Outsourcing Your Life, and Creating New Businesses

By Nora Dunn on 27 May 2008 (Updated 26 April 2010) 14 comments
Photo: Nora Dunn

How much is your time worth? If you get paid $25/hour for example, you work long hard hours on a salary (read: no overtime pay), and you have a family that is starting to forget what you look like, then how much is your time worth?

In order to gain an hour or two of family time, get out of the office at a decent hour, and save your health, is it worth $12/hour to hire landscapers? $15/hour to organize a terrific birthday party for your child? Or $10/hour to have somebody apply for visas for your next big vacation?

If you own a business and are doing nothing but running around putting out fires, how much more money could that business make if there were no fires to put out? Or rather, if somebody else could put them out for you and free you up to start averaging $50, $75, or $200/hour?

Welcome to the wonderful world of outsourcing.

Tim Ferriss describes this concept beautifully in The 4-Hour Workweek.

In fact, you can read a clip from the book here; a humorous and compelling case study for outsourcing your life.

I have read about this concept before. This is not news. I have hired cleaners, delegated taxes to experts (who can complete them in a fraction of the time it takes me and still manage to save me more money), and hired help whenever I could find a way to do so.

But when I read the book, and more specifically the passage above, I began to realize that it doesn’t matter what you do for a living; there is always a way to outsource, make a profit in the end, and have more time to live life.

You can outsource your life to enjoy a fuller existence and more profitable career. But you can also create new businesses using outsourcing as the platform. Let’s explore both.

Outsourcing Your Life

When I sold my business to travel full-time and write for a living, I figured I was in it on my own. Shy of sending my taxes to an accountant, what can I possibly outsource? And why on earth should I need to? For goodness sake, I travel full-time; how taxing can that be?!

Shortly thereafter, I learned that it doesn’t matter what you do, or where you do it. There is always a way to find yourself too busy if you aren’t careful. Time that was previously filled with client meetings, drafting financial plans, and driving all over the city became filled with visa applications, press work, destination research for articles, actually writing and editing, working part-time in trade for accommodation, internet research and posting…you get the point.

I am traveling, yet I seem to spend more time at WiFi hotspots than I do actually seeing the world.

So I started to look at how I could outsource my life. Here are just a few ways:

  • Article Research: Some articles I wish to write require a lot of research. Since it costs me (in both time and money) to do internet research on the road, I tend to shy away from these projects. If I can get a stack of research done for a small fee, and turn that research into one or many paying articles, I will have a healthy profit and somebody else to have done the grunt work which normally slows me down – or rather, stops me from starting.
     
  • Website design: I don’t have the patience or time to learn how to design and maintain a website, but if I get somebody else on the task…
     
  • Blog postings: I regularly contribute to a number of blogs. And sometimes, it takes me almost as long to post the articles (especially if I’m in a place with a pitiful connection) as it does to write them. My virtual assistant can post it, take care of the html code, and attach reasonable tags. In fact, they can probably do it considerably more efficiently and effectively than I.
     
  • Travel Research: Instead of buying a travel guide and sifting through information I don’t need, or searching on the internet for what I do need, I can have a tidy little report sent to me by my assistant on exactly the things I want to know about my next destination. And there’s a potential cost savings in not having to purchase the guidebook too.
     
  • Travel Visas: If you have ever applied for a visa in certain countries with rigorous visa processes, you’ll understand why this may be worth outsourcing. It saves both time and headaches.
     
  • Income Optimization: My virtual assistant can consolidate all my online income sources and report some of the specific activities I monitor on a regular basis through avenues like Feedburner, Analytics, and even other avenues I have a desire but no time to monitor.
     
  • Increase Traffic: Anybody who makes money online knows there is but one golden rule to making money – thou shalt increase traffic. If my assistant can spend the time required to drive traffic to certain portals, my income can increase exponentially.
     
  • Personal Tasks: It’s a bit of a stretch past my comfort zone, but I could even outsource the monthly payment of my bills (online), and accounting. I do, however, draw the line at having them correspond with my family and friends for me!

There are a number of dos and don’ts to outsourcing your life and working with virtual assistants, so I will leave it to The 4-Hour Workweek to explain them, as the author does a bang-up job. 

Let’s start to think even bigger.

Creating New Businesses

I just managed to find ways outsource most of the things that hold me down and keep me from traveling with a clear mind and lighter pack.

But what about outsourcing as a business?

It’s pure art in the making.

Artists by nature are rarely business-minded people. Entrepreneurial talent and artistic talent utilize different parts of the brain. I wonder if it is one of the reasons you see talented artists (be they visual artists, musicians, or –ahem – writers) who aren’t “making it big” like you believe they should.

What if you could pave the way for these artists? To develop a team of virtual assistants, versed in everything it takes to market that mural, or book that gig? And what if you could connect those artists with your talented virtual assistants? The artists become your clients. You then manage their marketing activity via your virtual assistants.

What’s in it for the artist? A well-organized marketing plan, and possibly the big career break they could otherwise spend a life searching for.

