Financial Resource Center

Small Business

Sending Out an S.O.S.—Finding Help for the Small-Business Owner

by Marcia Weuve / April 14th, 2008

Small-business owner Andrea Young has a busy day ahead of her. The lengthy to-do list for her start-up software consulting firm includes balancing the company's books, preparing invoices, picking up a batch of brochures from the printer, meeting with a new client, answering the phone, managing e-mails, attending a weekly networking event, updating the Web site, making travel arrangements for an industry conference, and putting out any fires that may pop up along the way. "This is a pretty typical day," she admits. "But for every one thing I get done, there are a million other things I feel I really should be doing for the business." Like most entrepreneurs, Young tends to be a do-it-yourself kind of person. And, like many small-business owners, the "I must do this myself!" mantra may be one of her biggest roadblocks to success.

Outsource to a good resource

Business owners need more help today than ever before, as evidenced by the current boom in the outsourcing industry. And yet, small-business owners may not be aware of how much their organization could benefit from letting someone else take over small or routine tasks so the business owner can concentrate on what he or she does best.
Visit your credit union to talk about your small-business needs.
Maura Nevel-Thomas is a productivity expert based in Austin, Texas. Her company, Burget Ave. Management Services, helps small-business owners across the country organize and manage their time. "I try to raise awareness about what's available," says Nevel-Thomas. "What many of my clients don't understand is that today they can get someone to do just about anything for them—from processing payroll to baking cookies for the company party." Nevel-Thomas says she often sees entrepreneurs spending too much time on administrative tasks because they think they can't afford to pay for help. But she points out they usually think only in terms of part-time or full-time assistance, when in reality help is available in small increments—say, four- hours a week—or on a per project basis.
Today, it's easier than ever to find the help you need.
"It doesn't benefit small-business owners to do their own data entry, for example, or filing when there are so many talented assistants available with skills that they themselves don't have," states Nevel-Thomas. "It ends up costing them more money to do it themselves and would be much more efficient if an assistant could finish in two hours a task that would take [the owner] four hours to do."

Sending out an S.O.S.

So how do entrepreneurs decide which tasks to delegate and then find the help they need? Nevel-Thomas suggests:
  • First, understand what your time as a business owner is worth—see it as an actual number ($ per hour) or in terms of reaching a specific goal.
  • Next, take a look at your to-do list. Is everything on that list something you have to do, or simply think you should do?
    It's much more efficient if an assistant can finish in two hours a task that would take a small-business owner four hours.
  • Realize that "should-do's" (filing, inputting data, organizing receipts) are good things to outsource.
  • Weigh the real price of doing the "should-do's" yourself against outsourcing them to someone whose time costs less.
Still having trouble deciding what to pass along? Try keeping a second In Box in your office. As tasks arise, especially lower skill-type tasks or administrative jobs, determine whether or not you want to do them or if someone else could do them for you. Jot a note about the job and put it in the box. A growing pile of notes will be a good way to evaluate whether or not help is needed. Once you've decided to outsource, the next step is to find the help you need. Assistance falls into two broad categories: onsite and virtual.

Virtual vs. onsite assistance

The virtual assistant (VA) trend has been growing rapidly since the mid-1990s along with the growth of the Internet and online services. VA supporters say such an arrangement has major benefits, including:
You can get someone to do just about anything–from processing payroll to baking cookies for the company party.
  • Paying for time spent on your projects only
  • Working with an experienced administrative professional
  • Little training necessary
  • Not limited to a local talent pool
  • No need to provide work space or equipment
  • Working relationship can be terminated quickly and easily if need be
While these advantages sound great in theory, it's wise to use caution and do some homework before actually jumping into the virtual world. Virtual assistants who say they'll work for $1 per hour literally could be on the other side of the world, and while they might claim to speak English, there still could be a language barrier. Clear communication is critical to avoid any confusion when working with someone who isn't physically in the office.
Understand what your time as a small-business owner is worth.
Onsite assistance can be found in various forms such as concierge services, temp agencies, independent bookkeepers, and personal assistants. The average cost ranges from $15-$50 per hour, depending on the type of services needed.

Realize you can customize

If you think traditional assistant avenues just wouldn't work for you or your business, don't give up. Remember Nevel-Thomas' claim that, today, it's more possible than ever to find the exact type of help you need. For instance, back in Austin, Nevel-Thomas saw many clients who needed skilled support for just a few hours a week on an ongoing basis. So she started a second small business that offers administrative support and personal assistance in small increments ranging from eight to 64 hours a month. Small Business Support Solutions matches highly qualified assistants to the small-business owner's needs, and one assistant works with the same business owner each time to ensure consistency and continuity. Whether you need a little help, a lot of help, or a unique form of help, chances are it's available to you. The Internet can direct you to both virtual and onsite assistance. The Business Owner's Toolkit offers further advice about finding help. Or, you can Google "virtual administrative support" or "administrative support services" in your city or area. Soon help—and success—will be on the way.
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