I love a month that’s jam-packed with projects, but a surge in work can be a double-edged sword. You’ve got a ton of great projects, but you’re constantly swamped, and it feels like a second full-time job to hire somebody who’s got the skills, availability and reliability to help you deliver great work.
Then, as soon as you find the perfect person and train them to help you deliver high-quality work, they get a better offer or move on to a different stage of their lives. It can be a seemingly hopeless and depressing cycle – and one that makes many creative service professionals avoid hiring altogether.
Today I’m sharing a proven, unconventional way to hire people to help you reclaim your time and grow your business – and it’s all about hiring people who know nothing about your business at all.
The high-level strategy: Don’t hire creative staff. Hire people to do your chores.
This month, I hired nine people, none of whom know anything about what I do for a living. They helped me focus on my business, spend more time with my family, and find time to relax so I could keep my creative juices flowing. They are housekeepers, landscapers, delivery drivers and even dog-poo-picker-uppers. They are my personal-life support team, and they save me dozens of hours every month that I devote directly my business and my family.
We know that we have a finite amount of time in the day, and anyone who’s ever worked on a creative project knows that we also have a finite amount of creative energy. We don’t do our best work when we’re overtired, stressed, or multitasking on a million disparate things. We need focus and relaxation to deliver the highest-value work to our clients and accomplish our business goals. We’ve spent years honing our crafts, and we know that there are very few people out there who can do what we do as well as we can.
Yet, our instinct when we get swamped with work is to hire someone to help us do the creative stuff – the stuff that we’ve spent years perfecting and making uniquely our own. It’s no wonder it’s so hard to find good help when we’re looking to hire another copy of ourselves. (Just think: if someone just like you wanted to hire you, would you want to work for them?)
Rather than hiring for the hardest stuff first (your creative work), start by hiring people to do all the easy stuff in your life. These activities are routine and repetitive, they don’t require your personal touch, and there are throngs of qualified people who’d be happy to take them off your hands for a minimal fee.
The beauty of this system is that it’s much easier to save yourself an hour of low-value activity than to save yourself an hour of creative work – and the payoff is the same. You can spend those extra hours approaching your business with renewed focus, or you can use them to add more life to your work-life balance. Now that you’re spending less of your “life” time doing chores, you can devote it to family, friends, and other activities that make your world a better place to live.
The tactics: Building your personal-life support team
Here’s what a typical week of outsourcing looks like in the Howard household:
- Cleaning – Our cleaning service arrives at 12:30 PM on alternating Thursdays and cleans our four-bedroom home from top to bottom. When my wife and I shared an 800-square-foot apartment, it took us an entire Sunday to clean it, and we’d always wind up enveloped in a combination of exhaustion and misery by the end of the day. Now, we hang out in our offices or the basement and the house is spotless in less than three hours. Cost: $270/month. Time saved: 16+ hours of anguish per month.
- Lawn-mowing – On Friday morning, our lawn-mowing service (two guys with mowers and edge-trimmers) arrives and mows the lawn, usually before we’re even fully awake for the day. In the past, I would procrastinate for days as the lawn grew into a veritable jungle, forcing my wife to wonder aloud when we’d be able to safely venture into the backyard again. I would eventually put on some grass-stained sneakers, struggle to get the mower out of the garage, run out of gas halfway through the front yard, haul the mower over our patio into the backyard, step in my dog’s poo while mowing, destroy some landscaping while attempting to trim the edges, and weep silently as I reviewed my handiwork and concluded that the lawn looked better before I started. Cost: $26/week. Time saved: 4 hours of mowing per month, ~8 hours of heartache in the lead-up and aftermath.
- Poop Scooping – On Mondays and Thursdays, a company called “PetScoop” comes to our house and scoops up my dog’s poo in the backyard. Again, I used to procrastinate and let this pile up to the point where it was hazardous to the health of neighborhood children. I can’t tell you how good it feels to never have to think about picking up poo again. Cost: $14/week for two pickups. Time saved: 1 hour/week, not including cleaning poo off shoes.
