November 22, 2014

How Solo Business Owners Hire It Done

“You do all that? You must be exhausted!”

That was the verdict I received after explaining my one-person enterprise to another business owner at a networking event in New York City. She was right; I was limp from years of going it alone.

That statement convinced me that it was time to find outside assistance. As I searched, my main concern centered around the cost rather than how much time and revenue I lost every day I didn’t have help.

How many of you focus on the bottom line the same way I did rather than concentrate on the benefits from outsourced individuals who contribute to growth and freedom?

There are 20.8 million independent entrepreneurs in the United States alone, according to the 2006 Nonemployer Statistics released by the U.S. Census in August 2008. How are they finding help to generate the corresponding $970 billion in sales?

Although hiring help would be a major step forward in my business, I was nervous. I asked people on Twitter for examples, but I still wasn’t convinced. Then I realized that long-time friends of mine, who I spoke with practically every day, had all of the answers.

Roz Miller Choice, former news reporter turned real estate investor, and one of my mastermind group partners, found herself at a crossroad last year. Her project list grew longer each day, but she didn’t think there was enough money in her budget for hiring.

“There was no other way to stay on track and move forward,” said Choice, who owns HouseOffTheMarket.com. “I’m doing too much by expanding into a note-buying business and writing a book. My mind is beginning to work against me.”

Choice found help by placing an ad on Craigslist.org. Twenty-five candidates responded, and two were hired. One was dismissed almost immediately due to her lack of commitment. The other continues to live up to expectations. “My assistant knows what I want before I say it, and most times she takes it upon herself to try a technique that streamlines the project more than I imagined.”

As for the cost factor, my mastermind partner can see big benefits in terms of earned revenue and more time for vacations. She recently declared, “I can’t run this business without her.”

Dr. Flora Morris Brown, author and entrepreneur, toyed with the idea of outsourcing. When she decided to write a companion book to her Web site, ColorYourLifeHappy.com, that’s when she committed to finding help.

Rather than go online for support, Brown asked a colleague for suggestions, which led to a referral living in a neighboring town.

“She was doing occasional work for a client of my colleague. I called and talked to her by phone, asking about her computer experience, which types of tasks she has done for other clients, and determining her availability.” They met in person when it was time to start the first project.

This assistant completes a variety of tasks, including indexing blog articles, creating Word documents from handwritten material, and researching for Brown’s forthcoming book.

How does payment work? “I stagger her projects. Since I pay her by the hour, I can control my costs. To free up money to afford her, I continually cancel services I no longer need or restructure services under contract.”

In the first example, the assistants worked directly in my mastermind partner’s home office, while the assistant working for Brown maintained an off-site location.

Listening to my friends convinced me to overrule my mind and hire a person to complete tasks that systematize my business. My new-found assistant, referred to me by my mastermind buddy, monitors social networking sites, performs research that lets me launch products and services faster, and updates blog posts.

Like my friends, I found that the money portion easily fit into my budget because I was now free to develop material that clients request as part of their service packages.

Here are five ways to hire it done, even if you’re convinced there’s no budget for staff.

  1. Set a trial time. Let the assistant know ahead of time that the assignment is for 4, 6, or 8 weeks. From there, you’ll know if the arrangement is working and how to proceed.
  2. Seek help from local colleges. Intern placements can be scheduled through college counselors who can also advise you about how other business owners set payment terms.
  3. Decide exactly what the person will do and how you will communicate each project. Email may not always be the best method, so set time aside to speak by telephone, in person, or through Skype.
  4. Set up a common intranet area where you and the assistant can keep detailed instructions of how projects are maintained. I created such an area through Google Apps using my name with the dot net extension.
  5. Ask trusted friends if they are working with or know of someone who can assist you. It’s amazing how you can overlook people close to you who have all the answers.

Now a question for you: how do assistants, virtual or on site, help you maximize your time?  Or are you still facing exhaustion?

* * * * *

Shirley George Frazier About the Author: Shirley George Frazier is chief marketing officer at Solo Business Marketing, a professional speaker at worldwide business and marketing conferences, and author of Marketing Strategies for the Home-Based Business: Solutions You Can Use Today. Shirley twitters at @ShirleyFrazier and blogs at the Solo Business Marketing Blog.

23 Comments ▼

Shirley Frazier


Shirley Frazier Shirley George Frazier is recognized worldwide as one of the foremost experts on marketing strategies for small businesses and independent owners who work without employee assistance. Shirley is president and CEO of Sweet Survival, and she and and her virtual team manage numerous Web sites and blogs, including Solo Business Marketing and the Solo Business Marketing Blog.

23 Reactions

  1. Great article Shirley. Those are such good points that each one could be its own post.

    The one question that came to mind as I read point 1 was “How are you measuring your assistant’s success?”

  2. I think this raises concerns about how some people plan their businesses.

    If you have to hire help, this should be as part of a good strategy that monitors and predicts growth, rather than some salvation from exhaustion.

    People who run businesses have to be smart, not workaholics. Why pay for help when it is your own creation? Take your time, and get the help in when you grow on your own terms.

  3. You’re right, Robert, about the points standing on its own and your question being a critical factor in hiring the right assistant.

    One method that helps me determine if the chosen person is successful is how well she or he understands a project through questions asked before taking the first step.

