How to Outsource Work When You Don’t Have Much Cash

You probably wouldn’t cut your own hair. You probably wouldn’t fix your own car. But you probably do clean your own room and do your own soul-destroying admin work.

We live in a world where cheap labour is at our fingertips, but most of us are criminally under-using it. If you live in a first-world country and aren’t utilising the skills of people who live in developing countries, you are missing out.

Most people think you have to be rich to have a team of people working for you. This is a complete myth. I have a team of 4 freelancers helping me out with my work, and it’s costing me less than 5% of what I earn as a junior product manager in London.

The paradox is, the more work you can outsource, the more cash you’ll generate because you’ll free up more of your time to focus on the work that really matters to you. You’ll be able to focus on your highest leverage work.

It’s never too early to outsource, even if you only have $100 to spare every month, I’d argue investing this in delegating work is one of the smartest ways to get a great return on investment.

In this article, I want to break down step by step how I outsource work. I can’t understate how game-changing this has been for me, and I don’t think I’d be able to balance my 9–5, this blog, my YouTube channel, my startups, and everything else if I did everything myself.

The outsource myth

Too common is the advice that when starting out we need to do everything. That we must wear every hat and plow through the tough grind of whatever project we are working on with relentless energy.

This might be possible, and even necessary for a few months, but it will soon get tiresome. Eventually, you are going to burn out, lose excitement for your project and quit. With nothing to show but a receding hairline and a pasty complexion.

This is not what we want. If there’s one golden rule of getting anywhere in life it’s that we need to be consistent. Outsourcing the right kind of work can help you keep this consistency. So you can still be making progress on your passion projects 5 years from now.

The other thing we are told is that outsourcing is only for the wealthy. If you have a cleaner you must be well-off. If you pay someone to upload your blog onto your website you must be a successful businessman. We associate having people working for us as a luxury. A luxury that only the top 1% can afford. This is all bullshit.

When outsourcing work you are just saying ‘doing this work is not worth my time.’ When you order a delivery instead of going to the restaurant to pick it up, when you get an uber over walking or the bus, all you are saying is ‘this is not worth my time’. For some reason though, we see the hiring of a freelancer as something different. It’s not.

If you want to get serious about freeing up your time so you can narrowly focus on the highest-impact work you need to take the ‘this is not worth my time’ statement to its logical conclusion. You need to apply it to absolutely every walk of life, from doing your laundry to progressing on your passion projects.

How to decide what to outsource

When not to outsource

There are a few things we should bear mind when deciding what work to outsource. The first one is my golden rule of outsourcing. Don’t outsource from a place of ignorance. Never hire a freelancer to do a job you zero idea how to do. I’ve done it before, and it wasn’t pretty. You end up getting ripped off, you end up getting work delivered that isn’t what you wanted. There are three reasons for this.

  1. If you have no idea how to do the work you want it’s going to be very difficult to assess whether a freelancer is the right man or woman for the job
  2. If you have no idea what you are talking about you might not even know what problem you are trying to solve. For example, if you want a website but don’t know about no-code builders you’ll pay over the odds for a pointless custom website.
  3. If you can’t even slightly speak the language then you are going to find it more difficult to communicate with your freelancer.

I’m not saying you have to be an expert in what you are outsourcing, if you were it would kind of defeat the point. I am saying that you just need to understand the basics. If you are wanting to get a designer to help you with your online presence, learn some fundamental design principles. If you want to get a marketer to help you promote a product, understand the difference between organic & paid – do a course on SEO and put in some cash to experiment with a few Facebook ads.

Now we’ve got that covered let’s take a look at which areas of your work you might want to work with freelancers on.

Identifying and prioritising tasks to delegate

Generally, you want to be looking for the lowest leverage, highest effort tasks. You can check out this article on leverage if you want to find out more about that. Generally when we speak about low leverage work we mean work that a tonne of people can do. If lots of people can do it, it’s low leverage, if it’s low leverage it’s cheap. That’s the beauty of supply and demand.

Let’s look at the example of someone running an Instagram shop selling clothing. To be successful these clothes need to stand out. The design needs to be on point, and to market them properly you need a powerful brand message. Imagine the day-to-day running of the business is made up of the below tasks.

  1. Create posts for social media
  2. Come up with ideas for t-shirts
  3. Screen-print the t-shirts
  4. Package and ship the t-shirts
  5. Deal with customer support requests

Arguably, only two of these tasks are really high leverage, the creating of the posts for social media, and coming up with the ideas for new t-shirts. The other tasks could really be done by anyone with basic training, as long as they are executed to a high quality.

When it comes to prioritising the other tasks, think in terms of return on investment. Which task can be outsourced for the lowest $/hour? This should be a pretty simple calculation. If customer support requests take up an hour of your time a day and can be outsourced for $10, but packaging takes up 2 hours of your day but will cost $30 to outsource, sort out the support requests first.

It is only through thinking with this mental model that I can balance all the projects that I have going on. If I didn’t outsource I’d be unable to grow. I’d be bogged down in low leverage work.

