One of the most difficult, but most attractive prospects for outsourcing are those of the small business owner. If you, or someone you know, owns a business with less than 50 employees … particularly those with way fewer … this article about Outsourcing for Small Business Owners is written with you (or that person you know) in mind.
The biggest factor in outsourcing (or even just hiring a Virtual Assistant or VA) as a small business owner is – as with most things – the price tag. In the traditional outsourcing world, minimum entry prices were way out of reach of small businesses. In today’s technologically connected world, it is now possible to hire someone for a Fiverr to do all sorts of tasks that you never even knew you needed.
The Freelancer / Virtual Assistant Revolution
More importantly for the small business owner today, you can go to sites like Elance, oDesk, Guru.com, and Freelancer.com … where you can post a job ad right now (for free) and get bids within hours from “qualified” freelancers hailing from all over the globe. The problem is, in that last sentence, notice how I put “qualified” in quotes? Yes, that is a problem.
See, the greatest thing about Freelancer sites is that you can get decent (and sometimes exceptional) workers for a usually below-market rate (sometimes significantly below it). The best way to use these workers, generally, is on an ad hoc, per-project / per-task basis. Expecting much to come from long-term relationships or comprehensive business process outsourcing in the Freelancer market-place can be difficult. Because, here’s the thing:
Most Freelancers Are FLAKES And / Or FAKES
Now, I’m not saying there aren’t some incredible freelancers working around the world. In fact, I know a few who have such low rates that I am going to keep them a secret because I don’t want you billing up their hours & stealing them from me.
However, the Freelancer / independent VA / solo-preneur market around the world has been infiltrated by innumerable souls who are in it for a quick buck, an easy ride, or some other fantastical notion … and they make for a land-mined filled interview, hiring, and managing process when it comes to the “DIY” Freelancer Portals like Elance & oDesk.
Most Common Problem: The FLAKES
Most commonly, small business owners typically find their VAs to be inconsistent in terms of quality, availability, or communications … and ultimately prove unreliable. Perhaps they do get some good work done in the process, but these types of “self-managed” work-from-home freelancers are notoriously difficult when it comes to deadlines & follow-through without major (and constant) oversight.
More Expensive Problem: The FAKES
Fortunately, all those sites I mentioned do a great job (some better than others) with maintaining Freelancer Account reviews. I’ll get into this in a minute, when I break down the step-by-step “How To” list. Even with the reviews, however, there is still the aforementioned land-mine filled arena of workers who maybe did a good job on some past tasks, but who maybe are going to royally screw up your current task. Even with the best review tracking system, without a very experienced & critical eye, the interview & hiring process through these labor portals can be fatal (and expensive).
How To Hire Virtual Assistants
And Profitably Outsource Your Small Business
This is a five (5) step process about outsourcing for small business owners … to carefully devise your task-list & ensure you get the best quality workers for the best rates possible. This step-by-step guide will walk you through exactly what you need to be thinking about (and doing) as you progress through hiring & managing your remote (off-site or off-shore) back-office staff … coming from someone who’s done it so much that it has become a full-time profession.
STEP ONE :: Plan your project, task-by-task, and ensure you have a clear ability to articulate exactly what you want to achieve (down to the smallest details).
This step is perhaps most important, because without correctly planning your project’s task-list, and understanding how to explain the tasks (step-by-step) to your virtual assistant, it is literally impossible to achieve your desired outcome (at least, on the first draft / first attempt).
STEP TWO :: Carefully describe your task to your potential workers, and use pointed interview questions to test them on their qualification to complete your task.
In this step, I am assuming you have multiple bids for your project (whether they’re on a site like Elance, or from multiple service providers like AdminBetter, or both). In that case, you need to ask potential service providers, before hiring them, the type of questions that will expose any potential inadequacies in their ability to complete your task(s). I like to ask questions like:
- “Can you please explain to me, in your own words, what you need to do to complete this task?”
- “To be sure you understand this project, can you please tell me the first few things you will do if I hire you right away?”
- “Have you done work in similar projects before? And if so, can you tell me about your contributions and the project’s outcome?”
I could go on and on, but I don’t want to give away all our best secrets for free. The important thing, again, is to expose potential inadequacies, incongruities, or overstatements in their bid / application. Hiring workers is a chore, so it’s best to get it right on the first try and avoid being fooled by fluffery whenever possible.
STEP THREE :: Closely monitor your new worker(s) during the initial stages of their work, and diligently check their output until you are certain they have understood your expectations.
This step is make-or-break, as we’re talking about the actual working getting done now. Probably, the person(s) doing the work are getting paid by the hour at this point, so the longer it takes, or the more times they mess up, the more you’re going to pay. Obviously, the interview & hiring process should have prepared both you and the worker(s) for the implementation.
By carefully monitoring & summoning great attention to detail in the beginning stages of your outsourcing venture, you can ensure things will (probably) go smoothly through to the next phase(s) of the project.
STEP FOUR :: Set frequent objectives, monitor how well they are achieved, and make consistent quality checks to ensure optimal output.
One you and your remote worker(s) get into the swing of things, the biggest issue you will face is accountability. Obviously, this is not your typical office-place management situation. The person working for you could be 10,000 miles away on the other side of the planet, so you are not going to have the same time of oversight you would if they were sitting in front of you.
That’s why, once the project has gotten moving, the most important factor for success is the ongoing quality assurance & output monitoring. You need to set objectives so everyone knows when you’ll be bringing the carrot, and when you’ll be bringing the stick … and you need to have the hard numbers to back up your position (and prove you’re right).
STEP FIVE :: Finish strong with iron-clad deadline enforcement & quality control monitoring right up to the very end.
This is where most small business outsourcing relationships sizzle to a less than optimal ending. Especially when you are the one stuck managing a solo freelancer, the conclusion of a project, particularly around deadlines, can be a total nightmare. Remember how earlier I was saying something about FLAKES? Here’s an unattributed & paraphrased quote I heard, which I think applies perfectly:
“Almost everyone has Start. Some people have Continue. But almost no one has Finish.”
It will probably feel like pulling teeth when it comes to getting all the finalized deliverables, reports, and concluding minor details when it comes to your average DIY outsourcing effort as a small business owner. This is why you need to bring extra juice for the final weeks / days in any project revolving around a remote work-force … and enforce deadlines like a life-or-death matter.
Consult An Outsourcing Expert
Far be it for me to add a call to action advertisement on my company’s blog here, but keep in mind the guy writing this is just the tip of an outsourcing-expert-iceburg the size of a full office staff in Karachi … many of whom are long-time veterans of the industry.
If you are looking for the advice of an outsourcing expert when it comes to hiring a virtual assistant or outsourcing certain business tasks, please feel free to contact us directly so one of our experts can give you a compelling sales pitch about why we’re your best choice for outsourcing.