Ethical outsourcing for ethical brands part 1: technical wizardry, admin-busters & logistics marvels
It’s a cliché alright, but when you start a business from scratch, you inevitably wear many hats. And not just the hat you set out to wear – that of a craftsperson, a social entrepreneur, or a marketer. On top of that, you also get the accountant’s fez and the admin assistant’s fedora added to the mix.
Often, you just don’t have the resources to outsource your accounts, your social media, or your web design. Even if you would rather sit in a bath of hot treacle. And you struggle through it. I know I do – on my outsourcing list is web design (if you hadn’t already guessed) and transcreation into Italian.
While the Italian transcreation is something I will not touch (I explain why here), I have continued to struggle with my website. And I imagine I will still struggle with it until:
1. I have the funds to get someone to do a proper job; or
2. I get to a point where not outsourcing it will start to hold my business back.
Often, brands and businesses need to grow quicker than that. There are targets to be met and orders to be fulfilled. You just don’t have time to learn about features and benefits and the principles of SEO. Let alone fiddle about with social media, or learn to write like a native English speaker (a lifetime then).
This is when it’s time to outsource. Outsourcing means you can spend more time doing what you do best, rather than getting distracted by the nitty-gritty.
What are the advantages of working with an ‘ethical’ professional services provider?
Ethical brands spend a lot of time ensuring their supply chains are ethical, that the materials used are sustainable, the packaging is minimal or biodegradable, and that everyone involved is paid a fair wage. But why stop at the products themselves?
Secondly, professional business services do not come cheap. It can be easy to see the pricelists and wonder if someone is pulling the wool over your eyes. So, understanding the value that they provide and working with someone with similar values can alleviate this worry.
There are a number of other reasons why ethical outsourcing might be the best option for ethical brands:
- Ethical pledges and promises. Look for these on their websites or ask them about it. For example, The Ethical Move encourages businesses to move away from misleading charm prices (e.g. £297 instead of £300).
- Self-identified ethical business providers are usually committed to really understanding the ethical/ sustainable marketplace, from unique challenges to types of target customers. A generalist may not quite ‘get’ the ethical aspects of your brand and this is fertile ground for misunderstanding and poor targeting.
- Often, professionals in this field will ensure that their own supply chains are sustainable or ethical, working with other ethical professional services providers, and using green energy, webhosting, or materials. I recently explored this in a blogpost about my quest to make my freelance business more zero waste.
That’s why I’ve decided to put together this post with some recommendations on professional services that might help relieve some of the stress of trying to do everything yourself.
A little note on ‘ethical’
I’m not going to go into trying to define the word ‘ethical’ here. Of course, most brands, when asked, would claim that ethics is a key concern. And ‘ethical’ means different things to different people.
My use of the word here echoes the use of those who self-identify as ethical brands – they tend to be concerned about sustainability, fair pay and equality, and treating the world better than we have done over the past decades.
I also want to give a shout out to The Ethical Hour, run by the talented Sian Conway, a hub for all brands who identify in this way and are trying to make the world a better place through their businesses. Many of the businesses and freelancers mentioned here are active members of this community and this is how I stumbled across them. There will be more about this in part 2.
Finally, a quick note to let you know there is no ulterior motive to me listing the above businesses – we’re not link-exchanging and I’m not being paid. The recommendations come from genuine conversations and interactions I have had with business owners, as well as following them in the social media space.
So, what ethical outsourcing options are there for ethical brands?
Virtual Assistant Services
Why outsource your admin?
What can a virtual assistant help you with? Well, pretty much everything that you probably struggle to keep up with, from email management, to travel arrangements, to managing expenses, to WordPress updates. All these little tasks may seem so simple and quick to do, but they soon add up. They take you away from your core business and add to your stress.
Virtual assistants do everything virtually, so you just need to brief them and they’ll do the work for you. It’s much cheaper and easier than employing someone to take care of your admin.
Why should ethical brands consider outsourcing to an ethical virtual assistant?
Working with a VA specifically geared towards sustainable or ethical businesses means working with someone who understands your particular pain points and can deliver accordingly.
For example, Annie Moon of Be The Change virtual assistant service helps CSR professionals communicate the importance of their work to the rest of their business, something which can often prove tricky. Other areas she can help with include managing sponsorships and volunteer days. Annie is also part of the Change Maker Virtual Assistant collective of 28 assistants. This means that clients have access to VAs specialised in a variety of niches, and can be matched with the best-qualified VA for their needs.
Why outsource your printing?
I think this is quite clear to anyone who’s tried and failed to print professional-looking materials on their home office printer!
Why should ethical brands consider outsourcing to an ethical printer?
As an ethical business, as much as we try to limit the impact on trees, we do still often need to get something printed. This could be marketing materials or an integral part of your product such as instructions.
Vegan Print prints items such as leaflets, business cards, and magazines using vegetable inks and paper stock from sustainable sources. Another interesting point is that they limit their own carbon footprint by using their existing infrastructure to provide the service.
Web Design & Maintenance
Why outsource your web design?
Ok, so there’s a bit of a crossover between branding and web design, with many professionals in this area offering both (more about this in part 2).
I felt this was worthy of its own section because it also crosses over into web maintenance, another source of headaches from entrepreneurs. If you don’t have a head for html or solving those little glitches in your website, a web designer can be a saviour.
Why should ethical brands consider outsourcing to an ethical web designer?
It goes back to what I mentioned before: working with a designer who is active in the ethical and sustainable sphere means it will be quicker and easier for them to ‘get you’.
Pixelshrink is one of these, working with SMEs, green businesses, and not-for-profits. For instance, they have worked with some cutting-edge community energy projects. As well as the design side of things, Gary also helps business owners keep the technical aspect of their sites up-to-date and carries out maintenance.
Another business working in this space is Creativity & Code, recently set up by Sushin Kelly. Sushin started his own company to allow him to have more control over the clients he took on, so he could work with those with more like-minded views and ethics. An added bonus? Check out Sushin’s delivery service Pack Your Own, designed to reduce single use plastic and food miles in the Birmingham area.
Do you know any other good outsourcing options for ethical brands? Let me know in the comments below! I was also looking for accountants, legal advisers and tax advisers, but haven’t been able to find any so far. So again, if you have a business to recommend, please let everyone know.