Small businesses don't usually waste time doing their own accountancy, and other time-consuming tasks can be outsourced as well. Photograph: Alamy
Administrative tasks can be time consuming – especially if you aren't an expert – and while they're all essential, they can stand in the way of running your business. While turning to specialists is one solution, we have made full use of new software and technology that allows businesses to free themselves from the mercy of expensive consultants.
Every business needs to undertake ongoing tasks such as accounting, web development, customer service. As a small business owner you could probably learn how to do all of these yourself, given enough time, but while this might lead to a few small savings, it isn't going to lead to business growth. The Unix philosophy – "do one thing and do it well" – is a way of working we have believed in right from the start. Most business owners aren't accountants-slash-web developers-slash-IT professionals and we'd probably want to keep it that way.
Take accounting for example. Traditional accounting software is complex and hugely time consuming. We have found modern hosted accounting packages that allow easy entry of invoices, and allow a remote accountant to check over the accounts and make corrections. Since both business owner and accountant can use the package in real time, there's no need to keep sending files back and forth and no need to employ an accountant full time.
Customer service can be another very time-consuming business task, and one that you cannot afford to overlook. Internet-based phone and computer systems now mean it's entirely possible to outsource even a very small customer service requirement to a virtual assistant. These smaller telephone services will get to know your business and culture so any customer will feel they have had direct contact with a competent member of the businesses team without a call centre in sight.
Another way we have found to gain positive customer contact time and come across professionally is to use live chat on your website to offer support. If you are not confident in adding live chat to your site or cannot because you sell on a marketplace such as eBay, you can always use social networking sites such as Twitter. Even large companies are increasingly using social media very effectively to deal with service issues and questions from customers. Most of these services cost nothing and can hugely reduce the number of phone calls to the office.
We have taken advantage of the benefits of cloud computing from the start. If you are not an IT professional and expert in maintaining servers and backing up data, you really should not be attempting to do it. By using cloud services, even in a disaster all your information will be safe and secure. You do not need to employ IT staff to maintain your local network and back up your data. It is also more cost-effective to store your data in the cloud – providers have their own staff to ensure everything runs smoothly.
Internet telephones, Google hangouts and email ensures you can manufacture products anywhere in the world without ever have to go there. We often take advantage of the worldwide market to gain the most competitive pricing. It is perfectly feasible to outsource marketing, branding and design – it can be to anywhere in the world. We are currently setting up a new client who is based in Denmark, with web developers in India, storing products for worldwide distribution in the UK. Technology ensures location is not a barrier to getting the best service at the best price.
For certain tasks you don't even need a workforce. It is possible to outsource work to online services such as Amazon Mechanical Turk,through which human intelligence tasks can be completed for you for a small cost and you will never even see the people doing them. They can be based anywhere in the world, and if you are worried that they may not perform the task, you can set qualification requirements and even a test.
Embracing the opportunities technology-based outsourcing provides allows us time to focus on the most important tasks within our business. It does take time and there are costs associated with this, however the result is a solid, scalable base to support continued growth. We don't do anything at which we are not experts.
So you may be wondering what it is that we soulless outsourcers actually do? Why do we advocate pushing so many aspects of your business to third parties? At James and James we offer technology-based outsourcing of storage, picking, packing and dispatching of online orders for ecommerce sellers. That's our area of expertise. While few business would claim to be expert in logistics, many continue to handle inventory themselves and some even aspire to owning a huge warehouse in the future, yet none would train as an accountant to do their own books.
We outsource to specialists while also being the fulfilment specialist for our clients – never a jack of all trades, but supplier and consumer in a network of connected masters.