When you consider ways to get your self-storage operation to peak performance, the old saying is true: Time is money. A common pain point for facility operators is deciding how to spend limited time and resources, especially when you’re being pulled in multiple directions. As your business grows, you may find yourself taking on more roles and responsibilities: sales, marketing, staffing, accounting and maintenance, for example.
When you reach the point that you know you need help, you can either hire more employees, or you can outsource some services to outside vendors. The latter could be the key to success.
The first question to answer is whether outsourcing can be beneficial to you and your self-storage business. If yes, would it be better to hire a third-party management company to take over the entire operation or just farm out certain aspects? Only you can determine what’s best for your company. I’ve worked with many owners who knew they needed to outsource some things but found it very difficult to give up control.
Where do you start? First, measure every business process you’re thinking about outsourcing against this set of questions:
- Is the task outside your team’s principal capabilities?
- Does it require significant creativity, experience or expertise?
- Does it require a license or regulatory compliance?
- Is it a task you dread doing?
- Could outsourcing save considerable time or money?
If your answer is to any of these is “yes,” outsourcing may be the way to go. You’ll be able to remove items from the daily management of your self-storage facility so you and your team can focus more energy and hours on your core business: renting units and increasing revenue.
Cost vs. Time
When deciding whether to outsource, you need to perform a cost vs. time analysis. You may technically be able to handle certain tasks in-house, but it’ll take away from your ability to focus on other strategies and goals. If you hire a contractor, you can redirect employee hours to something more productive. One of the most common examples I see is self-storage staff being pulled outside the office for cleaning and maintenance rather than answering the phone and working leads.
My advice to decision-makers who are considering whether to outsource is to ask yourself three critical questions:
- Do these business functions differentiate us or give us a competitive advantage in the market?
- How important is it to mitigate the risk if it isn’t done correctly or in a timely fashion?
- Does the cost of managing this task internally exceed the value it brings to the organization?
Every self-storage owner must manage risk to drive their business forward. Some hazards are easily identified, while others are more subtle. Outsourcing can help you better manage and mitigate risk in areas in which your operation may not be very sophisticated. The key is to identify your current levels of effectiveness and get help for those initiatives and activities that’ll have the quickest and most significant impact on your organization.
What to Outsource
When deciding what work to outsource, determine where your self-storage team lacks expertise. Facility operators can be tempted to do everything themselves to maintain control and save money. But if you aren’t familiar with a particular task, you can waste time trying to master it, and your efforts may be ineffective. One of the best things I ever did for my self-storage company was outsource our marketing rather than try to do it in-house to “save” money.
Of course, there’s always the option to train your team or hire a new employee to do a specific job. However, educating your staff for a one-time project doesn’t make sense. Likewise, it doesn’t merit hiring a full-time employee. In this case, it’s best to outsource.
Some areas in which self-storage businesses can greatly benefit from outsourcing are staff screening and hiring, annual facility audits, marketing, and site maintenance. You might hire someone to review your financials and management reports to find exceptions and improve revenue growth. Perhaps your company is too small or busy to build and implement it’s own staff-training program, and you can save money by hiring a professional. Payroll is good place to start, as there are many potential labor issues of which you should be aware. Handing this task off to experts can decrease costs and increase compliance.
Cutting labor and operational costs is one of the top reasons why companies outsource. For instance, by hiring outside support for accounting and taxes, you can eliminate the need to hire a chief operating officer. That capital can be channeled elsewhere within the business. So, look at your self-storage staff and think about their strengths and weaknesses. Use that information to put employees where they’re the most productive, then outsource the work that needs a boost. The team can also help you determine where you need help.
Outsourcing is a game of give and take. Where do you want to invest time and money in your self-storage operation? The cost of one investment takes away from another, so view your business activities from three perspectives: Is there a competitive advantage? Will it help us mitigate risk? Does the cost of managing it ourselves exceed the value it brings? The ultimate goal is to find the assistance that enables you to do the best within your core competencies.
Susan Haviland is the owner of Haviland Storage Services, which specializes in self-storage auditing, manager training, market studies and operational reviews. She has more than 32 years of industry experience, from serving as a site manager to acting as vice president of operations at Extra Space Storage Inc. and Price Self Storage. She's a frequent speaker at industry conferences and tradeshows. For more information, call 760.401.0297.