What’s in it for you? A cut of the profits for finding the artist, taking them on as a client, and outsourcing the marketing management. It’s not cheating; there’s still work involved in bringing a team of virtual assistants up to speed (an initial research task which you would be out of pocket for up front), and in soliciting and managing your artistic clients. But once you get even a few clients on board, what a wonderful form of relatively passive income this could be. Heck – you could even outsource the research on how to find potential clients, and get your virtual assistant to make the prospecting calls and book meetings for you. This leaves you free to work on another outsourcing business. Or drink pina coladas. Your choice.

This is just one business idea on how to maximize the power of outsourcing. If you take a look at your own profession with fresh eyes, you may find a few ways to do something similar yourself. Heck – you may even want to outsource your own job.

So…how much is your time worth?

Here are some outsourcing resources to get you started:

  • International Virtual Assistants Association – use them to find virtual assistants all over the world.
     
  • Your Man In India – a tool mentioned in The 4-Hour Workweek. Poking around there will lead you to Get Friday, where you can hire a virtual assistant to take care of any number of tasks.
     
  • Elance – another portal for outsourcing and locating virtual assistants who can help you simplify your life. You can search for appropriate companies by the task you wish them to complete.
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Guest's picture
Curt

I think the outsourcing trend is coming to an end, as the dollar looses value - it no longer pays. As far as outsourcing your life tasks, that doesn't work either because working at home includes time with your family and gas and taxes are driving up the cost of outsourcing. For example, your can cut your grass or clean your house with your family vs. going to work and hiring it out.

So, the more you work outside the home, the more you get behind with your family and your money. This trend is likely to reduce the service sector of the economy that has been growing for decades. Outsourcing your life is part of the old economy. The new economy is about doing more for yourself.

Guest's picture

Take control of everything in your life. Outsourcing bring additional problems such as cost factors. Every item outsourced has to be paid for. Not every person/company will provide an excellent service. Cut down on the areas in your life you cannot control. Concentrate on the areas that matters.Maybe less of the stressful job, and more on your hobbies that can bring in extra cash if you sell your ideas.

Just my views.

Guest's picture

Take control of everything in your life. Outsourcing bring additional problems such as cost factors. Every item outsourced has to be paid for. Not every person/company will provide an excellent service. Cut down on the areas in your life you cannot control. Concentrate on the areas that matters.Maybe less of the stressful job, and more on your hobbies that can bring in extra cash if you sell your ideas.

Just my views.

Guest's picture
Jordan

I'm not sure Curt understands ... Consider: spending 3 hours doing your own taxes and because you're not an expert, you miss a significant deduction vs. handing your taxes to a tax professional who does them for you, catches the big deduction and frees up 3 hours of your time to spend with family or producing more income.

You might say that with the Internet, you can do all your own research so that you can catch that big deduction on your own. But how much time would that take? It's just not scalable to do that all yourself in every area of your life. Outsourcing means letting people who CAN spend time researching these things do it for you, and at a lower cost in time and money than you can do for yourself.

And, really, spending 3 hours at home doing your own taxes is NOT quality time with loved ones, even if you happen to be in the same room with them.

Outsourcing your life is about freeing your time to spend at home, or creating new businesses. The point is that you have a choice, and that it can be a profitable option if approached correctly.

This is not "old economy" at all, this is using the ubiquity of available information and the billion people out there eager to supply it to you in a targeted way to your advantage. Thinking you have to do it all yourself is not your only choice anymore. Free your mind.

Guest's picture

A vice president of sales for a media company relies on the information I, a virtual assistant, provide about new and emerging technologies to monitor trends in his market.
A small business coach utilizes the research I provide to create her blog posts.
A president of an association monitors her association's presence in the media with the research I provide.
I agree with Nora Dunn. There is an interest in outsourcing tasks. I disagree with the comment posted by Curt. Outsourcing is not part of the old economy. It is an emerging trend that will become a way of life in the future.
Outsourcing is becoming the norm. Why would a company want to pay the maintenance on a large office building, utility bills, office equipment, health care and benefits for employees when for a fraction of the cost they can outsource to an expert who is responsible for their own office, utility bills, office equipment, health care and benefits? Is it not more ecologically friendly to have people working from home then commuting into work everyday? If you would like to see a cost comparison, check out the blog "Your Virtual Assistant" by Denise Griffitts http://virtualassistantindustry.com/blog/
In my daily research, I see more and more companies starting up with simply a board of directors. There are no employees, only independent contractors, consultants, and experts in the field. There are no office buildings, corporate utility bills or office equipment. These companies are existing virtually.

Guest's picture
Greg

Two thumbs up for Elance! It's easy to post a project, review and communicate with bidders, and then work with and pay the work providers.

 

On a recent logo design job I was hiring for (less than $500 budget), I got 28 bids from 11 different countries. The bids ranged from $65 - $385. The bidders ranged from independents with limited portfolios to huge design firms with thousands of projects under their belt.