    From that, I’m either comfortable with or skeptical about the perceived outcome and tailor my monitoring according to the above.

  4. Sahail,

    While I agree about planning, I also realize that many entrepreneurs don’t know how to plan to hire help because they’ve never experienced it before or had a mentor that provided a model for this part of business ownership.

    Coming from corporate offices, they’re already workaholics who leave that environment believing they can do everything, just as they’ve done in the office, but this time for themselves, and that’s when the chaos begins.

  5. Thanks for the answer Shirley. You validated my initial belief that intuition and “fit” are big factors even if you can’t exactly quantify them.

  6. Great advice. There comes a time in every successful business where the owner is doing way too much and needs a hand or two. I think it’s important to realize and accept that an employee will never work as hard as the owner, but as long as they are doing their job to a level that is satisfactory to you, you are on a winner.

  7. Good advice Shirley!

    Many schools and community colleges offer student placements which offer the opportunity to determine skills, abilities and “fit” of a potential candidate.

    Also, having your friends, business contacts and associates act as your recruiter can help and be fun. Offer these contacts a “finders fee” where if they recommend someone and you hire them then you pay a nominal “finders fee.

    Good talent will grow your business.

  8. Shirley I’m glad for your move of hiring assistants. Congratulations because now you can focus more on growing you business. As for me, I feel a little exhausted with my startup but my cash can’t afford an assistant yet. But then I experienced outsourcing a very small project to someone which is referred to me. Referral from a trusted friend and entrepreneur did have a big influence to me to outsource a particular project.

  9. Even on a small budget, you may find the right professional by partnering with a Virtual Assistant. Choose the tasks you feel comfortable to hand off and only pay for time on task. Also, like Bianca mentioned, your Virtual Assistant can take care of projects as they arise.

  10. Great help for would be entrepreneurs who want to venture on their own but need assistance. Delegating work helps accomplish more tasks especially when there is team work.

  11. Great points, this is exactly how every Entrepreneurs can succeed. Let money work for you, Smart people build systems that generate income 24/7, especially passive income, and once it’s in motion, it runs continuously whether you tend to it or not.

  12. What I like best about virtual assistants is that you can hire them on an as needed basis. If you have a limited budget, you can choose which projects you will need help with and hire accordingly.

  13. Lots of these reasons were why I set up the site, http://www.1lessjob.com We’re all busy people and I think outsourcing is a way to reduce your workload get value for money and stimulate the economy.

  14. Shirley, thanks for this article. I’m always going back and forth on what to hire out versus handling myself. I’ve started to loosen the reins on certain things and find I’m getting very good results.

  15. Ms. Frazier, I must say that I really enjoyed reading and I felt like you were talking to ME. Thanks again…

  16. I’m honored by all of your responses and am pleased that this topic is viewed as one that’s important to each of our business’s growth and longevity.

    Hiring help is not a subject that’s easily solved or discussed in books or on the Web. There’s no basic blueprint because our requirements are all different, but I’m happy to share my experience in hopes that it will ease the transition in your office.

  17. Hi Shirley
    Your post is accurate. The struggle to hire is more about the decision to hire. I have gone the virtual assistant route for the last couple of years and love it. I found my assistant on Guru.com and still work with her through there. I have found others at Craigslist and through referrals from biz friends, but my best experience is still through Guru. I’ve contracted for a range of work there.

    It is still a challenge, mentally and cash flow-wise, to keep sharing the workload, but it is one I’m glad I do.

  18. Yes, Franchise Opportunities, I agree how important delegating tasks is. A leader should also learn which tasks that must be delegated or not.

  19. Shirley George Frazier,

    Interesting topic. I will link to this post when I have set up my new site that will be focused on sole traders (British English) / sole proprietorships (American English), solo entrepreneurs, freelancers, “lone wolves”, etc.

    Timothy Ferris is covering the issue of Virtual Assistants in great detail in his book, 4 Hour Work Week.

    TJ: I have to check out Guru.

  20. Interesting post, Shirley, and very timely.

    We do a lot of work with virtual assistants and other freelancers in my business, and there’s definitely a skill set that business owners need to develop to work effectively with outsourced work.

    For us, I’ve found that it’s necessary to over-communicate with virtual or outsourced staff until you develop the trust, comfort level, etc. to back off a little. It’s not about micro-managing, but about honing your message until you have a mutual, crystal clear understanding of what your goals and standards are.

    Most of the folks we’ve worked with have been only too eager to please, but the onus was really on us to be focused, detailed, and clear about projects and tasks, and to give good feedback along the way.

    I’ve seen many people make the mistake of getting back the first result (document, research, etc.), not loving it, and moving on to the next freelancer right away. The real value for us has come from putting in the time to provide feedback until you’re getting what you want.

  21. Although nearly a year after the latest post, I think this will be relevant to every small business owner. We all want the help, we just need to find the right help. There is only so much you can outsource before having to get someone in house to help you.

    We have trialed 4 new staff members and all of them just had no idea, they say how much experience they have, but knowing I could do the same job 10x better and in half the time it just isn’t worth keeping them on.

    Small business owners need employees with passion, and loyalty. That is the main thing staff members these lack. They are not motivated and only do their job because they have to, not because they want to be a part of a growing business.

    Hopefully the right staff come around soon – they need to be out there somewhere.

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