You’ve heard the phrase before: Work smarter, not harder. In the self-storage industry, this approach could include outsourcing. If you aren’t farming out any of your operational tasks, you might be working harder than you should.
Outsourcing can mean a lot of things. You can hand off a single task, or hire out an entire set of responsibilities to a local, national or global provider. Available services include site maintenance, such as landscaping or paving; administration, including staff hiring and training; and creative solutions, like marketing. According to a 2018 survey of company executives conducted by Deloitte, outsourcing is increasingly becoming “the new normal.” It’s seen as a way for businesses to gain a competitive advantage and streamline operation.
Consider your life as a self-storage operator and identify the tasks that monopolize your focus, energy and time. What bigger-picture goals could you better accomplish if you outsourced some responsibilities?
Outsourcing can do a lot more than just free up time, though that’s certainly one of the most attractive benefits. It can also reduce overhead costs. When you outsource, you don’t have to hire employees for part-time or seasonal tasks. It can also eliminate the need to purchase equipment, as vendors will generally provide their own tools.
Another benefit is access to experts in niche fields. Outsourcing allows you to draw from a larger pool of talent than you might find within the self-storage community.
The greatest advantage, however, is outsourcing allows you to focus on the heart of your business without getting caught up in minutiae. When you farm out tasks, you maintain control of your facility, and you’re able to bring all your energy to your primary goals every day.
Consider this scenario: Pete is a self-storage operator who wants to get better at responding to messages from potential customers on social media platforms. The problem is, he’s so busy renting units and maintaining the property that by the time he gets around to this task, his prospects have already rented elsewhere. Worse, they’ve left negative reviews on Google about his slow response time.
What if Pete outsourced some responsibilities? He could hire a maintenance crew, which would free him up to focus on marketing. Or, he could seek the assistance of a social media support team or reputation-management company to respond to online messages and reviews.
There are many services you can outsource in self-storage. Whatever you need help with, there’s probably a company that can manage it for you. Common functions to consider include human resources, accounting, marketing, Web design, maintenance, customer support and others. Let’s look at a few of those.
What does it mean to outsource human resources (HR) in self-storage? Typically, it means partnering with a professional employer organization (PEO). If you find yourself spending an inordinate amount of time handling payroll, answering questions about health insurance and performing other administrative tasks, you could probably benefit from a PEO.
In addition to handling organizational functions, a PEO provides staff training on topics such as safety and sexual harassment and offers legal advice on HR-related issues. Partnering with a PEO can even get you access to better insurance options. It’s a great resource to have when employees have questions about benefits, tax forms and other issues. You maintain control over day-to-day operation, but the PEO handles the behind-the-scenes stuff.
The marketing landscape is constantly changing. Keeping up with trends including search engine optimization (SEO), pay-per-click, content marketing, social media, branding and others can be a full-time job.
Outsourcing allows you to gain insight from marketing experts and firms dedicated to studying analytics. Even if they aren’t physically in your market, they have data that allows them to understand it in ways you can’t. They invest in technology to automate tasks like social media and e-mail. They can build content strategies and campaigns that appeal to your audience. Outsourcing can improve your online search ranking and bring you more customers.
Performing site maintenance on your own can be risky. For example, an inexperienced employee tasked with fixing a broken gate could damage it further, or worse, get hurt in the process. Outsourcing allows staff to focus on customers. It also helps boost curb appeal.
You can hire vendors to handle many things, such as painting, paving, landscaping, HVAC repairs and snow removal. Investing in quality contractors creates the kind of place where customers want to store and employees want to work. Always hire companies that are insured, and look for seasonal contractors several months before you need them.
Using a modern call center with self-storage expertise can help you capture leads during non-business hours, answer rollover calls that occur when employees are busy, and even offer other forms of customer acquisition you might not have at your disposal. This includes social media support and integrated text messaging that follows up with tenants who are late on rent. Outsourcing can help you rent units when your office is closed and even allow you to reduce office hours.
Your business’ online reputation is everything. Customers—especially that elusive Millennial market—increasingly make buying decisions based on reviews. If you don’t have the time to respond to every online review, increase positive reviews and push glowing reviews to your social media platforms, a reputation-management company can help.
These firms can ensure your business information is correct and up-to -date on Google. They also respond to reviews in a way that’s consistent and reflective of your brand’s voice and get you more reviews through text message and e-mail campaigns. They can especially be an asset if you’re dealing with a tricky situation, such as a string of fake reviews that are decreasing your overall rating.
Vetting Providers, Negotiating Contracts
Once you’ve identified the services you’d like to outsource, it’s time to go shopping. For some vendors, such as landscapers, look locally. Browse online reviews and ask other business owners in the community for their recommendations and insight.
For other providers, such as digital-marketing specialists, you have a national or even global pool from which to draw. Again, look at reviews and testimonials and narrow your search to a few options. When vetting each company, make sure it understands the self-storage industry. Have questions ready to confirm it does. Ask to see a list of services offered. Inquire about who the point of contact will be, and when and how you can reach them.
Once you’ve chosen a company, understand the terms of the contract. Is this a blanket contract it offers to all businesses or is there room for customization? Is it project-specific or will services be ongoing? When negotiating, be up front about your budget as well as your brand and goals. Remember, an outside provider may be handling some of your responsibilities, but ultimately, you’re in control.
Whether you’re a small self-storage operator who hopes to grow or a larger one in command of many facilities, outsourcing can benefit you. Just don’t offload all your tasks at once. Take it slow. Farm out something you need help with and then pause to evaluate where else you could use a fresh perspective. Outsourcing may require you to deal with individuals who aren’t in the same time zone or who use different methods of communication, so be willing to make some accommodations.
Also, outsourcing doesn’t diminish the importance of facility employees. Loyal staff should be reminded that they’re valued, and outsourcing certain tasks is designed to empower them to focus on the roles for which they were hired.
If you’re growing and always busy, outsourcing can seem like a great advantage; but if you’re comfortable where you are and on top of industry trends, it can feel like too many cooks in the kitchen. Know what’s best for the needs of your self-storage operation and management style, and then focus on making your business even better.
Krista Diamond is a staff writer for StorageFront, which allows customers to custom search and compare thousands of self-storage facilities. She’s a graduate of the University of New Hampshire and lives in Las Vegas. When she isn't writing about storage, she’s climbing mountains in the desert. For more information, visit www.storagefront.com.