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Finding balance: Outsourcing with David Whittaker of Manly Spirits Co.

Smarter Writer
Smarter Team

A team of business and technology journalists and editors who write to help Australia’s community of small and medium businesses access the technology and know-how that helps solve problems and create opportunities.

Smarter Writer
Smarter Team

A team of business and technology journalists and editors who write to help Australia’s community of small and medium businesses access the technology and know-how that helps solve problems and create opportunities.

Running a small business can be rewarding but with so many tasks vying for your attention, it can be difficult to find the time to focus on what’s really important: producing a product or service that you’re proud of. Not to mention regaining a little work-life balance. As the co-founder, director and distiller of artisanal beverage-maker Manly Spirits Co., David Whittaker understands these problems well. Here, the 2018 Telstra Business Awards winner speaks with us about the benefits of outsourcing, and how delegating to the experts lets him concentrate on the big picture, not the small one.

Manly Spirits Co. at the 2018 Telstra Business Awards
David Whittaker and the Manly Spirits Co. team at the 2018 Telstra Business Awards.

Smarter Business: Why did you decide to outsource some of the tasks of running your business?

David Whittaker: My co-founder Vanessa Wilton and I started Manly Spirits Co. because we wanted to do something for ourselves and create a company we could be passionate about. But as the business evolved from an idea into a reality, a lot of questions cropped up: How do we do our HR? How do we do our IT? How do we do our inventory and customer relationship management?

We’re passionate about craft spirits. But when you’re a small business, most of your time is taken up with all the little practical things that make that business operational. In reality, I’d say running a business is about 5 per cent glory, 95 per cent hard work. You have to systematise things to grow, so we decided to start outsourcing some of those more basic tasks, to give us more time to focus on the important things.

Smarter Business: How did you choose which tasks to outsource and which ones to keep doing yourself?

David Whittaker: We found it made sense to outsource generic skills like book-keeping, accounting and payroll rather than bespoke ones specific to craft spirits. And that principle is probably true no matter what business you’re in.

Outsourcing those general tasks has worked really well for us, as it’s removed a lot of the mechanistic, day-to-day grind and let us focus on running the business. That said, I’d recommend businesses outsource just one task at a time, rather than doing everything all at once. That way you can monitor how things are going and get the processes working right.

“Outsourcing general tasks has removed a lot of the mechanistic, day-to-day grind and let us focus on running the business.”

- David Whittaker, co-founder, director and distiller, Manly Spirits Co.

Smarter Business: Have your outsourcing needs changed over time?

David Whittaker: Absolutely. For the first two years I did all the book-keeping myself, because it was useful to keep a tight control on cashflow early on. But then once we got to a certain stage, we outsourced that, too.

Then there are things you might want to outsource for a time and bring back in-house later. We’ve just started doing our own social media, but outsourcing that in the beginning was a great way to get things going. We just didn’t have the time to do it properly back then, and it was a lot cheaper to outsource than to dedicate a whole staff member to it.

There are also tasks you might want to split between outsourcing and insourcing. For instance, Vanessa designed our website in-house, but we’ve outsourced tricky technical things like ticketing and vouchers to web developers when needed.

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Smarter Business: How easy is it to start outsourcing and see results?

David Whittaker: There’s a fair bit of work you have to do to set things up properly, but if you’re conscious of that and are willing to put in the resources, outsourcing can ultimately be a huge time-saver.

The reason it can take a bit of work to set up is because you’ll want to establish a process for monitoring the efficacy of anything you outsource. And efficacy may change over time. For instance, in a few years, we might be steadier on our feet and not need to outsource something we’re currently paying someone else to do. You also have to monitor for quality, to ensure things are being done at the right level, and set up feedback processes.

Smarter Business: What advice would you give other small business owners about improving their workflow management, growing their organisational skills or regaining a little work-life balance?

David Whittaker: As a small business owner, it’s really easy to become the operational linchpin – if you’re not there, nothing works. That’s dangerous. The ultimate thing you can do is to outsource yourself. Find people who can do the mechanistic stuff so you can focus on business development. If you don’t spread some of that responsibility, you can’t grow. And if you’re just doing stuff to make things work, you’re not thinking strategically. 

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