Playing to Your Strengths and Knowing When to Outsource: Tips from The Receptionist

Have you ever felt that, as a business owner, you should personally be good at anything to do with your business?

It can be hard to reach the realization that you need help, especially for entrepreneurs who have built their business up from the ground. But the thing is, acknowledging that you do need assistance can bring you extra opportunities. Importantly, it’s not a weakness to admit it! We discussed this idea on our recent podcast interview with The Receptionist.

There are some brilliantly skilled people out there who are ready to step in and help fill any gaps. Andy Alsop, President, CEO and Founder of The Receptionist, refers to them as “sharpshooters.”

We recently caught up with Andy, and Michael Ashford, Director of Marketing at The Receptionist for a chat about playing to your own strengths as a business owner and knowing when to outsource:

When to outsource

Adopting the right mindset

A common mindset of the entrepreneur who has built up a business themselves is that they think they can do it all. However, this is far from sustainable when you have a business that is growing. You will soon find that growth can outpace your ability to keep up.

The Receptionist is an iPad app that allows companies to automate and customize the visitor check-in experience. The company operates across multiple different industries, and has multilingual options.

The company has experienced rapid growth over the last few years, for which Alsop gives a large amount of credit to the “sharpshooters” he has hired. “A key ingredient in a successful entrepreneur is knowing that you don’t know. I know that I am good at making a sale but that doesn’t make me a good sales leader. That’s why I brought in Tom Foster,” says Alsop.

Sometimes you just have to know when to let go. The “do it all” mindset might get you firing when the business is an early startup, but business owners can soon run into challenges with keeping up and will ultimately, burnout.

On the flipside, sticking with what you’re good at then delegating out the rest can significantly boost the growth of your business. Take content as an example – a key feature of the marketing strategy for The Receptionist is content marketing. “I don’t have time to do the writing myself and there are people much better at it than me,” says Alsop. “We’ve seen some great organic traffic results from outsourcing our content to the team at Audience Ops.”

So what sort of “sharpshooters” have they brought in? Alsop hired some for internal roles and outsourced other needs. For example, Michael Ashford (Marketing) and Tom Foster (Sales) are internal, whereas ad agency Advision handles search advertising and Audience Ops handles content. They also have a fractional CFO through the company CFO Share.

Decide what to outsource and what to keep

How should companies make the decision between what to outsource and what to keep? You can outsource virtually anything – name a common business department and there will be options for outsourcing it.

There are many different opinions on this among business owners. Some want to go all-in and outsource everything, while others feel that some things should be kept in-house. One thing Alsop looks at is the amount of time that is required of each role.

For example, in the case of a CFO, the outsourced, fractional CFO is ideal for companies that don’t need a full-time role, or perhaps can’t afford to pay a full-time CFO. When The Receptionist began, Alsop had enough financial background to keep that side of the company ticking, however he soon realized that with growth, he needed more in-depth financial strategy, but not on a full-time basis. That’s when he brought on CFO Share.

In terms of marketing, Alsop wanted the close contact with the strategy that having an in-house marketing director brings, so Michael Ashford came onboard. The marketing role itself is too big for just Ashford though. “Outsourcing the content gives me the chance to focus on other important activities,” Ashford says. “It’s great because I know I can rely on the quality that comes from Audience Ops. I’m not trying to spread myself thinly across many different roles.”

Finding the right outsourcers

Another outsourcing criteria Alsop looks at is whether the job can have a strong, repeatable process around it. These tend to be the easiest things to outsource because when the outsourcer follows a regular process, they can just get on with it, without needing a whole lot of internal support.

He says: “We had been working with an ad agency who were supposed to be publishing blog posts regularly. That wasn’t happening and when they did, we didn’t feel that the quality was there. This made it easy for us to select AudienceOps because we could see they had “process-ized” the development and publication of content.”

What shouldn’t you outsource? Generally the things that your company does best. If you’re known for certain strengths, then it’s important to protect those and ensure you remain known for them. For example, you probably want to keep anything that is related to intellectual property.

Secondly, if something is difficult to put a defined process around, then you will experience challenges with outsourcing. It’s really up to the business owner though – it’s entirely possible you might outsource to someone who is just as strong as you are in a particular area, or who is strong in a role that has some ambiguity attached.

How does The Receptionist find outsourced “sharpshooters?” “We don’t do it enough that we need a specific process,” says Alsop, “but we always try to interview three before making a decision.”

We asked about whether being local or not is important for a sharpshooter: “I think it comes down to the feel of the company,” Alsop says. “We are semi-remote – one week off and one week on. That gives us a nice mix.” 

Building a productive relationship with outsourcers

Having success with outsourcers relies heavily upon building great relationships with those people. This helps to facilitate good communication and ensure that you understand each other.

From Alsop’s point of view: It all comes down to communication. Many times I have to leave that up to my directors to do, but I expect them to do regular check-ins with their sharpshooters.”

After all, things change in your business and you might need the strategy or focus of your sharpshooters to change with it. It is a good practice to keep them updated with what is happening and, in turn, expect the same proactive communication from them.

Having clear expectations is also vitally important. Make sure you know from the beginning what you want from outsourcers and that it is, in fact, something that they provide. Your outsourcer should also present you with clear terms as to what is covered and what is not.

When to outsource

Final thoughts

In your business, sharpshooters can make a real difference in terms of your ability to grow and to produce excellent results.

It’s not always easy to let go when you’re the founder. Having a thorough understanding of what you’re good at versus what others are better at is a good start. You’re not required to master everything to do with running a business – that’s why other people specialize in fields of expertise.

The Receptionist provides an excellent example of bringing in the right sharpshooters and knowing what they want to keep internally and what they want to outsource. Where might you start? Listing out all the tasks that need to happen in your business is a good starting point. Consider what areas you want to improve on, what you’re good at and what you’d really like specialist help with.