Time and multitasking. Potentially a ball and chain to every entrepreneur. Just how many plates can you spin on sticks before they start to topple or you start to perform at less than your peak mental and physical level? Yet many entrepreneurs find delegating or outsourcing tasks difficult. We think nobody can do it as well as we can ourselves. And so more plates get balanced onto more sticks.

I normally work 10- or 12-hour days, starting at 5.30 a.m. Last year, I flew the fewest miles I’ve flown in the past 15 years… only 59,112. My wife is a busy veterinarian with a successful practice. And we have four – soon to be five – children, and a small farm begun with the dream of self-sufficiency. Life is never dull or boring.

With such a schedule, staying healthy is vital – and a big part of that is eating properly. But I realized last year that I was letting my healthy diet slip. One reason was that I had less time to cook (which I love doing). Instead, I was eating out more frequently. Not only is eating out more expensive, it’s nowhere near as good or as good for you as home-cooked food.

A friend mentioned that he’d hired a personal chef – at a rate of $75 an hour. He gets about five meals for $250 plus ingredients. I was intrigued by the idea. But before trying it myself, I wanted to make sure it made sense for our family.

So I sat down one Saturday afternoon and did some calculations. For me to prepare our family’s healthy meals, I figured it takes…

Shopping time: 20 minutes / day
Drive time: 15 minutes / day
Prep and cook: 60 minutes / day
Cleanup: 15 minutes / day

It all added up to over 12 hours a week. Even if my billing time was worth just $50 an hour, I was, in effect, spending $620 to prepare our meals! That’s 12 hours a week that I could be working… or spending time with my kids and wife. And more than $600 a week that I could be putting toward other things.

I was convinced that hiring a personal chef would be a smart decision – in terms of my time and money and my family’s health.

Privacy is important to us, so I knew I did not want to have a chef come into our home to do the cooking. I also knew the kind of food I wanted. Of all the places I’ve been and in all the diverse cultures where I’ve enjoyed food, from elaborate feasts to simple fare, Indian vegetarian is the cuisine that stands out for me. I not only love it, it makes me feel healthy when I eat it.

I had in mind exactly the person I was looking for. A maestro who knew this cuisine inside-out. Someone at least as enthusiastic about food and cooking as I am. Someone nearby who would do the cooking in his own space and be flexible about working with me to devise the menus.

I crafted a short ad.

Taking advantage of some of what I’ve learned over the years from friends who are copywriting greats – people like Michael Masterson, John Forde, Bob Bly, and Charlie Byrne – I made sure my ad was Urgent, Useful, Unique, and Ultra-specific (the “four U’s” of effective ad copy). I was quite pleased with it. But when my wife read it, she shook her head. “We’ll never find anyone like that,” she said. “It’s way too specific.” And with that compliment, I posted my ad on CraigsList.

Two weeks later, the first response came in. I gave it a 5 out of 10, sent a thank you to the applicant, and kept looking.

It took a full month before the 11-out-of-10 arrived. This man had worked for some years as an Indian vegetarian chef – including a stint at an ashram in India. His impressive resume noted a few well-known celebrity names, and his menus had me practically drooling.

I had him cook a sample meal that I picked up from his home. And the food was divine. Within minutes after we finished it, I called him to see if we could agree on an arrangement that would work for us both.

Here’s what we came up with: About every two weeks, we’d pick up a selection of food that we would label and freeze. And because we wanted him to be completely happy, I didn’t even try to negotiate his hourly rate. We agreed to pay what he asked, plus pay for provisions.

Since then, we’ve been spending a fraction of what we used to spend on food. We now eat out as a treat rather than a necessity, and our “personal chef’s” meals work out to less than $5 a meal… about a tenth of what my friend pays his personal chef.

If you want to outsource some aspect of your business or personal responsibilities, you can put the same principles to work. Here’s what I learned:

First and most important, remember that your time is valuable.

Trying to do everything yourself is the “curse of the entrepreneur”! Knowing when you need to delegate or outsource so you can do what you are truly best at is important if you’re going to grow your business… and grow yourself. Bob Bly has often said he never goes to the post office. If it takes him half an hour, that’s $100 out the door for him. Tim Ferriss, author of The 4-Hour Workweek, is another big proponent of getting rid of any task you can. Hire an assistant to do it for $10 while you make far more.

Call the shots.

You can negotiate a better deal when you are the one calling the shots – when people are, in essence, bidding for your business. By creating a job and posting an ad stating what I required, I was in a stronger position than if I had answered an ad from someone who provided the service I needed.

This applies to every job you need done in your business and your personal life. Gardener, masseuse, printer, Web developer, search engine specialist, copywriter, handyperson, painter, children’s entertainer, and so on.

Be specific about what you’re looking for.

If I’d advertised for a “cook,” I’d have had to sift through a myriad of wannabes. I would have probably had to eat my way through pounds of bland or inedible mush to find one chef I actually liked.

So take the time to determine exactly what you need, and be specific in your ad. In fact, be ULTRA-specific.

Create a win-win situation.

MaryEllen Tribby and Michael Masterson have both said it before – any deal you make should be a great deal for all parties.

What our chef wanted meshed well with our needs. Still, we wanted him to be as happy working for us as we expected to be with his services. So we made sure we had an arrangement that benefited both sides. It was a collaborative effort from the beginning, rather than “top down” instruction – and, as a result of that, we’ve never had any problems.

Run a test.

As I know from the many software projects I’ve been in charge of, a test can help prevent costly mistakes and keep you from winding up with software that doesn’t fit the bill. So before we agreed on a regular schedule, I asked our chef to prepare his “best” menu for us as a test. And I left the decision of what to make entirely up to him. I figured if he couldn’t deliver top-notch food when he was completely in charge of it, there was little chance he could do so when I was the one calling the shots.

[Ed. Note: Outsourcing your cooking, your website design, your product fulfillment, or anything else that isn’t worth your time is a great way to be more productive. Internet marketing expert David Cross will be sharing more of these practical tips and suggestions at ETR’s 5 Days in July conference. Learn how to start – and enjoy the fruits of – your own Internet business right here.]

Although David hails from Blackpool, England – which is often referred to as the “Las Vegas of England” – he shunned a career in show business and instead followed a meandering career path overflowing with “life’s great experiences,” working or living in over 20 countries along the way. Chef, teacher of Transcendental Meditation, guest presenter on QVC, earthquake relief volunteer, CEO of a web hosting company, marketer at a radio station and all combined with years of direct marketing, PR and sales experience for clients as diverse as health food stores, small charities and right up to multinational public companies.
David brought unique talent and experience to his role for six years as Senior Internet Consultant to Agora Publishing Group. Working closely with Agora’s publishers and marketers to test new ideas and marketing campaigns, Agora’s Internet revenues topped $200 million in 2007. David understands and can communicate fluently with creative “right-brain” marketers and analytical “left-brain” IT and software teams, all with equal ease. He has a proven track record for generating results and creative thinking and excels at making trouble to find new ways of making things happen!
He lives on a small farm close to Mount Hood in Oregon with his wife Cinda, a veterinarian, and their four children and a menagerie of animals (no more, please!). When not marketing or brainstorming you’ll find David following a dream of self-sufficiency for food, power and water within 10 years, tending the land and caring for the farm and animals. Not surprisingly, David is an engaging and knowledgeable speaker with many amusing anecdotes from his work and travels over the years.