This guest post was written by Matt McWilliams, a well-known marketing consultant who has won numerous awards for affiliate management. He writes daily on his blog about life, leadership, and love, learned the hard way.
Help! Start alone, or build a team?
Navigating the entrepreneurial waters can be overwhelming, especially at first.
I recently received an email from a brand new entrepreneur asking a common and important question in the early stages of building a business. If you’re a new or aspiring entrepreneur, you’ve probably found yourself asking the same question or will be asking it soon.
The person asked:
I’m in this ocean of entrepreneurship dilemmas. I’m just starting my business. I’ve been told that I need to outsource certain things to offer a full range of services. Should I start out doing it all myself, contract out more complex projects, or hire someone?
Here’s part of what I wrote in response:
Always start out doing it yourself. As long as you don’t undercharge or overpromise, you’ll be fine.
There are three huge benefits from doing it this way.
1. You keep all the profits
When you are first starting out, you probably need all the money you can get.
I remember when I started my first business in 2003. Soon after I started it, my dad fired me from my full-time job. I offered a narrow range of web design services and had only one client at the time. Overnight, what was a fun side project became my sole source of income. I needed more funds and I need them fast.
Not only could I not afford to hire freelancers before I was actually paid by my clients, I needed all of the money I could get. So, initially, I learned how to do everything myself. I expanded my services, picked up a bunch of new clients, and spent half my time learning how to do the things I said I could do for them.
Not only did I get to keep all of the profits early on and build my emergency fund up, but I also discovered benefit number two.
2. You broaden your skill set and learn new things you like to do
The day after my dad fired me, I started reading everything I could about web design. I also started selling my services to a broader range of customers. I went from only offering basic design services for small businesses to doing online fundraising for political campaigns and non-profits, building elaborate (by 2003 standards) e-commerce sites, and running these shiny new things called “weblogs.”
The typical conversation with a prospective client went like this:
Prospect: Here’s what I am looking to do…can you do X, Y, and Z.
And I hung up, wrote up a proposal, and proceeded to learn how to do Y and Z.
With each sales call and each new client, the amount of new stuff I had to learn dwindled. And along the way, I was building my skill set up. I was learning all kinds of new technologies and expanding the possibilities of what I could offer potential clients. I became an expert in online fundraising. In an era when most candidates didn’t even have an online presence and Howard Dean was just beginning to revolutionize the internet in politics, I had local congressional candidates raising tens of thousands of dollars per week online (an enormous amount back then).
I learned new skills that I loved using. I found that I loved writing. I discovered what I enjoyed doing and what I hated. Eventually, these discoveries became the basis for what I would choose to outsource and what I would choose to do myself.
As I built these skills and grew my client roster significantly, I reached the point where I was simply unable to do everything myself. I was working sixteen hours a day, seven days a week. So I began to outsource some things.
It was then that I found benefit number three.
3. You learn how to communicate with your team
Whether you outsource or hire in-house, it really helps to be able to communicate in the language of your team.
I don’t mean their native tongue (though that does help). I am referring to the languages of coding, design, marketing, and the like.
When you start off outsourcing or hiring, you learn nothing new. Often you will find that communicating with your programmers is difficult or that your marketing people use a bunch of fancy-sounding jargon to talk over your head and hide the truth. But not if you start off doing it all yourself.
Because of my background in basic coding, design, and marketing, I was, and still am, able to effectively communicate with programmers, designers, and marketers. I know when they are talking out of both sides of their mouth and avoid bad hires. I have rarely made a bad hire in those areas thanks to this.
Doing it all yourself is not a permanent solution. If it stays that way for five years, you aren’t an entrepreneur. You just own your job. You want to build a team, in-house or virtually. You do want to pay others to do the stuff you can’t stand to do and focus on what you are best at.
But first, you need to keep the money for yourself, build your skill set, and learn things that will serve you greatly down the road.
Matt McWilliams is a well-known marketing consultant who has won numerous awards for affiliate management. He is a featured author in the book, Internet Marketing from the Real Experts. He is a past guest on Entrepreneur on Fire and writes daily on his blog about life, leadership, and love, learned the hard way.