While I was growing up, my father worked in a manufacturing plant that made metal parts for appliances. Every now and then, he would tell us about a cartoon that was posted outside a female manager’s office that always made him laugh.
The cartoon shows two men chatting outside someone’s office. Inside the office is a desk with several piles of papers stacked in varying heights. The office occupant is nowhere in sight. “I know she’s in there somewhere,” says one of the men. “I can hear her sobbing!”
For some reason, this cartoon has always stayed with me over the years, and like my father, it makes me smile. But being buried by stacks of paperwork is no laughing matter, especially if you run your own business or work for a busy executive. Rather than hide under the desk sobbing, it may be time to take better control of the situation. Hiring an assistant or outsourcing certain job tasks may be the solution you are looking for.
An assistant can help you sort through those piles of paperwork, freeing you up to do more important things, like making sales calls and meeting with clients. Assistants comes with varied backgrounds and levels of experience. Some can do basic tasks like data entry and filing, while others can help with social media and website updates. You can even hire several assistants who specialize in different tasks – one for accounting and another for social media.
The important point is you do have options. If you struggle to stay on top of your daily to-do lists, think about what you could do with your time if you could outsource some of your responsibilities. Sit down and make a list of every aspect of your job. Next to each one, mark whether this is something you have to do yourself or whether it can be outsourced to an assistant. There are other decisions to make too, such as how many assistants you need and whether they will be part time or full time.
One assistant or two? Once you’ve made your list of possible outsourced activities, decide if you need one assistant to handle all of them or if you might need two or three specialists. If you are lucky, you may find one experienced, multi-faceted administrative professional who can handle all the tasks on your wish list. The advantage there is that you are dealing only with one person. On the other hand, working with two outside helpers makes sense if you need more specialized assistance. Some services, like bookkeeping and website maintenance, may cost more than a general office worker.
Full time vs. part time vs. contract. As you look over your list of potential outsourceable tasks, estimate how much time per week or month would be required to complete them. For many activities, it might make more sense to hire on an as-needed contract basis rather than part-time or full-time. A chiropractor I know hires an accountant to come in for a few hours at the end of each month to balance the books. She knows she does not have the expertise to do them herself, so bringing in an expert at minimal cost helps her focus on the core of her business, which is treating patients. For other businesses, hiring a part-time worker for 15 to 20 hours per week is a more sensible solution.
In-house vs. virtual or telecommute. While many prefer to have outside assistant work on the premises, sometimes lack of space can be an issue. With the quality of technology available today, it’s much simpler for all parties to work remotely from another location. Or you can combine the options: have the assistant work on-site for the first few days until you become more comfortable with their involvement. Then allow them to work remotely. Whichever work arrangement you work out will take a load off your plate.
One-time project vs. monthly retainer. Decide if you need someone for a one-time project or an ongoing basis. Tasks like housekeeping or bookkeeping tend to operate on a regular basis, so it makes sense to hire them on a monthly retainer, which may be cheaper over the long run.
Payment plans. If money, or lack thereof, is an issue, you have options there too. You can barter services, hire a college intern, or hire on an as-needed basis for certain projects. For example, I know several yoga studios that offer free classes in exchange for light housekeeping duties and/or marketing support. College interns gain valuable work experience that they can build their resume.
Where to find workers. As with any professional service, ask for referrals from friends and colleagues. They will be your best source to find reputable independent workers. If they’ve done a satisfactory job for them, chances are they will do the same for you.
Do a general Google search for assistants in your location. Type in virtual assistants, temporary office workers or whatever specialist you are looking for followed by your location, then scan the list that pops up. Be sure to check out their online information, if they are listed in a directory, have social media presence, or have a website. Also be sure to check references. (Or you can reach out to me at The Regal Writer for office assistance, marketing support or copy writing. If I can’t do the job, I can help you find someone.)
Another option is to use a temp agency. They can do the interviewing and skills assessment of job applicants, leaving you free to work on your business. Just be aware that you will have to pay the agency a fee for their services. But paying that extra fee might be worthwhile if you don’t relish the thought of browsing resumes and conducting interviews.
When you have so many options available for finding extra help when you need it, there’s no need to hide under your desk hoping the paperwork will go away on its own.