It’s about time to start thinking about business goals for 2009, and efficiency is always high on my list. One topic that I often think about but have never really acted on is outsourcing. To hear books like The 4-Hour Work Week (imagine yourself in that hammock on the cover!) tell it, outsourcing is one of the keys to increased business efficiency, even if you’re a one-person shop. On a more tongue-in-cheek note, my absolute favorite piece of writing about outsourcing is A.J. Jacobs’ article My Outsourced Life, which originally appeared in Esquire.
Outsourcing is big business these days; a recent NPR story on outsourcing reported that the U.S. Government now outsources so much work (including the production of U.S. passports, which is mostly done in Thailand), that it even outsources the management of its outsourced operations. So, are we translators missing out here, or do we just not have that much work that is outsource-able?
It seems to me that there are two possible goals of outsourcing: 1) freeing up your work time so that you can either generate more income or work less and 2) freeing yourself from tasks you aren’t good at or don’t enjoy doing. So far, I outsource a few tasks that fall into category 2: although my accountant, at $150 an hour, isn’t exactly a cut-rate worker, I think that outsourcing my taxes is a good business investment because they’re a task that I neither enjoy nor do well. Likewise, I sometimes hire other translators to edit/proofread my work for direct clients because I’m a much stronger translator than I am an editor.
When it comes to category 1, I’m a little stumped. I’m acquainted with a few very responsible high school students in my neighborhood who would probably do a good job at administrative tasks and charge a lot less than what I make per hour, but I’m not sure what I could ask them to do. I don’t take appointments from clients, send out paper invoices, do mass mailings or maintain a large database of contacts, so I have a hard time identifying lower-level work that I could trust someone else to do. In addition, it would seem odd to remove my personal touch from certain aspects of the business, for example by hiring someone to write holiday cards to my clients.
As my base of direct clients grows, one option I’ve thought of is hiring a very competent but not very experienced translator (for example a recent graduate with top-notch skills) to work with me, and paying that person by the hour for a guaranteed number of hours per week. This would free me from being dependent on someone else’s availability, and could work well for direct client projects where profit margins are higher.
Any pro/con ideas out there about outsourcing?