Everyone is feeling the pinch. Even if you’re projecting more prosperous times, there remains a dilemma over how to sustain key operational and marketing activities when cash is tight. And if you have a virtual assistant or other contractor on the team, you’ve no doubt considered cutting them loose so you can breathe a little easier at month end.

This might seem like an obvious way to lighten your budgetary load, but what of those prosperous times you’re planning for? If you permit the fundamentals to deteriorate (marketing, operations, customer care, etc.), what will be left when opportunity comes knocking (and it will come knocking again)? Will you be ready? Will you be sane?

Keeping yourself surrounded with good talent is critical. However, to afford it during a cash crunch, small business entrepreneurs must start to think outside the box when it comes to managing their people. Here are 5 ways to get more bang for your outsourcing buck:

  1. Barter for services. Chances are you’ve got a product or service up your sleeve that you could provide to a virtual assistant, web developer, writer, consultant or coach who has a skill you want access to. Give some of what you have in exchange for an equal dollar value in hours. Be clear upfront about what is to be exchanged as well as time lines for product delivery or service completion. This will protect the working relationship from going sour due to misunderstandings or false expectations.
  2. Move from an a la carte arrangement to a retainer. While the upfront cash outlay might be intimidating, there are many advantages to using retainers. Most virtual assistants will discount your hourly rate in exchange for the security of being paid in advance. Moreover, you can rest easy knowing that your VA has slotted those hours for you exclusively.
  3. Stop thinking on a monthly schedule. Most retainers for administrative services, including virtual assistance, are committed to on a monthly basis. While this can work well for staying on top of recurring tasks, some activities happen in fits and spurts throughout the year. For example, purchasing a specialist’s expertise in 5- or 10-hour blocks of time upfront without the obligation to use that time by month end could help you get that pet project off the ground even before you’ve fully defined its scope.
  4. Only hire proven talent. This might seem obvious, but if you’re going to invest cash, time and energy into a new team member–even if that team member will only be with you for a the short term–do your homework. Get referrals from others in your industry, check out portfolios and past clients, and always make sure to get the final agreement in writing. A contractor or VA who doesn’t make you feel comfortable with your decision might end up costing your business rather than helping it succeed through tough times.
  5. Be able to articulate your needs upfront. Ask yourself why you’re looking for outside help in the first place. Yes, outsourcing is often more affordable–and profitable–versus hiring more staff. But what do you want exactly for your money? You must be able to explain this to whomever you bring into the fold. Otherwise, you’ll both be flying blind and things will end badly. Not to mention how wasted time, effort and dollars will impact your bottom line, leaving you in an even weaker position to go shopping for help again.

In a recession it’s tempting to focus only on cost cutting. After all, no cash means no business to run. But a cautionary outlook must be balanced by a proactive view to the future. Think strategically about the talent you pay for and know that you will reap dividends long after this recession ends.

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