Getting help in the areas where they have weaknesses allows small business owners to concentrate on playing to their strengths
Do you need a package delivered, a logo designed, a document translated or even a place to stay while on a business trip, but have to keep your costs as low as possible? What you need is help from the gig economy – the emerging world of work priced by the job and performed by people engaging in a new way with self-employment.
Whether it’s Airbnb, Uber, Fiverr.com or Deliveroo, the gig economy has many facets, from public-facing service companies to business services delivered remotely over the internet. At its core though, it’s a fresh coat of paint on the concept of providing services to others on a job-by-job basis, and any SME worth its salt should know the value of that.
The key to making the best use of freelancers and consultants is to play to your strengths. That’s something that Máirín Byrne, the owner of Inch House Pudding, knows all about. Her company is a small food operation based in Tipperary employing her full time and one other person part time.
The business specialises in making a range of traditional Irish black and white puddings using fresh blood, bacon and oats. Its artisan products are sold in a variety of premium outlets around Ireland including Avoca, McCambridges and Cavistons, as well as to Larousse Foods for distribution to hotels and restaurants.
“We’re twice the price of most puddings but we make a premium high-quality product that’s served in many high-end restaurants and hotels. Most blood puddings made in Ireland use powdered blood for convenience and shelf life, but ours don’t and that makes a real difference,” she said.
Byrne learned how to make pudding from her grandmother Mary Ryan, who killed a pig once or twice a year and had a policy of using as much of the pig as possible. That included making blood puddings. Later in life Mary passed the making of the pudding to her daughter Nora and in turn to Nora's daughter Máirín.
“We’ve been making the puddings for retail sale since 2009," Byrne said. "My parents owned Inch House country house hotel and restaurant for 23 years and while we always made the pudding for our own restaurant, we started to sell it locally when the recession hit."
The business has grown slowly over time, and in 2016 Byrne took over from her parents and split the company off as a stand-alone enterprise. Like every small business owner, she initially did all the work that needed to be done, including accounts and Vat work, invoicing and more. But that didn’t last long.
“The truth is I’d rather chew my arm off than do these things myself, but I thought I’d save time and money. Really and truly, I was only shooting myself in the foot. I knew after the first Vat return that I was going to create problems for myself down the road,” she said.
“I had an accountant that did my end-of-year accounts but now she does everything. She gets all my invoices, access to Sage – the works. When you’re on your own in a small business, it’s very hard to try to do all that by yourself.”
Byrne recognised that accounts are not her strong point, and that any money she might save by doing the financials herself was not worth the time she spent lying awake at night worrying about mistakes.
“Yes, I have to pay for the service but I think it’s worth it. It results in a different use of your time – you have that time to put back into your business and you gain invaluable piece of mind. I can use that time to attend a function and meet potential customers, or take a half day to travel to Dublin to meet restaurant owners, rather than spending it buried in my books,” she said.
A fellow small business owner and operator, Mary MacRory is someone with a lot of business experience under her belt. But when she decided to launch a new career as a life and business coach, she knew it made sense to get help in the areas in which she wasn’t skilled.
“You need to outsource. It’s part of life,” she said. “If you want to create a business that’s successful out of a dream job, you need to realise you can’t be all things to all people. If you’re good at selling, for example, that’s your strength, so know when to step away from the bookkeeping and get someone better at that than you to take it on for you.”
MacRory has a 38-year career in accountancy under her belt which started with Ernst & Young and took in AA Insurance and NCB Stockbroking, as well as periods spent working as an enterprise resource planning project manager with the Kerry Group. She has also been a financial director with Alcoa and GE.
However after a long career working at high levels in her chosen field, she realised that life could have been easier for her if she’d had good life coaching along the way. Today she works as a finance director for a small construction company as well as running her life-coaching business, and a crucial part of that is outsourcing the things she’s not strong at.
“I love writing and frequently write articles for newspapers in Ireland and Britain. That’s my strong point and a great way to promote my business. For a person-based business like life coaching, you need to be able to sell yourself and your services, but I’ve never really done that,” she said.
MacRory has a basic understanding of how to design websites, but feels that this is a job that’s best outsourced. “Why would I do my own website? Technology moves so quickly that a professional can do a much better job than I can, and make me look better as a business person as a result. You have to be practical but also pragmatic,” she said.
“You might think you can’t afford it, or it would be cheaper to do it yourself, but you have to value your time and realise that it’s not a cost, it’s an investment. You need to take that seriously. Some people feel guilty about it, but you can do a lot more as part of a team than you can on your own.”
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Outsourcing pros and cons
• Reduces time spent on non-core activities
• Frees up time for business development
• Improves efficiency
• Gives access to specialise expertise otherwise hard to source
• Can result in saving money in the long term
• No need for office space or employment benefits
• Employing a freelancer or consultant costs money
• Can be difficult to vet quality in advance
• Freelancer won’t be in-house so there is a loss of oversight
• Once the job is finished up and paid for, follow-up can be difficult