Outsourcing is no longer only the preserve of large businesses – small businesses can benefit hugely too. Read our guide to the experts and services you can outsource to that can help your business grow, save costs and become more agile.
Outsourcing is when your business uses a product or service from an external provider rather than handling it in-house. It isn’t a new concept. “Do what you do best and outsource the rest” was coined in the 1990s by legendary management consultant Peter Drucker.
Back then, outsourcing was generally something only large companies could benefit from. Fast forward to the 21st century, and technology such as ultrafast broadband, artificial intelligence and cloud computing means small businesses can now access the same on-demand services as larger corporates.
There is a vast range of services and technology that you can outsource. Outsourcing gives you the scope to operate like a larger company without the costly overheads. Here’s our guide to some of the services and expertise that you might think about outsourcing.
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Outsourcing your accounting
Accounting is one of the most common examples of outsourcing. It can be complex to understand financial processes and compliance issues. Having a good accountant on board can be hugely beneficial for a small business.
At a basic level, accountants can help with tax returns, but they can also set up bookkeeping and payroll systems, provide advice on tax planning, help you secure funding and give insights such as financial planning and forecasting.
Decide exactly what you want an accountant to do and shop around. Ask friends, family and other business owners for recommendations. Our free guide on how to find a good accountant can help.
Checking that they’re fully qualified is important as anyone can set themselves up legally as an accountant. Look for the term ‘chartered accountant’ and the letters ‘FCA’ or ‘ACA’ or Chartered Certified Accountants and ‘FCCA’ or ‘ACCA’. Many professional accountancy bodies list their members that businesses can contact them directly, such as:
- The Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW)
- Institute of Chartered Accountants of Scotland (ICAS)
- Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA)
- The Chartered Institute of Taxation (CIOT)
Be clear about the accountant’s fees – it might be a monthly retainer or an hourly rate – and make sure you’re only paying for the services you need.
An accountant is often a business owner’s most trusted advisor. When selecting one, make sure they understand your type of business, and they are the right fit for your company to maintain a good relationship.
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Outsourcing your human resources
In the early days of a business with a few staff members, it makes sense for the founder to handle human resources (HR) issues. But as the workforce grows, having someone dedicated to HR becomes more important.
Larger businesses eventually get a dedicated HR department, but many growing businesses outsource. You have several options, including outsourcing HR completely or for one-off projects such as recruitment, payroll or disciplinary issues.
To find the right provider, ask other business owners for recommendations. Check client testimonials and see if they’ve worked with businesses similar to yours. Be clear about what you want and understand their fees.
Business owners are protective of their employees. You might feel nervous about bringing in someone from outside but making sure your matters related to employees are well managed is crucial to keeping morale high. Finding the right HR expert can help you do that.
Read our first-time employer’s guide to hiring staff to get started.
Outsourcing your marketing and PR
Outsourcing marketing can fast-track your business by giving you access to the creativity you don’t have yourself.
Public relations (PR) is the process of securing coverage of a business in the media and is a powerful way to grow your brand. A dedicated PR professional or agency can help you promote your business as effectively as possible.
PR can be expensive so consider starting on a project basis. Be careful to get testimonials from previous clients and consider the results being promised. You might end up with lots of coverage, but if it’s not in the media your target customers read, listen to or watch, you’ll waste your money.
Advertising, content creation or social media can also be outsourced but, again, carefully consider the results being promised and get examples of creative content the provider has produced previously.
Download our free PR toolkit for start-up businesses
Outsourcing your admin
Virtual assistants (VA) are one of the cheapest ways to outsource. Busy founders have a lot on their plate, so a VA can help with managing email inboxes, booking travel and scheduling social media content.
Communication and trust are key to a successful relationship with a VA, so make sure the service is the right fit for you. If the VA has lots of clients, they may not give you the focus you expect. And as many VA services are based outside the UK, you need to factor in time zone differences too.
Pay-per-click (PPC) advertising is online advertising on websites such as Google, Twitter and Facebook for which the advertiser pays when the advertisement is clicked.
PPC can be very effective at driving website traffic and generating sales, but it can be complex. Several technology solutions exist which allow you to identify the most effective keywords to target.
Pricing for these services varies, so shop around for the best deal. PPC might not work for you, so try not to get locked into a long-term contract.
Social media can be time-consuming. Using a social media management tool can reduce that time significantly. These services let you schedule content in advance for posting on social media networks, and many provide analytics so you can monitor which content works best.
There are a huge array of social media tools, so do your research. Prices vary significantly, so make sure you actually need all the functions offered. It can be easy to end up paying for lots of features that you don’t use. For example, if you only want to schedule content, a dedicated scheduling tool may be better than paying for a solution with lots more features. If you want basic features, many tools are free to use.
You’ll need lots of legal documents as a business owner, such as employment contracts, website terms and conditions, and shareholder agreements.
Various online services exist that provide downloadable templates. These are usually very low cost, with options to pay per document or as a monthly or yearly subscription.
Before selecting a service, be sure to check that UK legal experts produce the content.
Accounting and expenses
Many online accounting services have launched over the last decade, driven by innovation in cloud computing. This means small businesses have many low-cost options for managing their finances.
Rather than having to rely on clunky spreadsheets, you can benefit from automated functionality that links all your financial data together so you can keep track of your finances and manage expenses.
You have many accounting software options to choose from. Most offer free trials or even no charge at all for the basic versions.
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Disclaimer: While we make reasonable efforts to keep the information on this page up to date, we do not guarantee or warrant (implied or otherwise) that it is current, accurate or complete. The information is intended for general information purposes only and does not take into account your personal situation, nor does it constitute legal, financial, tax or other professional advice. You should always consider whether the information is applicable to your particular circumstances and, where appropriate, seek professional or specialist advice or support.