Posted by Megan on 30th January 2013

Why I pay other people to do what I can do for free

In the beginning of Metropolis, I was adamant about cutting as many costs as possible in order to run the business as efficiently as I could. I did the sales, the bookkeeping, the web design, the press outreach, the product design, the production, the marketing…I did it all. And I could do it all….I mean, I knew I had strengths in certain areas (design, coding, production) and weaknesses in others (sales, marketing), but I knew that I could learn the skills necessary to make myself better in those areas.

As Metropolis moves into its 4th year of business, I’ve given away a lot of these responsibilities. Well…not “given away” exactly, more like I’ve delegated a lot of these to professionals who take care of these things for me for a price. I’m currently posting a new RFP (Request for Proposals) to upgrade and overhaul my website with a new layout, and there is a sting of, I guess, cheapness, on my part as I post it. I know I could do the redesign, the upgrade, the QA (basically, website testing) on my own and all it would cost me is my time. In the beginning, I knew my time was valuable but I also knew I HAD the time. There weren’t a lot of sales, or press requests, or wholesale orders, so I had time to putz around and put my hand into all of these things.

Now…Metropolis is still on the wrong side of $100k in sales, so I am still probably defined as a “micro business” instead of a “small business” but, the time has come to realize that I cannot work IN my business, I must work ON my business. Doing things that I can and should just throw money at wastes my time, which costs me money in the end. I could spend a week overhauling my website, testing it, redesigning it, and thereby taking away time for production. Or I could realize that I would be better off paying ~$750 to have this done for me while I focus on production.

There are, realistically, 20 available hours to work on your business every day. I’m not saying you should only sleep 4 hours a night, but let’s be honest about it: You eat/sleep/breathe your company every day when you’re building it, so I’m not going to pretend it’s an 8 hour day in start-up world. How are you spending those 20 hours? Are you working on making your product, business, life better or are you down in the trenches, working out details that are costing you more time?

Here are some tips on how to delegate tasks while still being frugal:

PR/Press

My publicist is amazing, he truly is. He and I mesh really well and he seems to have hit a good PR stride once I told him who I was looking for, customer-wise, and how I wanted my brand to be portrayed. He is actually my 3rd go at a publicist. My first 2 were paid monthly retainers (the 1st one was $1500/month…she lasted 3 months without me seeing any press and left me feeling really in the dark about press. She would often give me lists of editors to send products to, without her having pitched any of them. The 2nd one was $400/month and she focused solely on social media, which was not what I was looking for in a publicist).

My publicist now has no retainer. I pay him per placement, which means he doesn’t get paid until a press piece drops. He has a sliding scale based on the type of media (A spot on Good Morning America is a much higher rate than, say, a vegan blog on blogspot), which saves me money and makes sure I know exactly what I’m paying for.

Sales

As of this post I have 3 in house sales reps, 1 sales director, and 1 freelance sales “broker” (I have no idea what the difference is, but that’s what she prefers to be called). The pay structure for the reps is a tiered commission structure that increases as their sales numbers increase. My sales director is responsible for managing them and I am 100% hands-off. He receives a commission of every sale his team brings in. My broker is paid on a monthly retainer basis and a smaller commission, which I was hesitant to do because of my past problems with retainers for publicists, but she has worked out really well for me and I’m glad to have her on board.

Graphic Design/Website Design

There are sites that can post RFPs for you that will do it in a much better crowd-sourced way than seeking out bids on your own. Sites like elance.com and 99designs.com will show your RFP to hundreds of designers seeking work. There is some pushback on professional designers about their animosity towards these sites, as essentially they are up against people with much less-than professional rates, so if you’ve got problems with that I would suggest going more traditional routes for work. However, if you’re on a tight budget then these are the ways to go. I do suggest, however, not taking the lowest-paying bid for the job, as you really do pay for what you get. Be very specific on what you’re looking for in your project and put every minute detail you want, show examples of what you like and don’t like…no one is a mind-reader and the more detailed you are in your project, the better you off you and the designer will be.

One tip for that: Specify that the company is responsible for all QA/testing if you’re doing a website-based project and you will require a guarantee that all major systems will function across all major browsers. This will save you a lot of time and stress when PayPal seems to be broken for customers that are using Internet Explorer but works for those using Firefox.

Other tasks

I’ve heard of people bartering products for services. I did it with my product photographer but got very lucky with that, and don’t recommend it as a main source of getting work done. It’s very hit-or-miss when it comes to things like that, and you may have to get into sticky situations where, for example, one person thinks that X amount of soap  = X hours of work for professional services, and the other person thinks something completely different. Be specific and realistic when it comes to expectations.

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