- Grocery Shopping – Two to four times per month, I order my groceries online via Kroger HomeShop, and they’re delivered to my front door by an employee of the local supermarket. They do all the shopping, all the bagging, and even call me to confirm a substitution if something’s out of stock. All I have to do is open the door for them and put stuff in the fridge when they drop it off. Cost: $11 per delivery. Time saved: 4-6 hours per month (four trips to the store).
- Milk and Eggs – On Monday morning at 6 AM, a local dairy farm drops off five gallons of organic milk at our front door. They do bagels, eggs and yogurt, too. Combined with my grocery deliveries, this means we almost always have a full fridge without leaving the house. Cost: $3/month plus the cost of what we buy. Time saved: 1-3 hours of emergency mid-week milk runs.
- Almost Everything Else I Buy – Perhaps the most valuable investment I’ve made in the past year is my subscription to Amazon Prime. I didn’t realize it until I really started shopping on Amazon, but they have almost everything, from non-perishable groceries to power tools to adorable t-shirts for infants. Since I subscribed to Prime, which costs $100/year and includes unlimited free two-day delivery on almost everything in the Amazon warehouse, I’m able to basically get whatever I want without leaving the house – the equivalent of outsourcing all my shopping. The number of boxes that arrive at my doorstep every week would make an outsider think I have a debilitating online shopping addiction, but the results don’t lie: I effectively never have to go to the store again. Cost: $100/year. Time saved: 5+ hours per month spent driving to stores, getting lost in stores, waiting in checkout lines, and wishing I didn’t have to go to the store.
In addition to these recurring contractors, I’ve built a roster of handymen and landscapers to handle periodic work a few times per year. All in all, outsourcing my chores saves me at least 32 hours every month, which I invest right back into my work and my family. To put it another way, you could conceivably take an extra day off every week without changing anything about your business – all you have to do is eliminate the chores that are sucking away your free time, and use that time for high-value activities instead.
Every time I do something that I know I will have to do again, I ask myself: Is this a high-value activity that requires my personal touch? If it’s not, the next item on my to-do list is to see if I can hire someone to do it for me.
Action Step: Hire someone today
I detailed some of my favorite recurring outsourced chores, but here’s a more exhaustive list. If you’re looking for a place to find a contractor, try Yelp for free listings or Angie’s List, which costs ~$20/year depending on where you live, for an exhaustive list of contractors, most of whom have honest reviews to help you make the right choice.
Most importantly, don’t worry too much about picking the perfect contractor the first time. I’ve changed cleaning services and landscapers a few times, and it’s no big deal. It’s also good management practice for when you do eventually expand your creative team. (We’ll talk about that down the road – first, hire for the easy stuff!)
- Activity – Examples / Resources
- Landscaping/Lawn Mowing – See Angie’s List or Yelp for local providers
- Grocery Delivery – Kroger HomeShop, Walmart To Go (Google your grocery store to see what they offer)
- Milk Delivery – Royal Crest Dairy (This company is local to me, but Google it to see what’s in your area)
- Housecleaning – See Angie’s List, Yelp or Care.com for local providers
- Handyman Services – Handyman Matters (many national franchises), Yelp, Angie’s List
- General Shopping – Amazon Prime ($100/year for 2-day delivery on anything)
- Dog-walking / pet care – See Angie’s List, Yelp or Care.com for local providers
- Closet / Office Organization – The Container Store ATHOME, Yelp, Angie’s List
- Scanning / Shredding Documents – NeatScan
- Laundry – Lazybones, Dependable Cleaners (Google for local providers)
- Dry Cleaning – Door-to-Door Dry Cleaning (Google for local providers)
- Painting – See Angie’s List or Yelp Random
- Chores and Tasks – TaskRabbit.com (available in many major cities)
If something above looks like fun to you, don’t outsource it! For example, I enjoy walking my dog, so that would be last on my outsourcing list. You may love gardening, so that’s at the bottom of your list (while it’s at the top of mine). Find the chore that makes you groan the loudest … and then resolve to never do it yourself again.
Before you leave this page, do these three things:
- Set aside a budget of $100 (or whatever works for you).
- Pick an item above and hire someone today.
- Post a comment below and let me know what you chose and why.