20 Day Challenge Day 8 – Outsourcing & Value of Your Time

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Timer 4:25

Recently, I have had several conversations with talented professionals who have either left a position or are in the process of exiting. The primary reason for their departure…not feeling valued. Not being valued for their contribution (i.e., recognition and compensation) or for their time and talents (i.e., having to do tasks not requiring their skill set). In each case, organizations are loosing precious resources for preventable causes, but acting differently would require a change in mental models. The concept of valuable use of resources and time is something I think quite a bit about as an entrepreneur and my thinking has evolved as my business has. Let’s learn ore.

In the late 1990s, I worked as a paramedic and later the Commander over Quality Improvement for the City of Austin’s Emergency Medical Services Department. The City of Austin, like many communities would regularly go through peaks and valleys of its revenue and costs causing departments to tighten their belts. Frequently, this involved a “fair and balanced” approach like asking every department to cut 5% of their budget versus looking at targeted cuts that would focus only on the areas that risked the least by cuts. In my opinion, this often should have been public safety services versus libraries and animal control. When belts were tightening, things were never fun.

I worked in the EMS department and closely with the fire department during my time with the city. It always struck me that these departments had a paucity of administrative support. If there were admin staff, they would be the first to be cut in order to preserve uniformed staff. This resulted in firefighters and paramedics making copies and tackling administrative tasks at twice the rate of an effective assistant and dramatically reducing the productivity of those uniform personal to do their skilled roles. I always found this nuts. Even during good years, administrative staff was at a minimum.

This problem can also be found in the private sector. Leaders rationalize that it doesn’t make sense to pay someone to do something you can do yourself, right? Why do I need someone to make copies, book travel, coordinate schedules, process invoices, when I can do all of these myself? This was the kind of thinking the professionals I introduced at the beginning were struggling with. They were hired to be experts supporting clients, but instead they were writing proposals, editing reports, and bogged down with administrative tasks. This was frustrating because they know if their companies provided the support they need to tackle these tasks, the minimal investment would free them up to focus on client work and billable hours, increasing revenue.

You may be reading this and think it makes common sense, but look around and you’ll see this behavior all around. If not at work, look at home. Do you spend three hours to book the cheapest flight to save $50? How is this a valuable use of time. One of my favorite descriptions of understanding the value of your time came from Tim Ferriss’s The Four Hour Workweek in the chapter on outsourcing. Ferriss makes the case for hiring an assistant even if her hourly rate exceeds your own billable rate. His argument? You invest a little to gain back time. So, consider the math. Assume your billable hour is $100/hour and you pay a personal assistant $25/hour to do tasks that do not require your skills. You still make $75, but you get to either have that hour back or can use it to work on billable work. The result, a small investment in support and you get quality work and more productive time.

I describe this thinking in terms of having an assistant, but that’s only one context. Yes, My monthly investment in a personal assistant pays for itself tenfold each month by freeing me to do billable work, but also to be client centric. Other areas where outsourcing your world can make a difference? Here are a few simple places: book keeping, website design, editing, marketing materials, etc. Yes, I can do all of these things, but for a small investment in others, I get an equal to or better product, done right the first time, and reduce the amount of time I have to commit away from clients and billable work to make happen.

So circle back to the colleagues at the front. Six figure professionals with very unique talent and expertise who are leaving employers because they are not valued. While a lack of recognition and competitive compensation was a contributing factor, the lack of support and resources accelerated their departure. If only their boss appreciated the value of small investments in resources and support, which would have doubled their capacity, increased their satisfaction, and enhanced revenue generation. Hard lesson to learn.

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Time :45 minutes

Busy Friday and I’m at the end of the day with a hard deadline to finish this post. While the topic is one I’m passionate about, I’m not sure articulated the content the best I could and feel constrained by time. I am pleased to not feel like I should be something else. This post is shorter and centered on one concept and took less time to produce. I plan to reflect over the weekend about how to improve the posts for next week. I’m on the road most of the week, so I’ll add the challenge of travel and busy days to the challenge.