Shared services?

We’re currently a 3-person software development cooperative. As well as client & internal software development work, we all do our share of a bunch of other tasks, e.g. book-keeping, payroll, VAT returns, event organisation, writing blog posts, handling common types of incoming email, etc.

We have a pretty good system for sharing out this work and avoiding silos of knowledge, e.g. we use Harmonia to schedule and randomly assign tasks and we write detailed instructions for recurring tasks on an internal Github wiki.

We value how this jack-of-all-trades approach keeps us closely in touch with the state of our business, but some of the work is so far outside our skill-set that at times it can feel very inefficient.

For a while now, we’ve been wondering whether it would be sensible/feasible to hire someone part-time to take on some of this work, but we don’t really know where to start. Can anyone give us any pointers?

Would anyone be interested in any of this kind of work, or do you know someone who would? Do any of the coops in the network already employ someone to do this kind of work who might have spare capacity?

I think this all relates to the shared services in Harry’s Megazord Strawman diagram.

Enspiral has been experimenting with something similar to the Megazord model. We have these things called pods (small companies, some of which are also socialist states).

Some of them are services:

  • EXP - event desgin + delivery, hosted workshops
  • Protozoa - programming + education
  • Root Systems - programming + product dev
  • Golden Pandas - product dev + workshops

Some are ops or services that other pods (and larger companies) consume:

  • Enspiral Accounting - …
  • Enspiral Ops - do all sorts of coordination and paperwork (have recently incorporated and may have taken a new name)
  • Golden Pandas - sales

There’s a lot of learning still, but the model has promise. If you’re interested in talking with Ops, I’m sure they’d be happy to meet you. They’re values aligned and know a bunch of the culture of startups, social enterprise, sharing economies and coops. I think finding people who are familiar with the culture and are open to exploring new ways of working is something to watch for.

Thanks. That’s all useful and interesting to know.

Hey James

Do you have indication of how much time you need/day rates that you’ll be paying? People get in touch with us sporadically, so I could bear you in mind and forward your details if anyone this shape contacts us.

Most of us don’t have specific roles at Outlandish (although obviously devs build and designers design) and that means quite a few of us have a lot of oversight of comms, business development, Outlandish investment (previously social value) attending events to spread the word about Outlandish and CoTech. Three of us have ownership of the finances at the moment - none of us are accountants so we get help from a consultant at the moment, although I don’t think that will be the case forever.

In my case, when I started at Outlandish, the message was very much if I was interested in something and willing to put in the time, I could get paid for it. It’s important that I’ve been given the space to understand what I like/am good at/learn.

We don’t have capacity to help you at the moment, but I hope you find someone soon! I understand what you mean, and interestingly I the fourth person that joined Outlandish back in the day was a PM/finance person/lots of other stuff. It sounds like you might be at that stage.

Hi Kayleigh,

Thanks for your reply. It’s really helpful to hear about your and Outlandish’s experience - you’ve definitely given us some food for thought. This is something we’re only just starting to think about, so any advice is very welcome.

Have Outlandish ever used external companies or freelancers for any of this kind of work, or have you always tried to do it in-house?

Ideally I think we’d like to start with a freelancer just doing a few things on a trial basis and gradually ramping up if things work out. But maybe that’s not very appealing from the other side. Perhaps that’s why we’d be better off bringing a new member on board with more of the skills we’re looking for.

We’d want to pay a fair and sustainable rate and I think we’d be happy to guarantee a minimum amount of work per week/month.

Cheers, James.

Hey James

When we legally transitioned from the LLP to co-op, we had to get an external finance consultant in because it was way above any of our heads. He comes in once or twice per month and showed us how to do month end and our end of year accounts (as mentioned previously, we used to do this alone, but Outlandish is a much bigger beast now so we need guidance).

I think a freelancer role would work, you could keep an eye out for a junior dev with the admin skills that you need which would encourage him or her to stick around a bit longer with the added incentive of learning more about development in the long term. But that’s just an idea. It’s worth mentioning that I’m a freelancer and none of us have a job here, our hours are determined by work packages…it’s just that there’s so much to do, most of us work full time.

Hope this has been helpful, let me know if anything is unclear.

Kayleigh: That’s all really useful. Thank you!