for a PowerPoint presentation to the board into you email.
Wham, bang, boom! Next morning in your inbox is a nice shiny presentation filled with charts, graphs, numbers and cool animations.
Like magic, no?
No — the recipient of your email was an offshore virtual assistant with an MBA from the IIT who knows more about PowerPoint, charts and numbers and your job than you do.
So here’s the problem with my big idea… somebody’s already done it! In fact a bunch of somebodys. One of the more well known is a company called Brickwork, made famous by Tom Friedman and A. J. Jacobs.
Best of all, I learned about it while reading “The World Is Flat ” (see quote)…
on a plane…
on my way back from India.
Man I was bummed. Another great idea gone. Then comes this “4 Hour Workweek ” craziness and it all goes to the dogs.
So, for anyone who hasn’t read it the “4 Hour Workweek” is about how you too can become a lifestyle designer using extreme time management to live the life you’ve dreamed while running a profitable business supporting your every need.
Sound too good to be true? Maybe. The author insists its possible!
We report, you decide.
Outsourcing your brain
Let’s set some ground rules:
- Nobody knows your business like you do (yes, yes, I’m sure – maybe)
- You can’t do everything (and do it all well)
- Working on your weaknesses is a waste of time (tons of work yielding incremental moves ending in mediocrity)
- Working on your strengths is what will make you rich (small efforts increase outcome exponentially)
- You must be honest with yourself
- Accept that control is an illusion
Nobody knows your business like you do
Whether you’re the last kid on your upline for Tahitian Noni, Herbalife or Shaklee or if you’re a virtual assistant, contract writer or run a local internet marketing company you have something in common with other business owners. You got into business because of your passion. Passion for product, customers or even money is still passion. No one is going to have your passion for your business (see quote).
I don’t know your story so I’ll tell you mine.
I used to work for a company that built the software on which some major online yellow pages run. We had customers with one phone book and others with 300 + on the Fortune 1000 list.
The yellow pages is where consumers used to go to find products and services. The Yellow Pages Association of the time had a great tag line “We’re the Yellow Pages; We Sell Things” — I love it. Sounds like us: we’re internet marketers; we sell things.
We built that company, we had some great customers and partners and we then sold it to a company who is still growing and pushing new boundaries in local and mobile search, Local Matters.
I’d been working on the web since 1994 and we had done some work in search marketing but after the acquisition a small team and I started working on search on behalf of our yellow pages customers.
I saw how well we were able to rank for local search terms for yellow pages and I thought “why not take it to the masses”. We’re still working on the mass(es) part but we’ve been doing pretty well so far. Robert Kiyosaki tells a story in his books of his rich dad saying that the way to wealth was to figure out how to do what you do now for more customers with the same effort.
In other words, if we can help the individual advertiser rank as well as or better than the Yellow Pages it’s a big win. The advertiser pays less and gets better exposure online and we get a customer. That’s the passion: helping small businesses get the most of online marketing at a reasonable cost and in control of their own destiny.
Among my strengths is seeing the systems which need to be built and finding people with skills to build and run them.
And talking. 🙂
In the past I have built the systems with my hands on the keyboard — it’s just not a thing at which I excel. Others excel… I hack… I outsource or hire to my weakness.
In the early going, I would sell the projects and do some of the work and I would find smart, reliable, contractors for the rest. You might guess that reliable part is hardest to find.
All the while I was looking for ways in which we could systematize and streamline the process.
I’ve been incredibly fortunate in the time since to develop a full-time dedicated staff (and a reliable set of contractors and vendors) who are working together to help grow even further.
You can’t do everything
So, yes, nobody knows my business like I do. I hope it’s clear that I know I can’t do it all myself. I have to rely on my team. If I had to do it all I’d only be able to serve a few and I want to serve many.
And if I don’t trust the decisions of those around me how many can we serve? Even if my team makes decisions that aren’t 100% what I’d do 100% of the time, they’re pretty close and it means they don’t have to wait for me to get our clients what they need.
In support of helping our clients we write a TON of content. This is a big management effort. Amy Arnold my production manager is responsible for keeping track of the hundreds of pieces of content we create on any given day.
I used to do this myself. I did it OK when I could get to it. Amy does it great. It’s all hers and I trust her to do it better than I would. Is it perfect? Ain’t nothin’ perfect but the Lord (as they say down south). Could I find fault if I looked really hard? Sure, but it’s getting done and I’m not doing it.
My teammates are great and they all know that we have to do 2 things: get results and serve the customer.
And the whole team knows to feel free to take things away from me.
Eva Moran keeps me from having to focus on message and brand and vendors and conference swag and all the other things which I’d love to be more involved in but which are ultimately not the best use of my scarcest resource: time.
Angie Scott our controller makes sure I don’t have to worry about money.
Prashant Tribhuvan our production team lead makes sure Amy and I don’t have to micromanage every page of HTML or directory submission or blog post or whatever.
Jennifer Wojtowicz keeps me from having to organize pay-per-click campaigns and reporting.
So, we all get to work to our strengths and know that someone else is picking up our weaknesses.
Working on your weaknesses is a waste of time
Let’s look at what Jennifer does as an example.
I know how to set up a pay-per-click campaign. I am by no means an expert. If I took the time I’m sure I could be competent. Time is the issue.
I’ll only ever be competent because my life is about talking to customers and prospective customers and defining systems.
I’d rather have excellence on task and my own time to focus where I can be excellent. Jennifer spent the last 6 years in big agencies running multi-million dollar ad campaigns. Excellence.
