This is a chapter from the book Starting & Sustaining which is a system to help you build and launch a web app with less pain and fewer mistakes. The entire book is free to read on the web.

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Outsource your weaknesses

When you’re starting out, you have more work than you can handle, but you don’t have the resources to hire full-time team members. So you inevitably need to outsource some work. Outsourcing is difficult, especially in the beginning. At first, outsourcing will slow you down, but in the long run it’s critical.

Outsourcing is about focus. You need to focus on the work you’re good at and hire experts for the work you’re not as capable of. It’s impossible to be good at everything. Focus on the things your business needs you to do. Chances are that bookkeeping and accounting aren’t a great use of your time.

With Sifter, I leaned on a system administrator to set up and manage our production and staging environments. He helped set up everything, and ensured all of the systems were patched whenever a new vulnerability was discovered. I also outsourced our logo design, and even the design of our marketing site once we could afford it.

When you hire someone to help, you’re doing two things. First, you’re saving time and freeing yourself to apply your skills where they’ll have the biggest impact. Second, you’re hiring someone to do it better and faster than you could. At first, you likely won’t save time, and it’s incredibly tempting to give up on outsourcing before you really get started. You have to give it some time, though. However, if you’re not saving time, and a given freelancer isn’t doing a better job than you would, you need to keep looking.

The most difficult part is finding someone reliable. When you pay for a handful of hours per month of someone’s time, you’re only periodically going to be their highest priority. But there are great people who will do great work. You just have to find them. It’s difficult, but don’t give up. Keep going until you find someone great.

Much of outsourcing is about finding the right people at the right time. To do that, build your network long before you need it. Met a designer you’d love to work with someday? Talk to them about it. Stay in touch. Not everyone will be available when you need the help. And not everyone will be a good fit for what you’re looking for or how you work, but that’s all right. With a network, you’ll be much more likely to find people you want to work with and who want to work with you.

The second most difficult part is delegation. Not investing the time getting a freelancer up to speed can torpedo a relationship before it’s begun. Recognize that you have as much responsibility to support their work as they have to actually perform the work. You can’t just cut a check and expect them to read your mind. Document your expectations and communicate effectively, and you’ll be on your way.

When should you outsource? As soon as you can afford to. There’s a balance, of course, but the best way is to dabble a bit yourself so you gain a fundamental understanding, and then hire a professional as soon as things get serious. As the old saying goes, if you think hiring a professional is expensive, you should try hiring an amateur–or doing it yourself.

That said, here are two final pieces of advice. First, take care of paperwork and intellectual property. It’s incredibly unlikely that it will matter, but in the event you sell the company, many buyers will want clear documentation that all of the freelancers you hired assigned the resulting intellectual property to your company. So have good freelancer contracts, and use them with every freelancer.

Finally, don’t outsource your core competencies. For instance, if you’re starting a search engine, your search algorithms are everything. Don’t build that skill outside of your company. Grow your skills and invest internally. It might be slower, but that’s the key knowledge that makes your business what it is.

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