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12 Tips for Outsourcing Your Business to the Next Level in Today's Economy

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Whether you're a part of the largest multinational company or a single small-business owner, the fact of the matter is the same: There could always be more time in the day to get work done. Scott Dinsmore of ReadingForYourSuccess stops by to share how he's maximized the value of his time and the success of his business with the help of outsourcing.

The first thing people say when they hear I outsource is, after giving me an odd look, "well I don't really have anything I would outsource." I assure them they're mistaken, just as I was when I was first heard about it in The 4-Hour Work Week. As soon as I started, it was hard to stop.

It's easy to think that now's the time to do it all yourself and save every penny possible, but I propose the contrary. Today’s testing economy is the perfect opportunity to leverage what resources are out there.

The point of outsourcing is not to necessarily find someone to do the task better than you or even cheaper – it’s to offload the majority of your daily required work so that you can focus on the core portion of your business where you add unique value. Think of it as the 80/20 rule. If 80% of the results come from 20% of the effort, then spend all your time on that high yielding 20% and outsource the rest.

If you are hesitant because you could do it cheaper, then you likely are not valuing your time appropriately. Give yourself some credit. Your hours are worth a great deal, especially as an entrepreneur or businessman.

Over my past four years, I've outsourced more business jobs then I thought possible and more personal tasks than some would consider appropriate... and I cannot imagine doing it any other way – and not to mention, it’s been a blast. Sound intriguing?

Here are my 12 tips for outsourcing success:
 

  1. Consider this an investment. Even if you have nothing to outsource, make something up. This is an investment in your education at the very least and the start of a whole new way of doing business at the best. Set aside a few hundred dollars with no expectation of a return. It's your tuition. The return will be gained through your experience.
     
  2. Do your due diligence. Thoroughly review an Elancer’s profile, portfolio, and feedback. A thorough profile should show previous jobs, examples of work and client ratings to see if they’ve performed jobs of the same size and scope that match your interest.
     
  3. Test their communication skills. Clear communication is a must for any project. Before hiring, be sure to exchange a few messages through pre-bids to not only see how quickly they respond but also to see how much they know about the particular job and how well they can communicate with you. Also, hop on a Skype call or utilize the Elance Call feature if phone work will be involved.
     
  4. Set office hours. This is especially important if you’re in very different time zones. Set a few hours each business day where you both agree to be available if questions come up. They certainly will appreciate it as well and at times you'll want live discussion instead of waiting overnight for an email response.
     
  5. Start with a few candidates and give them a test project. Don't pick one person right from the start – kick the tires on a few. There's only one way to see if they do quality work. Give the same small project to 3-5 people or teams and see how they compare. I needed a logo for my investment business a couple years ago and I was able to get 5 teams to submit a rough draft based on my creative brief. I chose my favorite guy, who happened to be in Pakistan, and he created our entire corporate identity (which we still happily use).
     
  6. Hire for specific tasks. Remember, there are so many super skilled people out there. That being said, keep in mind that it's much better to have a few specialized people on your team rather than one really general one. I have my graphics guy in Pakistan, a few in India who do personal tasks, SEO and Wordpress, and someone down the street who does my web design. When you hire on a task by task hourly basis, you have the luxury of specializing.
     
  7. Set clear deadlines and project descriptions. One of the best byproducts of outsourcing is it teaches you how to clearly define a project, a step that often gets missed when we do our own work. Without a clear project scope, outsourcing is futile. Also, properly defining a job at the beginning gives it a better chance of success. Then, when you put time parameters on it, it's all the more efficient. Always give a deadline and maximum time you'd like them to spend on it. The closer the deadline and fewer projects assigned at once the better. Provide clear direction.
     
  8. Be sure they understand before they begin. Ask for them to paraphrase the task and describe their approach before beginning. There is certainly more room for mis-communication when you don't see someone and often don't even talk to them. Clear and concrete tasks are the insurance against major miss queues.
     
