Running a retail business usually means knowing a bit about everything, and definitely doing a lot of everything. But is it time for you to start delegating and outsourcing some of the tasks that are keeping you busy?
That’s where outsourcing, or offloading some tasks off your to-do list, can come in handy. The formal definition of this concept is: “Outsourcing occurs when a business pays an outside supplier to provide goods and services, rather than doing the work in-house. The practice started in the 1970s and grew popular in the 1990s as a way for companies to reduce their internal cost structure.”
Sometimes outsourcing takes the form of hiring staff to handle some of your workload, or delegating more tasks to trusted employees. But even entrepreneurs who run their business entirely by themselves can outsource some of their more tedious or time-consuming jobs to part-time, external helpers.
The first step is to figure out what tasks are the most important use of your time. As the boss, you’ll know best what tasks need your attention and what can be the responsibility of others. Consider outsourcing tasks that are commonly delegated (there are entire industries created around helping small- and medium-sized businesses free up more of their time), tasks that are cost-effective to outsource (opposed to those that would cost heavily to delegate), and those that are simple for others to do. It’s easy to take for granted how well you know the ins-and-outs of your retail business, so be sure to create materials to get anyone you bring in up to speed quickly about your business and needs.
Outsourcing is a great way for you to find the time and resources to focus on big-picture issues in your retail business, and hopefully also free up time for a healthy work-life balance.
So, what tasks should you be looking to outsource for your retail business? Here are a few ideas to help you streamline your to-do list and stay focused on actually running your business.
Marketing and content is a great place to start with your outsourcing. It’s something that many businesses use to drive traffic and leads, and content creation is an industry with an abundance of workforce, freelancers, and companies at the ready to help you.
Each retail business has unique content needs. The majority of business content is writing, but also think about outsourcing photography, design, social media, and paid marketing when the need arises.
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In the article “Why Your Company Should Consider Outsourcing Content Creation,” Entrepreneur explains, “Content marketing partners handle everything from strategy development to content creation, editing, publishing, distribution and analytics, and they act as true partners in your team’s marketing efforts. Partner agencies often assign teams of account managers, content strategists, writers and editors to work with you to understand your company, your audience and your goals and to create content in collaboration with you.”
While content marketing can be an effective way to drive traffic, build thought leadership, and turn browsers into buyers, retailers often don't have the time to dedicate to creating these kinds of assets. A seasoned freelancer or content marketer can create blogs, infographics, whitepapers, and other assets quickly and effectively.
IT and Web Development
It’s doubtful that you got into retail because of your passion for fixing point-of-sale systems or managing the backend of an ecommerce website. But in reality, IT and ecommerce are an undeniable part of running a successful, multi-channel retail business. IT is often something that retailers choose to handle themselves because it can be a relatively small amount of regular upkeep. But what about when something goes wrong, needs to be scaled, or needs a major update?
In the article “Why more and more retailers are outsourcing their IT,” Retail Dive explains the move to outsource IT: “For those in the retail sector, IT has historically been seen as something that's in the industry's wheelhouse, but as the digital transformation has taken hold over the last few years, a growing number of retailers are beginning to rethink the role of in-house IT. These teams have had to wrap their heads around how to effectively harness an endless stream of emerging technologies — and for many in-house IT teams, it's become too much to handle.”
When something needs repair on your site, with your in-store POS system, or with your support center, everything grinds to a halt until it’s fixed. Broken IT equipment costs you time, money, and potentially customers. The peace of mind and security of outsourcing your IT and web development needs takes away that stress and means that your business can grow without the fear of running up against the confines of your capabilities.
Because your IT and web hosting systems are such an important and confidential part of your retail business, look to bring in someone trustworthy to help. Hire a Shopify-approved web developer, bring in a consulting company to help, ask for references and look for reviews, and be sure to do your due diligence with background checks, proper contracts, and nondisclosure agreements (if necessary) for anyone you bring in.
Warehousing and Fulfillment
Have you been handling, packing, and shipping your own orders? It’s how a lot of retail businesses start out — it’s a cost-effective way to fulfill orders and a great way to maintain quality by touching all of your inventory. But as you grow and start receiving more orders, it might be time to look at partnering with an outsource partner.
On this important relationship, Bill Burbank at Inbound Logistics states: “The premise of outsourcing is that a company hires an outside expert to deal with a specific area that is outside the realm of the company's core business. The value proposition is that the outsourcing expert will save the company money, and the company will not need to distract its employees from their core business in order to streamline, cut costs, and increase profit.”
Moving forward with an outsourced partner, Burbank highlights the most important things to keep in mind as:
- Be sure you are comfortable with the people on the team.
- Consider carefully how open your company is willing to be.
- Don't be intimated. Outsourcing partners work for you.
- Make it a long-term partnership. Consider the outsourcing partner as an employee.
- Insist on ongoing input.
For more on third-party fulfillment and finding the right partner for you, check out our post “Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Third-Party Warehousing and Fulfillment.” This will help you find a fulfillment partner with a similar industry specialization and set your expectations about what a fulfillment partner brings to the table and how much you should expect to pay for these services.
Finally, outsourcing administrative tasks is a quick way for any retail business to free up resources and time. Virtual assistants are a huge help with all your day-to-day office needs, and finding the right virtual assistant is fairly simple with marketplaces like Upwork or Freelancer.com. Depending on your needs, a VA can help with emails, light marketing work (deploying email or social media campaigns), blog/website management, HR, payroll, and many other tasks.
For help with hourly tasks, including handing out product samples as brand ambassadors, and setting up and tearing down at conferences and events, check out online neighborhood boards like TaskRabbit.
How Could Outsourcing Help Your Business?
Are there other tasks that you’re thinking about outsourcing that we haven’t covered here? If so, what are they? We’d love to hear about your experiences outsourcing tasks to run your retail business more efficiently in the comments.