So, if it was all me we’d have mediocre pay-per-click implementation and we wouldn’t have the systems to support customers and staff to:
Working on your strengths is what will make you rich
So, where am I strong? Systems and talking.
I have to be focused on getting systems in place that support all these smart people because even smart people occasionally let things slide. The systems help reduce the stress of the work.
The people excel and we get results and serve the customer .
And, the more I talk the more customers want to work with us. So I have to talk to more people so we can have more customers so I can feed all these people building and using the systems. 🙂
I talk to customers we grow. I work on systems we grow with happy customers and teammates.
You must be honest with yourself
Face it, you can’t do it all. And there are some things at which you suck!
I’ll admit it, I am not great at keeping track of 300 + pieces of content a month. I don’t have the attention span for it and while I see the big picture I need the time for other things.
I’m also not great with money. In my personal life I’m rich until my ATM card stops working.
Thankfully Angie is really good with that stuff. My AmEx mysteriously gets paid, vendors are happy and I don’t worry about it.
Angie also rocks.
Hey you! Get some help
Accept that control is an illusion
I trust my team to get the work done. I could try to micromanage but I’d be sapping everyone’s effectiveness (including mine).
I live in hurricane country and I know that it can all go bad overnight. There is no control, only trust.
I trust my team to get things done. And I trust our systems to show us what needs doing. And most importantly I trust our partners and customers to tell us when we get it wrong. We’re lucky. Our customers don’t expect perfection, they expect results. As long as they get results they’ll cut us a little slack on perfection.
You can’t control everything and to try will waste your time and drive you mad.
Look, not everyone gets as lucky as I did. I knew Amy for years — she was getting ready to reenter the workforce at exactly the time that I needed her. It just worked.
Angie who has years of high-level financial management experience happens to live in my house and take care of my kids (and me) and drive my car and is the recipient of my life insurance… and you guessed it, is married to me.
And the rest of the team, in all honesty, arrived just as we needed them most.
What about you?
Start easy, do that rigorous self-assessment and identify those things which take your time but not your passion. And then find someone else to do them.
One good starting point is Elance. Elance is a global marketplace for people who know how to do stuff to connect with people who need stuff done.
How bout that?
Ask around. There’s a lot of untapped talent out there. Think of how many secretaries, lawyers, ad execs and bankers are at home tending children? You think they have some spare time?
Is this you? Are you that smart work at home person with a growing business? Maybe there’s someone in your neighborhood who hasn’t figured out what they’re going to do with their time.
Take them under your wing and give them your least valuable tasks… It’s a starting point.
- Know yourself.
- Find people who are strong where you are weak and trust them.
- If only you can do it you don’t have a business you have a job.
- Do what you love for more clients with the same effort and you’ll be rich!
My favorite quote from “The World is Flat”
Every morning in Africa, a gazelle wakes up.
It knows it must run faster than the fastest lion or it will be killed
Every morning a lion wakes up.
It knows it must outrun the slowest gazelle or it will starve to death.
It doesn’t matter whether you are a lion or a gazelle.
When the sun comes up, you better start running.
Will, phenomenal post. I still cannot convince myself to take the plunge into outsourcing / hiring up / etc. because a) I am not sure I want the responsibility of managing people and b) I am not sure I want the quality of other people’s work to reflect on me and c) I am not sure I want the quality of MY work to reflect on other people.
I was/am an only child, and never really liked working in groups in school because I could always do things faster than the other kids. I bet I can still do a lot of things faster than the other kids. But that doesn’t mean that I can make the most money or build the best company or take on the coolest projects by working faster. I need help to do that.
At any rate, it was a truly thought-provoking post. Thanks!!
PS I love that you love Friedman; he’s one of my absolute favorites, and World is Flat is one of my all-time favorite books.
I know you’re doing great already. You get to be creative and smart and work as much as you want.
And if you ever decide to team up you will do that much better still, because you are one of the best team players I know. You are connector and a facilitator and you bring out the best in people.
I’d call that the ideal manager 🙂
Thank you for being my friend. I’m happy to be a part of your team.
Thanks for knowing your strengths and weaknesses and allowing me to be a part of the awesome team that fills in the rest. We can only get better from here. I’m looking forward to the journey and the laughs. 🙂
Great post, Will. Sounds like a great team. Fun to read and very thought provoking.
You know what else…..working on your weak points is sooooooooooo hard. 😀
Find someone who is good at that stuff.
I can’t overstate the value of this team — for both me and our clients.
[…] And a bonus #19 by Will Scott from Search Influence on How to Outsource Your Brain for Fun AND Profit […]
Great article, great team…great article for the team.
I’d love to hear how you assembled such a great team.
I used to work with a project manager at Amazon named Amy Arnold, and she was terrific. I wonder if it’s the same Amy.
Love the “Group Writing Projects” concept.
Thanks for stopping by.
I wish I could say I was some kind of organizational genius but the reality is all these smart people happened along as I needed them.
Amy is most likely not your Amy.
I like to think it’s just good Karma.
[…] Will Scott from Search Influence on How to Outsource Your Brain for Fun AND Profit […]
I could quibble with the choice of words in this article as my belief is that one gets the best result by banding together many brains, rather than outsourcing one. And I think the former is truly the spirit of what is being said here, despite the title.
More importantly, I want to say that Will’s guidance, willingness to share knowledge, and inspiring ideas have enabled me to grow my company fivefold from the time I first encountered Will on a project. Talk about the proof in the pudding.
[…] When the sun comes up, you better start running Author : Will Scott Date: Tuesday, February 23rd, 2010 […]