What's worth outsourcing or paying for?

At the recent Colorado Translators Association mid-year conference, a few of us got to talking about tasks that we outsource and services that we pay for. This got me thinking about what types of services we freelancers a) can and b) should be outsourcing or paying for.

It’s important to realize that having the proper tools and services for your business costs money. Running a freelance business entails a lot less overhead than running, say, a restaurant, but if you try to operate on zero overhead, your business will suffer. I’ll give you a list of services that I either outsource or pay for, and then I’m interested to hear what you have to say too.

A task is ripe for outsourcing/paying money for if:

  • You hate it, are terrible at it, and therefore avoid it (mine: accounting)
  • It provides you with information that would be time-consuming or impossible to obtain on your own (mine: Payment Practices)
  • It generates way more income than what you pay for the service (mine: E-Junkie)
  • You can hire someone who is much better at the task than you are (mine: graphic design and screencast videos)
  • It saves you a lot of time and hassle (mine: Adobe PDF conversion service)
  • It lets you bring in an additional revenue stream ( mine: MailChimp e-mail list)
  • It protects your business against disaster (mine: SugarSync online backup service)

The tasks and services that I currently outsource, and their approximate costs, are listed below. Note that these are not affiliate links, just services I love.

  • Accounting: my accountant does my quarterly payroll taxes and year-end corporate tax return. About $1,000 per year.
  • Subscription to Payment Practices so that I can vet agencies before I work with them. About $20 per year.
  • Subscription to SugarSync to fully back up my laptop hard drive every time I connect to the Internet, in case my laptop is lost/stolen/falls out of my bike bag and gets run over by a bus. About $75 per year.
  • Basic membership to E-Junkie, so that I can sell PDF copies of my book directly from my website with automatic downloads. $5 per month.
  • Graphic designer to do website banners, book covers, etc. Cost depends on the project, about $600 per year.
  • Instructional designer to make screencast videos for my online courses. About $500 per course.
  • Adobe’s online PDF conversion service, which works really well on really lousy PDFs. About $25 per year.
  • MailChimp mailing list service so that I can send out my weekly e-newsletter. $25 per month.

I also have various other paid pieces of software: an MP3 recording service for Skype calls, a scanner program so that I can still use my really old scanner, etc.

All of these services add up to a fairly substantial cost; but I also think that far too many translators think that “if it costs money, I’m not buying it,” which is a short-sighted way to run a business. If there’s a tool that helps you work better, or that frees up your time so that you can do what you’re good at while someone else does what they’re good at, I think it’s almost always worth buying.

It’s also important to think about the consequences of not having a particular tool or service. I don’t work with that many agencies, but since a Payment Practices membership costs less than a minimum charge, it’s clearly a good investment. In 13 years of freelancing, I’ve never had a major computer failure, partially because I’m pretty scrupulous about upgrading my main work computer every two to three years, but for $75 a year, I’m not risking what would happen if my laptop were stolen from my co-working office, or if I spilled coffee all over it. Those situations fall into the category of “penny wise, pound foolish” and every freelancer should avoid that!

Readers: over to you…what do you outsource or pay for?

35 Responses to “What's worth outsourcing or paying for?”
  1. D. van de Weerd May 4, 2016
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