Biutou Doumbia lives in a tiny village in Mali, in western Africa. She and her family live in poverty, very close to the line between survival and, well, you know.
Oh, one more thing: Biutou is a small business owner. She makes and sells peanut butter.
In Mali, as reported in a Wall Street Journal article, peanut butter is made the same way African women have made other staples for millennia: by grinding the seeds on a rock with a wooden pestle.
You might say Biutou’s operation is vertically integrated: She grows the peanuts, then manufactures, sells and distributes her product.
Over two centuries ago, in The Wealth of Nations, Adam Smith explained how markets are made by the division of labor. And free markets created capitalism, which Ayn Rand called, “the only system geared to the life of a rational being.”
Biutou doesn’t know Smith or Rand from a warthog – she’s illiterate. But she is one of Rand’s rational beings. And as such, she recognized the division-of-labor efficiencies offered by a diesel-powered grinder/blender when it became available. Now for 25¢ and a 10-minute wait, the sack of peanuts Biutou carries to the central grinding location turn into better peanut butter than she could make pounding all day with a pestle.
So Biutou now practices outsourcing, a division of labor process which is the employment of contractors to create efficiencies. Outsourcing is a valid business strategy, as is its opposite – you guessed it – insourcing, the process of removing vendor layers, usually to get closer to customers.
These two strategies are as different as chocolate and vanilla; but, like ice cream, choosing one doesn’t mean the other is wrong, just different. When Biutou practiced insourcing she didn’t have a choice. You have many choices; but are you choosing wisely?
One of the things every 21st century small business must do is focus on core competencies: what you do that makes your business valuable to customers. Everything else, theoretically, can be performed by a specialist in your non-core activity.
Take a look at your own operation to see if – like Biutou – you can find efficiencies and recover time through outsourcing. Ask yourself and your staff Blasingame’s Outsourcing Power Question: Must this task be done in-house? The answer will come from these three questions:
• How much control do we lose, and can we live with it?
• What impact will our decision have on customers?
• How much of not using outsourcing is about ego?
Remember, any decision to employ outsourcing – or not – should be driven by the desire to seek efficiencies and improve customer service.
Write this on a rock … Blasingame’s Outsourcing Power Question: Must this task be done in-house?