When running a small business, it can be tempting to become a jack of all trades. Trying to cut costs, you might find yourself learning the art of PR, getting to grips with tax, or becoming a DIY expert. But trying to do everything for yourself could leave you tearing your hair out – not to mention working very long hours.

But it doesn’t need to be this way. For very little outlay, you can outsource tasks to somebody else, on a one-off or regular basis, freeing you up to do what you do best.

Big businesses have long since realised the potential for outsourcing, regularly farming out payroll, IT and customer service.

But for small business owners, options had been limited until recently. Large design, marketing, PR and service providers often come with high fees, making their services inaccessible to many.

However, the recent boom in business ownership means there is now a plethora of small businesses from marketing agencies through to virtual assistance companies, who specialise in providing services to other small businesses. Many will consider taking on small, one-off projects and often don’t ask for a retainer, but will work for a fixed fee instead.

But for businesses looking to outsource small or one-off, projects there are other options.

The global marketplace

One of these options is freelancing marketplaces like ODeskElance and Freelancer that have opened up the world of outsourcing to small business owners looking for help on a budget. Anything from logo and website design to payroll and admin assistance can be outsourced.

These marketplaces allow you to post details of your project without having to commit to a budget. Once your job is posted you get proposals from freelancers around the world.

Job postings on most marketplaces are free, and once you’ve chosen a freelancer to work with, you’ll communicate within a secure workroom and only pay for work that you’ve approved.

Mark Hodson, co-founder of the travel inspiration website, 101 Holidays has been outsourcing small jobs like logo creation and data input, for the past few years. “I’ve used Fiverr.com which is good for simple, cheap jobs. It’s easy to find people to work for $5 per hour but the quality of the results can be inconsistent.”

When Mark wanted somebody to carry out a web development task he turned to ODesk. He put up the details of the job and invited developers to bid for it. “I was rather overwhelmed by the response and chose one in India based on his reviews.

“The project got done but not entirely smoothly, which I think was my fault. I wasn’t sufficiently clear about explaining some of the tasks involved. But it got me hooked.”

At the end of last year Mark wanted to commission an infographic to display the results of a survey.

“This time I spelled out the details of the job clearly and offered a fee of US$200, rather than put it out to the whole ODesk community.” Mark found six designers with experience of creating infographics and invited them to apply. “All six applied and I chose one in the Philippines who had a great portfolio.” Mark felt that the project went well despite the 8-hour time difference. “After five days and three revisions I was really happy with the results.”

Your needs

When thinking about outsourcing, it helps to be clear about your needs. Consider the areas of weakness within your business. If you’ve been putting off writing some copy for your website, then perhaps a freelancer could do this for you. Or maybe your customer support email is neglected one day a week while you’re out visiting clients. You could hire somebody to help keep on top of this.

Your budget

You can hire a freelancer very cheaply, but it’s often a case of ‘you get what you pay for’. It makes sense to have a clear idea of how much you are happy to pay for your work, rather than try to get it done as cheaply as possible.

Your budget will need to reflect the type of work you want to do. Depending on the scope of your job, you could opt to pay an hourly rate – perhaps you need flexibility, or you think that the scope of the job may change.

If you know exactly how much you want to spend, then, like Mark Hobson, you could try posting the price and choosing the best freelancer willing to work for that price. That could help to cut down on the amount of proposals you have to sift through.

In our next post, we give tips on how to define the scope of your project and choosing the right freelancer or service provider.