 

Two Indian logo design companies had the largest portfolios for fairly cheap $100 bids. I was about to pick one of them before a late bidder fulfilled everything on my wishlist! I ended up going with an independent designer in the U.S. for $75 because she had relevant experience in the industry (with great samples) and was cheaper than the big Indian companies.

 

1. United States (8 bids)

2. India (7)

3. Argentina (3)

4. United Kingdom (3)

5. Russia (1)

6. Belarus (1)

7. Qatar (1)

8. Pakistan (1)

9. Spain (1)

10. Indonesia (1)

11. Romania (1)

 

 

I've had successful projects on Elance for:

 

* data entry and Internet research

* design (logo and website)

* video editing

* technical (build this site, do some programming...)

 

 

I love our new global marketplace. It allows small and one-person businesses look and act "big".

Guest's picture
Curt

After re-reading this article, I think my first comment was a bit off base. I think what threw me off were the words "Outsourcing Your Life", because to me that refers to the daily tasks that I need to do - other then what I do at work. The tasks that need a physical presence to complete, like cutting the grass, planting the garden, cleaning the house or doing the laundry. These are tasks that have been outsourced to the growing service sector of our economy. As the economy slows down, I think more people will be doing more of these things on their own.

Nora's article was about work tasks that can be done by a virtual assistant that do not need a physical presence. This trend had been growing and will likely continue to grow. Sorry, Nora for getting confused. This is a great post.

My 'old economy' reference is still something to consider, as I work with lots of contractors from India that are feeling the pinch of the falling dollar and are beginning to ask for more money - which reduces the value of outsourcing and increases the value of hiring local college grads instead. As this dollar continues to weaken, the 'old economy' outsourcing trend is likely to further deteriorate.

Guest's picture

I've been running my own business for 8 years now and outsourcing is my secret weapon to keeping a consistent high 6 & 7 figure income while creating free time to travel and enjoy my life.

Don't get me wrong...I'm not a slacker...I just like having more time to enjoy my life...that's what being an entrepreneur is supposed to be about (freedom, right?)

Thanks for the article to spawn new thinking. Even though I've been teaching entrepreneurs HOW to build a dream team to outsource key work too for years, Timothy Ferriss certain made the idea more popular. My programs are flooded now with eager people wanting to figure out what they can get off their plate while maximizing ROI.

You mentioned not being sure about a personal assistant. Here are a few ways my on-site personal assistant supports me (and is very profitable in today's economy!)

1. Picks up my mail, sorts it, and files as much as possible.
2. Picks out gifts for clients & colleagues and mails for me.
3. Sends birthday and thank you cards ON TIME for me (I use a program called Send Out Cards.)
4. Packs my suitcase of the business forms & products for speaking events. Makes sure I have everything I need to be successful.
5. Generally keeps my office clean and my organized.

When you think about what your time is worth, and what our highest payoff activities are, having other people do things that we aren't good at or keep us from making money, is an excellent investment in ANY economy.

Thanks for a great post!

Melanie Benson Strick
Million Dollar Lifestyle Business Coach
& Virtual Team Building Expert
http://www.successconnections.com

Guest's picture

You have to beware of the hidden costs. You have to factor in time for taining and delegation of the tasks along with the possibility it won't be right the first time.

The key is being a good manager and finding the right people.

Carrie Kirby's picture

This article has given me some great ideas for improving my own life. I will share if I try it...

Guest's picture

Maybe I am wrong, but isn't the business model you describe for doing the marketing for up-and-coming artists just the description of the old model of the music industry with agents and labels that take care of that?

Maybe with a better margin for the artists, but nonetheless...

Guest's picture

This post is incredible and has sparked many ideas for me on how I can outsource things such as commenting, comment moderation, posting, emails etc. for my financial blog www.smarterwealth.net
Any ideas on how to successfully outsource for a blog?

Guest's picture

Fabulous post Nora! It paints such a clear picture of how this sort of thinking can make good things great. And really, it's all about 2 heads being better than one.
We aren't all experts at everything, so some tasks take us a lot longer than others. So unless you actually enjoy that job, or the benefits of learning it are obvious, then isn't outsourcing the way to go?
I'd love to understand the electricals throughout my office, but I know at the end of the day, learning it wont benefit me much (lets ignore the safety concerns for one minute) but outsourcing any needs of this nature to a qualified electrician, well that just makes sense doesn't it! :)
Thanks again for a great post.
Sincerely
Rosie Shilo
Virtually Yours
w

Guest's picture

One of the most liberating experiences in my business life came when I realised that I was not the best in the world at my job. That may seem like a strange comment to make, but how many people do you know who still say “If you want something done right, you have to do it yourself”? Last time I checked, I wasn’t cutting my own chest open and performing open heart surgery on myself, nor was I investing two years and $10,000 in web design school so I could build my own website. It’s much easier to have someone else to do almost 99% of the things that I could do myself.
Tip
The art of delegating is about immediately letting go of and delegating low-level-tasks,
training and delegating mid-level tasks, and filling your day with only high-level tasks.