How Much Would You Charge to Put a Nail in the Wall?


What if I told you I’d pay you with an elaborately cooked, four-course meal, just to put that nail in the wall?

Sounds bizarre, doesn’t it?

That’s exactly what I’d do, to avoid the trouble of “putting a nail in the wall”. I don’t see it as a nail in the wall. I see it as having to get the right position, making sure I don’t drill too big or wide a hole.

I see all the hassles of getting it wrong and the frustration that follows. It’s far more relaxing to cook up a four-course meal while a friend drills a hole in the wall.

Outsourcing is a bit like that
And while you’ll read books about how outsourcing is the solution for most of your problems, it’s rarely the case. In reality, outsourcing involves management, like everything else. I have three scenarios where I outsource the things I do.

Scenario 1: Where I’m pretty sure I can do the job very well.
Scenario 2: When I can do the job, but would rather not do it.
Scenario 3: “Putting a nail in the wall” kind of jobs. 

Let’s deal with Scenario 1 first, shall we?

Why would you outsource when you can do the job exceedingly well?
Before I moved to New Zealand, I had a cartoon studio back in Mumbai, India. Whenever I had an assignment, I would draw the cartoons on paper, scan them and then outline them in Photoshop.

The most fun part was when I had to colour the cartoons. However, over time my workload increased and I had to give away some of the work that I enjoyed doing.

Outsourcing a job that you can do exceedingly well seems like madness, doesn’t it?
Time and time again, you’re told to work on your strengths, not your weaknesses. And yet if I kept colouring, much as I enjoyed the task, I would not have time to work on “weaknesses”.

I needed to improve other skills, do a lot more reading and learning—and all these additional skills take a ton of time and effort. So I’d get very good at a skill and then proceed to outsource it.

There’s a big advantage with this kind of outsourcing
Often when you outsource an activity, you’re told that there are limits; that certain things can’t be done. For instance, you may be an exceedingly good web developer, outsourcing the website.

The person you’ve outsourced to may have limited skills and not be able to solve problems as efficiently as you. In such a case, you already have a fair bit of mastery over the web project and can easily advise or fix the issues quickly and efficiently.

Crazy as it may seem to outsource things you’re very good at doing, it’s also the key to achieving a greater depth to your skills—and your life. Over the years, I’ve been able to outsource my “strengths” and work on getting my weaknesses up to “strength” level.

Still, there are things I’d rather not be doing—and this takes us to the second point.Outsourcing activities that you’d rather not be doing

I can mow my lawns pretty well. I’m one of those lawn-mowing folks that fuss over the blades of grass in a way that the lawn appears utterly immaculate.

That phase of lawn-mowing only lasted about six weeks or so. As I looked out the window, the lawn continued to grow and mock me. So yes, I did what any sensible person would do. I got a lawn-mowing service to do the job for me.

But should you outsource everything that you’d rather not be doing?
Back in the year 2000, I used to take at least a day to write an article, sometimes two. When you consider I needed to write about three articles a month, this activity of article writing seems like a complete waste of time.

Six days a month is far too much time spent on writing a few articles. Sure, you can outsource the articles, but two factors slam into you, all at once.

The first factor is that you aren’t likely to get better at the skill
So it took me a while to improve both my skill and speed at article writing, but today I can turn out five articles in a day (which is exactly what I’m doing today, by the way).

I can write a book in about 7-12 days if needed. When you think back, it’s more than apparent that I was lousy at article writing. And while we’re counting, I was lousy at watercolours, Photoshop and a whole lot of skills that I can do with a high level of competence and expertise today.

So how do you decide if you’re to outsource the skill or not?
My benchmark depends on the “need factor”. If it’s something I need to do on a regular basis, I’m going to learn it and get faster at it. All skills (yes, ALL skills) can be learned with the right teacher and system.

If you find yourself struggling with copywriting, or articles, or info-product creation—these are all co-related skills, which are required by a lot of business owners. While we all start off pretty lousy at these core skills, we can gain astonishing mastery over them, and then decide which part of the skill to outsource.

Let’s take for example the “Three Month Vacation” podcast…
I can’t outsource the voiceover as it requires me to speak. However, there are other elements like the mastering of the audio (compression, equalisation, sound gate, etc.)

Sure I could learn to do all of that, and I’m in the process of doing so, but it’s still akin to lawn-mowing. I’d rather outsource because not only do I have other things to do, but I have other skills I would like to master.

The same applies to the blog posts
I will write the blog posts, but I will outsource the formatting and the posting of the article in the autoresponder system (this enables our articles to go out on a fixed time/date). Some parts, tough as they may seem at this point in time, need to be learned.

You need to get an enormous amount of speed, so they’re second nature. Having done one part of the task, you then hand over the rest of it as a relay.

Outsourcing is too often painted as giving away something you “don’t like to do”
In reality, you have to be very judicious with outsourcing. When you get into a taxi, you’re outsourcing your driving skills, while being fully capable of driving the car all by yourself.

If you have a skill that’s needed on a frequent basis, it’s just a matter of getting a relative mastery over the skill. And then, when required, you outsource the skill.

Which takes us to the third part: Stuff you can’t do.
I can’t make my own shoes, build a computer. I can’t fly a plane either. And despite having studied accounting at university, I’d put the job of accounting in the “can’t do” bracket. And these elements of your life have to be outsourced, there are no options, you simply have to outsource, no matter what.

Yet there’s a resistance to outsourcing
The resistance comes from two main areas. The first is we believe we can’t afford to outsource elements of our business. And this is true—outsourcing can be expensive both in terms of time and money. And yet one of the biggest reasons why small business owners struggle, is because they try to do everything themselves.

When you do it all, you have no time to learn and at the end of the day the client is paying you for your skill. The more skilled you are, the more you get paid for the very same task. If you just continue to do everything, you will reach a plateau in your skills, and your ability to charge more—a predicament that’s familiar enough to most business owners.

But it’s not just money that’s at stake
When you first give a job to someone else, almost everything goes wrong. Since you’re adept at doing the job yourself, a lot of the elements are second nature to you, but need to be documented when being handed out.

This documentation and tweaking require a lot of patience and dedication on your part, but it’s worth the trouble. Once the documentation is solid, anyone with similar skills can do the job in the future.

The key is to understand what to outsource first
The stuff you can’t do has to go first in the line, but coming a close second are the things you’re excellent at doing—and like to do. I enjoy using Photoshop to colour my cartoons, but I know that my progress would be hampered if I tried to do it all. I can farm out quite a bit of the colouring and it helps me turn out more cartoons at a far greater speed.

I can continue to colour a portion of the cartoons, and still give a lot of it away. Because I’m adept at colouring, I can also teach the outsourcer to do an excellent job—and get to the end of the project within a reasonable time.

The sooner you start to outsource, the better you become at it
Outsourcing isn’t about doing less work. It certainly isn’t about lazing endlessly on the beach. It’s more about loving the work you do, enhancing your skills and optimising skills that are currently below-par. You outsource some strengths and improve on weaknesses! That’s what outsourcing is really about!

Outsourcing is an amazing boon
I should know.I’m happy to cook a yummy four-course meal, rather than put a nail in the wall.

Apparently my friends are happy too!


Sean D'Souza


15+ years ago, fresh out of college with a degree in accounting Sean de Souza joined an advertising agency where he *met* Leo Burnett, a man who had spent his lifetime in the hard trenches of communication and advertising.

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