  9. Don't simply shop by price. Rates range from $5/hr to $250+ an hour. Resist the urge to go with the lower cost option just for the novelty of the savings. It's possible they will be your best option, but test that assumption by trying a few price ranges. If the cheaper option causes more frustration and time spent, then it may be time to increase your budget. Personally, I've had success and failure with price ranges from $5/hr up to $50/hr.
     
  10. If it takes longer to write up the project than to do it yourself, don't outsource it. When you get started, you'll want to outsource everything and at first maybe you will, but as this becomes a regular part of your business and personal operations, be practical. If it's not saving you time then do it yourself or don't do it at all.
     
  11. Outsourcing does not have to mean going international. Try a few countries, including your own. I've found great guys in India and great guys in my backyard of San Francisco. It all depends on the scope of the project. Elance even allows you to search geographically if for instance you want someone who you can see face-to-face. Their tools are super easy to use and give you a great shot at finding just the right fit.
     
  12. Expect snafus. Things will no doubt go wrong as you are learning the ropes. Do the above and you'll likely make your mistakes early on and with little time and capital investment at risk. Remember every mistake is a lesson. Only let it happen once.
     

When you clear your schedule of the mundane, your mind has time to tackle the ideas that will allow your business to reach its full potential. Here are just a few possible tasks you can outsource today (also check out 100 Projects You Can Elance here) :
 

  • web research
  • customer service
  • accounting
  • web and blog design
  • blog and copy writing
  • blog comment moderation
  • locate best courses in your area for various subjects
  • voice transcription
  • SEO, SEM and Social Media Marketing
  • personal or administrative tasks
  • travel plans
  • having an out-of-production product or garment made
  • locating the perfect gift on Valentine's Day
     

The list is about as long as your imagination can wander. Go out and have fun with this. Once you start, it will be impossible not to. The leverage on your time, effort and dollars is such that none of us can afford to miss it. If you need more motivation, realize your competitors are likely already doing the above.

As a bonus, there's something about knowing work is getting done while you sleep that is incredibly soothing and awesomely efficient. If you have questions, I'm happy to help. Block out an hour on your schedule and make an investment in your future productivity both personally and professionally. It will likely be one of your best returns to date.

About the Author:
Scott Dinsmore is a value investor and personal development and productivity guru. His blog Reading For Your Success, which was built by a team of elancers, is dedicated to all topics relating to us experiencing life and career success, on our own terms, through "action-based reading". Visit his blog and subscribe here to read Scott's future articles.

Comments

Scott,
Great post! Thank you for the helpful advice on outsourcing. I've been an Elance provider for 7 months and the tips you gave are exactly what I would tell an employer looking to outsource some work. Communication is vital to the success of a project. I provide content for clients and it helps me immensely when I know how the client plans to use the piece I'm writing and what the goal is. If I know a certain project is intended for traffic generation, I will write it very differently than if it's going to be a whitepaper. It's important to see your provider as an expert partner. Most of the providers I know are happy to go the extra mile for their clients and make suggestions about how to best accomplish the client's goal. I look forward to reading more of your posts in the future!
Lori Snyder

Really useful tips Scott and thanks for sharing.

Any tips on what to do once a deadline is past due?

This is my first time using eLance. I have been very impressed with the quality of the site and the functionality surrounding the process of making me feel "safe" about using someone whom I've never met. However, one thing I found in doing my due diligence is that many of the designs posted in the portfolios look like templates. Even though they have a good performance record (ratings, reviews, level, etc.), how do you know if their portfolio is really their portfolio? Also, it seemed like almost everyone had good ratings, I don't the ins and outs of the site yet, so I don't know if the vendors get to screen their reviews and post or if all comments are not managed by the users? I would assume that eLance would not allow that as it would not allow for objectivity of work performed.

Great points Scott! I especially liked # 5, 6 & 10.
Question: I fully agree to hire specialized VAs per the need. However, for ongoing/sensitive tasks such as managing shopping cart, making purchases or paying for things or ongoing maintenance of a website etc, is it better to hire a VA company vs solo VA? RM