How to find talent

Once you’ve made a list of the tasks you want to outsource, you’re going to be ready to go and find talent.

It should go without saying that if you are working in the USA or some other affluent country you don’t want to be outsourcing low leverage work to others in the USA. You want to pick a lower-cost country, where you can get the same quality of work, for a fraction of the price. As your business grows and you start worrying less about the money you may want to hire more permanent employees in your location. But when you are starting out you’re going to want to get the cheapest talent that can meet your needs.

Your first bet to find these freelancers might be to go to somewhere like Fiver or Upwork. You can find good talent on these platforms, but it will take more time. Your first port of call should be your network. Reach out to others in your industry and see if they are using any freelancers. If they are happy with their work, the chances are you will be as well. You’ve just saved yourself a tonne of time going through the thoroughly unemployable hiring process.

I met my video editor through another YouTuber who does Notion videos. We both gain from the partnership as our video editor gets to learn how to craft great Notion videos faster. We can also share certain resources such as stock footage.

If you can’t find anyone through your network you’re going to have to brace yourself for Fiver or Upwork. My strategy with these platforms is simple.

  • I post a relevant job.
  • I pick a selection of 3 or more freelancers, based on their past work.
  • I then give them all the same assignment to complete, of course paying them for this assignment.
  • If I’m happy, I pick the best one and we work together.

You want to go into any relationship with a freelancer with the intention of making the relationship a long-term one. You want to grow together and understand each other through the experience of working alongside each other. That’s why it’s worth spending a fair amount of time finding a great freelancer, rather than just picking the first one who seems reasonable.

At the start, it might not be pretty, especially if you’ve hired someone junior (read cheap) but slowly over time, you can build a great relationship.

But how do you get great results out of someone who perhaps lacks the experience to be truly skilled?

Make a process so they can’t fail

Your relationship with your freelancer, and the quality of work you receive, will fall to the level of your system. A system for getting a cleaner is easy. You come round at this time, I pay your rate, you clean the house, and take care of any extra bit I put on a to-do list.

Unfortunately, if you are using freelancers for more technical work, your process is going to be slightly more involved.

The Job Spec

The first part of your process is going to be the job specification. This might seem overkill, especially if it is for a freelancer who you are only going to be utilising for a few hours a week or less, but it’s vital you put one in place so you both have a clear idea of what is expected from the relationship.

Writing the job spec should be quite easy if you’ve followed the golden rule of outsourcing — never outsource from a place of ignorance. In all the cases I’ve had to write out a job spec I’ve just been writing out the responsibility that I did while ‘wearing that hat’ that I don’t want to wear any longer.

Make sure that you both review the job spec together in your kick-off meeting, and that you both agree on the responsibilities contained.

Agree on payment and deadlines

The worst thing that can happen with outsourcing work is disputes on pay. You can avoid it altogether by making sure before any work begins both of you are crystal clear on under what criteria work will be paid for

I never like to pay on an hourly basis. An hour of work means nothing to me, all I can about is if the work gets done. Before any project, I’ll always write up the task specs (see below) and ask my freelancer to quote me a cost.

With my videos this is easy, it’s the same cost regardless of the video. With website stuff and other things it’s a bit more tricky, as some projects are big, some are small. Generally, I’ll ask for a quote on the project spec and then try and beat this down into something that I feel is reasonable.

Make all work visible

At the start, your freelancer is going to need a lot of hand-holding. They won’t understand your unique needs and ways of working. You need to over-communicate exactly what you expect from them from each task you assign. Otherwise, they’ll end up handing you a heap of shit, and you’ll have to pay for it.

I like setting up a kanban board. I write out each tasks and write out the work that needs to be completed. You can see an example of one of the tasks I created for my website developer here.

At the start, the more detail in these tasks the better. Be very precise in what you want. As you work more closely together your tasks can get vaguer, as your freelancer will better understand you. Make sure all work is reviewed by you before it goes live to customers, at least at the start. This will also give a great opportunity for you to give constructive feedback

Regular feedback

Feedback is the miracle ingredient to a good relationship with your practitioner. Without it, you’ll both just being increasingly more pissed off with each other until the relationship explodes. With it, your relationship can grow into something beautiful.

How you approach giving feedback is up to you, but I like to make it part of my task process. After a piece of work has been delivered I’ll always give some feedback as to what I like about it, (what they should do more of) , and what I don’t like about (what they should stop doing). To start your going to feel like a real dick, especially if you are not used to giving candid feedback before. Your freelancer will most likely have done a load of shit you didn’t really like (probably because you weren’t clear with them on what you want) and it’s going to be your job to tell them where they’ve gone wrong.

Over time this will start to feel more natural, and you might even notice that your freelancer likes the feedback, because it is making them better.

Or at least that’s what you can tell yourself…



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Tom Littler

Tom Littler

Co-founder, Chief Product Officer, Lithium Ventures. Web 3.0 Enthusiast.