Upskill or Outsource: What does your small business really need?

Starting a small business is incredibly demanding. In the beginning, a small business owner wears all number of hats – from marketer, accountant and human resource officer, to delivery driver, customer service coordinator, social media manager and beyond.

As revenue increases and business expands, you may reach a point where productivity is suffering and you have less time to focus on the future of your company. Whether it’s upskilling internally, adding to the team or outsourcing, there are options that will support you in the next step of your business growth.

If you find yourself answering yes to any of the questions below, chances are you need to consider expanding your operation.

1. Are you working too much?

Many small business owners work nights and weekends, stretching themselves into becoming a double resource and covering a second salary. The extra time is often needed to catch up on all the things that aren’t your actual ‘job’ – tax, admin, ordering, cleaning and more. However, BeyondBlue, suggests that overwork can contribute to poor psychological health, excessive fatigue and stress, increased irritability and family conflict, plus a higher rate of injury. And this doesn’t just apply to you – if you have a small team and they are constantly working long hours, the risk of them burning out or moving on also increases.

Eighty per cent of solo operators are now willing to outsource business tasks, and the market has met the demand with an increase in virtual assistants that can help ad hoc or on a regular basis. 

Achieve small wins by outsourcing administrative tasks like data entry, customer support, reporting and graphic design. Companies like Global Outsourcing and freelancing website Upwork provide a variety of options and sites like Airtasker can also free up your time on jobs that you really don’t need to be doing, so you can shine elsewhere.

Are you spending time doing things that you’re not very good at?

Consider the value you bring to your business and what can be done by someone else, to free you up to deliver the most impact.

Begin by determining where you’re spending your time. Over a month, fill out a timesheet, and work out which areas of the business you actually spend the most time, versus where you should spend your time to achieve your business goals.

Once you know where you need support, consider what options will best suit you and your business. You might want to consider bringing someone in-house, either full or part time, which may seem like a big expense now, but could add more value in the long run. Keeping track of what work you’re currently doing and allocating revenue against each task will help you discover if you have a regular, ongoing requirement.

Alternatively, if you only need occasional support or support in a specialist area, you should consider outsourcing the role to a consultant or agency. Tasks, such as customer support, bookkeeping and accounting, marketing and online services like social media management or website updates are often outsourced by small businesses.

Michael Renton, managing partner of says outsourcing your accounting is something that small businesses should consider from the outset. “Starting up a small business is very difficult - hence the high failure rate - and business owners need to be careful with their money,” he says.

“More than 40 per cent of all small businesses we see really get themselves into a mess with accounting and therefore their compliance with the taxation office. Unless you already had some skills in the area, you would never try and do your own dental work or build a roof on your house, so why would you try and do your own accounting work? It would make more sense for you to concentrate on delivering the core good or service that you are in business to deliver and get professionals to do what they are good at doing. As the saying goes, you don’t know what you don’t know and for most small business owners the excitement of starting a business can overshadow the realities that you can’t do everything yourself.”

Plus, outsourcing means less day-to-day HR responsibilities of managing a team. “[Outsourcing means] business owners won’t have to negotiate employee salaries, superannuation, do performance reviews and deal with absenteeism,” Renton explains. “Instead, it can be all managed by the outsourcing team.”

Are you falling behind in key areas?

If you simply can’t keep up with the pace of your business, that could be a great sign that you’re ready to expand.

“A larger team can give you a bigger pool of resources to draw from,” says Renton. “If you can find the right firm to outsource to, you should get a team of [individual consultants] or experts looking after your business,” he says.

“You can leverage their knowledge to build your business the most effective and direct way possible. it’s an exceptionally smart and cost-effective way to build your business tribe and work with people who want to see your business succeed.”

4. Has your business stopped growing?

If your business is actively missing out on opportunities that would see it flourish, then it could be time to call in in extra support.

Whether you’re looking for new customers (and who isn’t!), want to generate more sales, or simply increase your company’s profile, bringing in an expert marketing firm can add fire to your business development efforts. A marketing expert will know where to focus your efforts and will work with you to get the best results possible. There are many marketing agencies that specifically work with small businesses, offering services such as copywriting for websites, email newsletters and social media advertising, to broader services such as helping you create a marketing strategy – so you can work towards your bigger vision.

5. Do you officially or legally need extra support?

A growing business can often mean growing legal and compliance responsibilities. Contracts for employment, pay and superannuation process, administrative overheads and human resource requirements can create more work if they are not managed well. If you’re still small outsourcing the human resources side of your business is a good option, though once you grow to a business with 50 or more people, you might find it more valuable and cost-effective to have an in-house resources.

When it comes to the finance side of your business, expertise equals peace of mind. “Tax compliance is a big deal and something small business owners cannot be complacent about,” Renton warns. “Find a good firm to outsource to and they can guide you through the maze of small business compliance and keep you out of trouble with the authorities. This outsourced team should be experts in the current legislations and compliance laws that could mean greater tax savings for the business.”

However, if you’re still in the early years of your business, or you can’t quite make the numbers work to hire or outsource, then consider if upskilling is the solution.

A short course in social media marketing, business management or cloud accounting services may be enough to help you speed through those admin tasks and free up more hours. There are plenty of free or inexpensive courses available through online learning providers such as LinkedIn, General Assembly or Coursera or even your local TAFE.

Resourcing Decision Tree

Determine if it’s time for your business to upskill, outsource or hire by downloading our resourcing decision tree.