Via Forbes : Sales on the web reached $394.86 billion last year, with nearly 12% of all retail purchases coming from online stores. With new trends making it easier than ever to shop online using mobile devices, the market opportunity is only projected to grow. That’s a lucrative endeavor you can’t afford to miss out on if you own a small business.
That is as long as you’re aware of the resources required to build-out your online shop, develop marketing and sales, keep track of product inventory and ultimately fulfill customer orders. There’s a lot to do and most entrepreneurs make the mistake of attempting it all alone. Instead of trying to do everything, you should look at outsourcing and utilizing the growing number of products and services that enable your business to run smoother.
But what exactly does it mean to outsource, and how do you know when it’s the right time for your business?
What is Outsourcing?
In the small business context, outsourcing is taking a piece of that business equation and relying on an outside individual or service to handle it for you. The term is often referred to in the context of logistics or fulfillment, but today you can outsource everything from content marketing and scheduling to your payroll and bookkeeping.
There are several factors you need to consider when thinking about whether or not it’s the right time to outsource. However, in general, it’s safe to say that if you don’t have enough time to focus on your company growth, it is probably time to start considering a strategy that involves outsourcing.
Signs it’s Time to Outsource
There are probably several areas your business could use help, so focus on those with a regular cadence to get the most bang for your buck. Here are some situations when you should look to outsource:
1) Your Business is Growing Really Fast
Is your business growing too quickly, to the point where it has become difficult to keep up? It sounds like a nice problem to have, but failing to scale can shutter an otherwise thriving shop. With viral potential just a few clicks away thanks to social media, the dreams of your online shop blowing-up overnight aren’t that farfetched. To transform a period of hyper-growth into long term success, you need to have a plan to implement systems that will bring your business to scale.
For a variety of these processes (such as shipping and fulfillment), outsourcing is a way to bridge the gap as you grow from a small shop to a serious online goods provider. Outsourcing time-consuming processes can allow you to focus on more important tasks, such as hiring your first employee or looking for a new space to set up shop.
2) You’re Ready to Expand, But Not Ready to Hire Employees
You’ve been running things on your own, and up to this point it’s worked well, but now you’re ready to build things out a bit more. While you may be ready to up-the-ante for your business, you may not be ready to bring on employees. So how do you scale your shop without having the infrastructure of a bigger business? Outsource.
A number of products and services make it easy to command your own personal army of on-demand or virtual workers – at a fraction of the price of hiring full-time staff. Could you use some sales and marketing help, there is software to make it easier. Want to track social and online conversations about your brand, there are services that can automate the process. Need someone to pick-up, package and ship your orders, there is an app for that. There are plenty of tools to cut down your growing pains, you just have to seek them out.
3) You Need to a Better Customer Service Experience
When starting a brand new business, every customer interaction is crucial. At first this may seem easy, but as you get more buyers it becomes difficult to nail that personal touch every time. That’s where outsourcing can help. If customer service is an important part of your brand experience (and it should be!), then outsourcing helps you focus on that by automating frivolous activities that take-up a lot time.
On the other hand, maybe consumers love your products, but you need help delivering that “Amazon experience” of simple, one-click check out or fast delivery and returns. Outsourcing these processes that require an infrastructure you don’t yet have is a great way to deliver a professional quality customer experience as you continue to scale.
When Shouldn’t You Outsource?
With the number of services covering everything from conversion optimization to fulfillment, it’s easier and more affordable than ever to outsource. That said, there are situations where it might not be right for your business, even if you feel like you might need some help.
The most obvious example of this if you’re operating with uncertain or limited funds. Whether you’re a small business with a few employees or just starting a Shopify store, if you’re strapped for cash, looking to a third party to handle some portion of your business might not make sense. Time may be your only resource, and you need to handle things in-house while you accrue the capital you need to expand the business.
Another scenario where you might want to take a pass on outsourcing is if your business requires some adept or specialized knowledge. In that case, even if time is limited, it makes more sense for you to handle that aspect of your business (after all, you’re the expert). For example, you might not want to use a warehousing service if customized products and gift-wrapping is part of your business value.
Getting enough cash together to do things you want to help your business grow (like outsourcing time-consuming processes) is always tough. But the good news is that a number of outsourcing services have caught onto the barriers that hold back small businesses and ecommerce shops even when they have in-demand products, and have come up with outsourcing solutions that are more affordable than ever.