When it comes to Internet tasks for blogging, writing, and content management, I need to make a confession:
I have always sucked at finding photos for things.
It started when I was a contractor for the Department of Defense and my team as assigned to turn in photo suggestions for the website headlines of the day.
I would dutifully sort through thousands of military family-themed Flickr photos and pull out ones I thought would work…. only to have them dismissed every time for my teammate’s “perfectly on point photos.”
The problem, I’ve found, is that I am way too abstract about the meanings of images. Whatever photo I see, I could talk my way into thinking it applies to the topic at hand. I’m missing this gene. What looks totally on-point to me is completely off the topic to the person who needs to use the photo. And it took me like five years to learn that.
What looks totally on-point to me is completely off the topic to the person who needs to use the photo. And it took me like five years to learn that.
I can’t even think of an example for this because I’m so paralyzed by finding the right photo that I just spent five minutes looking for one only to find nothing. So, I guess there’s your example. Here’s why that taught me a very important freelancer lesson:
Everyone Sucks at Something, Even DIY-Minded Freelancers
When you get to a certain point in your freelancing career, you start to have “enough money” to evaluate your business needs and save for things. You will be tempted (as I was) to continue to do everything for yourself: your images, your social media, your bookkeeping, and your lower-cost client work. But while it’s important to go through the “crank it out” phase of doing everything yourself (that’s the DIY in do it yourself, after all), you eventually need to graduate to not doing it all yourself. You need to make room for what you’re good at and delegate what you’re not to save yourself time, energy, and yes, even money.
I DIYed my first year and a half because it was important to me to keep costs at a bare minimum. Now that I have had “enough money” to invest in the business (that’s a topic for another day), I decided to try out a virtual assistant to outsource the work that drains my spirit. For me, that includes the following list:
- Finding and sizing photos for blog posts (my VA puts these in a Google folder that’s linked to all my blogs)
- Social media of any kind (my VA fills Buffer for me and my clients and I follow back around to verify it)
- Lower-level translation writing work (I work with my husband to complete these jobs so he can put them in his portfolio and we keep the income in-house)
I fought my way through doing these tasks for clients and for myself because I was determined to save every penny. But what I didn’t realize was that the math and the stress worked against me.
DIY Math Is Bad Math and Leads to Inefficiency
Let’s say I try to keep my earnings for high-quality, niche marketing writing between $100 and $150 per hour (which I do). If I spent 4 hours doing all this stuff, that’s at least $400 of time I did not spend on client projects. And at the end of that work day, I am exhausted, stressed out, and not relishing the idea of working again tomorrow.
However, if I outsource this to my husband who is learning the marketing game or a virtual assistant for $8-35 per hour, I pay the cost of $24-120 to have it done… while I go and focus on making $400. This creates a much less painful earning of more than $300 and I get twice as much done doing work that energizes me.
(Of course, the trick here is making sure you work that time while your assistant is working… if you outsource things and don’t fill that time with work, you are simply paying out of your pocket).
Stress Math Is Bad Math, Too
Something magical happens with time when you spend it on things you hate doing to your core. It bends and crunches your effectiveness into oblivion.
So here’s the final part of the equation unrefined writers often don’t factor in: stress math is bad math, too. When you spend 4 hours doing things you hate, it feels like 10+ hours.
When you spend 4 hours doing things you hate, it feels like 10+ hours.
That’s about the transition rate for me and social media; every half hour feels like at least two, and it exhausts me mentally even when I’m done doing it.
When I write, however, time bends in a good way; I disappear into my timer and surface to find I’ve completed more work than I thought possible.
That’s called flow state, and stress scares it away.
Once Your Income Supports It, Delegate
I didn’t take this advice until year two of freelancing, and now I wonder if I should have started far earlier. The best thing you can do for your stress levels, your productivity, and yes, even the entrepreneurial economy, is to delegate work you don’t love to service providers and partners who do love it.
Part of the writer’s struggle against delegation is the desire to maintain ownership over your work and your process. But it’s important to understand that there’s a middle ground between delegating work you don’t like to do and scaling up to a writing agency where all you do is manage. Once you tap into outsourcing a few tasks, you are free to stop there. You can guard the work you love to do as closely as you want to. What matters is making more time for that work instead of spending that time on things you could outsource.