Change Catalyst with Shanna Mann: Strategy & Support for Sane Self-Employment

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Have You Ever Tried Replacing Yourself? Quick ways to take advantage of outsourcing

It’s an interesting exercise, to try and ‘replace’ yourself. As some of you may know, I run several businesses — this one, the Amazon retail business, and my ‘sideline’ of articles for pay. I’m also a very serious gardener (a very time-consuming hobby), and, I occasionally suffer from repetitive strain injuries that limit my ability to work at a computer.

I like juggling these various aspects of my life because they tend to balance me out. When I have only one focus— one business, one goal, etc, I suffer from tunnel vision and destructive single-mindedness. Multiple threads, each with overlapping demands, is a forcing function for my time and priorities.

As time has gone on, I’ve gone from simply casting aside lower priorities, to finding a backup, to selecting people to take over the responsibility entirely. It’s been a very worthwhile process, even aside from the productivity clawback.

That thing you do (And what it’s worth)

You should try this. Try writing a job description of one of your business responsibilities. Specify the level of expertise and English proficiency. Then see what the job is ‘worth’ by seeing who applies. In some cases, it will be very little. Usually of this is because you chose ‘entry level’ as your experience level. Other times you see that, since updating plugins doesn’t require native English skills, it can be done by someone in Bosnia. And so forth. These are not things I’m necessarily recommending that you outsource, but it might help to know in the back of your mind that it could be one day.

In some cases, the hourly rate will be quite high. This will be due to the experience or rarity of the qualifications. Sometimes, prices are used as a proxy to signal quality, even in a purely commoditized, global workplace like Upwork.

Either way, you can learn one of two things. Either “hey, this is pretty inexpensive to outsource, I’m going to think about doing that” or “Holy shit I can’t replace myself without going out of pocket. I better raise my prices.”

Every time I talk to someone about this, it triggers some existential angst. The reasons fall into three general patterns:

  • It doesn’t matter what other people charge for this, I can’t afford to outsource it
  • I could outsource it, but I don’t think that person would do it right
  • If the people are selling my service for $X, what does that say about MY price?

However hard it is to hear, this is important information for you to consider. Your business doesn’t exist in a vacuum. You exist within a market. You need to be aware of the realities of that market.

Is there gold under your feet?

This isn’t about figuring out whether you’re underpriced — that’s just a side effect. It’s more about looking at the allocation of your resources; time, attention, and money.

As self-employed people at a such a small scale, we can easily become insulated from the reality of the market. In some cases this is great! It can mean that you’ve built a following or curated an ecosystem where people are willing and able to pay upmarket rates.

And in some cases it’s bad, like when you get pushback from clients on your already-low rates.

But mostly it’s pretty neutral, like the way that you don’t realize that you could have someone maintaining your website for a fraction of the time and money you spend on it now, merely because they know what they’re doing, and they’re only doing one thing at a time.

And that’s where the possibility of leverage comes in. You don’t realize you could outsource these things, in most cases because you never looked. That tends to mean that there are big wins just waiting for you to notice them.

If you’ve thought about outsourcing but felt daunted by the effort it would take, or you thought it would cost too much, I would encourage you to pick 1-3 non-critical tasks that you do — updating the plugins on your website, sending invoices, putting information into spreadsheets, or whatever, and then typing a general description of the role into Upwork. Just try it. It’s just information. You don’t HAVE to do anything with it.

I’m just saying, you might get some ideas.

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