Why You Should Think Twice About Hiring a Virtual Assistant
“Are you starting an online business? Or eager to take your existing business to the next level? If so, you MUST hire a virtual assistant (VA).” Or, at least, that’s what we were told back when we first launched our company.
At the start of our entrepreneurial journey, we bought into the hype, hired out dozens of tasks, and assumed we were on the right track.
But recently, we’ve streamlined our team and taken over jobs that were once delegated to virtual assistants, team members, and agencies, and it has been THE VERY BEST decision we could have made for our business.
We call this process “insourcing,” and although we naively thought we’d coined the term, it turns out to be a well-studied business phenomenon. And one that’s gained some traction in big business over the past few years; In fact, back in 2012 the Obama administration held an insourcing forum to discuss policy changes that would encourage American corporations to keep valuable jobs on U.S. soil. Manufacturers and service firms have been bringing outsourced, overseas labor back home slowly but surely since about 2009, which is definitely good news for the local job market. But although economic experts laud this trend in the corporate world, few have recommended insourcing as a valuable technique for entrepreneurs and small businesses.
Of course, insourcing on a smaller scale is less about domestic versus international labor and more about determining if you should reclaim your Twitter feed from your VA. Still, we believe that insourcing can be utterly transformative for solopreneurs and entrepreneurs, especially in this outsourcing-obsessed business climate. Which is why we’re going to ask you to contemplate some serious nonconformism today, and contemplate taking back work that you once farmed out.
Cultivating digital artisanship
If you’ve spent any time online in the past few years—and, obviously, you have—you’ve likely noticed that the Internet is starting to feel mechanized. As you peruse clickbait headlines and keyword-packed blog posts, you start to feel manipulated. Knowing that a 45-minute free webinar will undoubtedly include a 15-minute pitch for services is frustrating, and a little exhausting. Reading social media updates that are clearly designed to game internal algorithms makes you feel cynical and weary. It’s ugly out there, and getting uglier by the second.
At this point, if you have any Internet presence at all, you’re running an Internet business. If you have an email mailing list, or market products via Facebook, or maintain a blog that uses affiliate links, you are, by definition, an online entrepreneur. There are tens of thousands of businesses out there hungry for advice, customers, and sticky, high-performing content. And other businesses are responding by churning out SEO-optimized drek that imparts only minimal knowledge. It’s been a free-for-all for decades running, but we’re hoping to spark the creation of some self-imposed standards and best-practices for Internet businesses. We want to begin a conversation about what the Internet can and should be moving forward.
Instead of adding more noise to the online clamor, we encourage members of the Namastream community to consider digital artisanship; the notion of cultivating your online life with the same care you use in your offline life. It’s a bit of a radical notion, but we believe it could catalyze a much-needed sea change.
How insourcing ties into digital artisanship
To stem the tide of content that feels scammy and spammy and manipulative, we need to step back and consider how that content is produced. In many cases, it feels insincere because it’s generated by a contractor who has only cursory knowledge of the core business, and relied on a rubric designed to generate page views. That’s no way to connect to people, or help them feel invested in your services. Removing yourself from the day-to-day doings of your business has its advantages, but one of the biggest disadvantages is that hollow, forced-feeling that your outsourced work takes on.
The current wisdom around online entrepreneurship focuses on delegating tasks to VAs and contractors so you, the business owner, have more energy for big-picture thinking. Every message we see leans on this idea, nudging us toward outsourcing and offloading work onto others. Even emerging entrepreneurs who don’t have a laundry list of tasks that can be assigned to a VA feel pressured to hire out because absolutely everyone is doing it. And talking about it. And giving tips on how to do it the right way. The outsourcing discussion is ubiquitous and unavoidable.
But no one is asking if this practice is truly necessary, or considering the value of handling most of your business tasks yourself. No one is reclaiming responsibilities from their contractors and owning them. No one is championing entrepreneurial insourcing. No one is shirking the idea that you’re only successful if you’re running a 12+ person team.
So we’re stepping up. In no small part because we now know from experience that insourcing work has many truly priceless advantages:
Restores control: When we had a fleet of contractors, our brand began to drift. It’s really hard to communicate your core values to someone you’ve never met in person who’s working remotely, and inevitably, they will put their own spin on your messaging. By insourcing, you regain control and start steering the ship again yourself.
Educates you: There’s nothing wrong with hiring an expert to handle specific, technical work. But if you’re paying someone to do something on behalf of your company, and you have absolutely no idea how to do it yourself, how can you be sure it has real value? Insourcing puts your finger back on the pulse of your business in a very real way.
Saves money: Naturally, doing more things yourself will save you money by reducing the operating expenses of your business.
And if you think you don’t have time to manage your own inbox and social media campaigns? Consider hiring out tasks that don’t need your personal touch: cleaning your house, buying your groceries, mowing your lawn, editing your videos, transcribing your vlog, etc. These are the kinds of impersonal elements of your life and your business that can be farmed out to people (or apps), freeing up your time to dig deeply back into your core business offerings.
Outsourcing essential business operations puts distance between you and your business, your brand, your values. Insourcing reconnects you with the core reasons you ventured into entrepreneurship in the first place. Your business needs YOUR essence infused into it, and that often means you need to run it in-house.
It’s time for new markers of success
We believe that the things you say and share and teach online should be imbued with intentionality. We believe that the Internet can be a beautiful and enlightening place. We believe you shouldn’t write a blog post just because it’s Wednesday; You should wait until you have something useful or meaningful to share. We believe that you should share imperfect photos, talk about your failures, and be spectacularly honest about your journey. We believe success should be measured, not by Facebook’s faux-engagement stats, but instead by the actual engagement, impact, and influence your content has on your audience.
And we’re not the only ones pushing these ideas forward; There are a handful of reputable, admirable entrepreneurs who have also embraced the concepts that fuel digital artisanship. (You can download a free copy of our Digital Artisan Manifesto here and listen to our podcast about this topic here.)
This is a groundswell that’s growing, and we’re thrilled to both observe and encourage it.
It’s time. It’s time to insource, to reconnect, to pour heart and craftsmanship and imperfection into our online content. It’s time for an online revolution.