I presented at the coworking space Fishburners about outsourcing for startups. It is a good way for me to introduce myself to the community here in Sydney, and I got to improve my presentation skills 🙂
I am working on the weekly planner called Week Plan and I decided I needed someone to help me develop it while I focus on the other tasks of the business.
Many people resist the idea of outsourcing so I thought I would show how I went through the process myself and found a great web developer.
1. Post the job on oDesk
Title: The title should be as descriptive as possible to attract the right people.
Description: The job description should contain the technology required, and what the developer will be working on.
I also inserted a “spam trap”: I ask inside the job description the applicants to start their job application with the word “WEEKPLAN”. Many people apply without really looking at the job description so when you receive 100+ job applications, it is a great way to filter out the spammers.
Budget: I prefer to pay freelancers hourly rather than on a project basis but financially it makes more sense to pay per project because freelancers always underestimate the size of a project. Being a freelancer, I prefer to be paid based on the time I work rather than forcing me to estimate the size of a project. I found that the right range is around $12 to $17/hour. Ask for less and you increase your risks in getting someone really bad, asking for more wouldn’t increase your chances of finding someone good of much.
Ratings: I request the developers to have at least 4.5 stars ratings.
2. Hire two or three great candidates for a trial
So now you are receiving applications for your job. First you can filter out all the people who fell into your spam trap. That lives you with around 30 applications. Off these applications, I focus my attention on Eastern Europeans. In my experience, Eastern Europeans have the right mix: low cost of living, high level of education, high level of integrity. The signal to noise ratio is usually very good and I like their communication style, direct borderline rude I have hired developers from India in the past but it is harder to find the good ones among a lot of low quality applications.
Once I picked three candidates, I tell them they are entering a (EDIT: paid) trial period where I need them to develop a small project.
3. The mini project
I always have a long list of app ideas I would like to implement when I temporarily lose motivation on my main project.
I try to find ideas related to my main project so that the effort put in developing the mini-app will be used to enhance the main project. In my example, I will use these mini apps to raise the profile of the main project.
What I ask one of them is simple: a behaviour todo list. List the things you want to be doing in your behaviour and tick the ones you are currently doing. As you tick more and more items, you go up in level (karate belts) until you reach the black belt
I prepared a mockup in PowerPoint to describe the app to the developer:
It took me maybe 15 min to create the mockup.
Making mockups in PowerPoint is underrated by the way: it doesn’t take much time to have a fairly complete UI, you can have some advanced stuff like clickable elements, and animations and everyone has PowerPoint.
4. The result
The developer finished the app in 6 hours. That’s $72. It took me another 4 hours to improve the design a bit and package the files into a Google Play app.
This is the end result:
And the listing in Google Play:
Nothing impressive but for $72 I could see how the developer worked, if he asked questions to better understand what I want, and how good he is technically. Now I can use the app as a way to show the company’s commitment to personal productivity.
Out of the three developers I trialled, two passed the app test. I ended up hiring someone from Ukraine because he could work full time on weekplan but both were really good.
Seriously, if you are an online entrepreneur, do yourself a favour and start outsourcing. It is low risk and has great returns.
I usually advice people to start small when it comes to learning how to outsource.
Disclaimer: one of my product is an online outsourcing markeplace, and it is in my interest to convince you that outsourcing is good for you . But it also means I may have some experience with outsourcing that is worth sharing.
Virtual assistants are all the rage these days. Since Tim Ferriss democratized the concept with his book “Four Hour Work Week”, virtual assistants have become increasingly popular.
And yet, many founders still don’t outsource.
The reason why people don’t outsource after the fear for poor quality is that they don’t know what to outsource.
Yesterday I had another discussion with a founder I respect who wasn’t using virtual assistants because he didn’t know what they could do for him.
This article is a braindump of all the ways a virtual assistant can be useful to an online entrepreneur.
This is an area where people think virtual assistants are used to spam by commenting on forums and creating forum profiles. Here is a list of tasks they can do for you without being spammy or without using black hat techniques.
Find the contact details of bloggers in your niche: You can then contact them to ask them to review your product or to start building a relationship with them.
Set up or optimize your Google Adwords campaigns: What I usually do is create the campaign with the first ads and keywords as a guide and ask my virtual assistant to create more variations based on them. Her goal is to beat my original ads.
Set up or optimize your Facebook Ads: Similar process for Facebook Ads. This is for example what my virtual assistant created yesterday:
Note: although I will refer to the girl working with me as my virtual assistant to stay in the scope of this article, she is so helpful that I usually call her my co-founder from the Philippines 🙂
Regularly market your services in Craigslist: If you are selling services in order to bootstrap your online business, you can ask your virtual assistant to promote your services on popular websites like Craigslist.
Directory submission: Although the SEO value of directories has diminished in the recent updates, it is still valuable to submit your business to local directories and niche directories simply because real people might browse these directories.
Create a squidoo lens: Squidoo lenses are used to boost your SEO. Ask your virtual assistant to create a few useful lenses around your niche.
Submit press releases: Writing a press release is only one side of the equation, the real time consuming part is to submit your press release to the press release websites. Your virtual assistant can create the accounts for you, store the credentials in a shared document and submit the press release for you.
Your virtual assistant can help you monitor the internet looking for people who needs you.
Google Alerts on steroids: Google Alerts is a god send when it comes to passively receiving opportunities in your mailbox. You can receive notifications when someone is has the problem you are solving.
But there is also a lot of noise in the results that Google Alerts sends, and more often than not you stop looking at them after a while.
If it is your case, ask your virtual assistant to use Google Alerts to monitor the results and brief you when she finds something of interest.
Monitoring Twitter, Linkedin groups and other forums: Similar to Google Alerts, except that the virtual assistant can also notify you if there is an opportunity for you to provide value in a discussion instead of just promote yourself. Being helpful is the new marketing.
Filter freelance jobs for you: If you are a freelancer, finding jobs online can be time consuming. Virtual Rockstars is a tool that aggregates jobs for you but it is still time consuming to filter, and contact the job owners. Get the virtual assistant manage this.
Organize interviews for your blog: On a recent interview on Mixergy with the founder of AllFacebook, you can learn that interviewing famous people is a great way to bootstrap your initial blog traffic. Your virtual assistant can find the contact details and contact the people for you and if you only do email interviews, she can even manage the whole process by herself!
Summarize great Quora questions to turn them into blog posts:your virtual assistant can write but may not have enough knowledge in your niche to write good articles. Point her to great Quora questions and ask her to synthesize the answers into a blog post.
Find blog posts topics: Your virtual assistant can search the web for popular topics in our niche. Having a clear list of topics to write about will make you a more prolific blogger instantly.
Comment management: If your blog is big enough you may start getting headaches with all the spam comments you get. Get your virtual assistant to delete them.
Article submission and promotion: Each time you post a blog post, your virtual assistant can submit it to social media websites like Digg, Reddit, BizSugar, Twitter, etc… She can add value by adding a comment next to the link instead of just posting the link like automated feed publishers would do.
Transcription of your podcast or video: If you run a podcast, get your virtual assistant to transcribe it into text. You can reuse this text in a blog post related to the podcast.
Proofread your blog post: If you want to offer an article to an important blogger, you may want someone to review your article before you send it.
Recruit affiliates: If you have an affiliate program, you need to promote it. One way is to submit it to big affiliate programs directories.
Twitter and Facebook management: Give your virtual assistant a list of RSS feeds to subscribe to (or a opml file) and she can curate and tweet about important articles for you.
Create a Facebook page: You can have a Facebook page that gives away an eBook only if the visitor likes the page. Get your virtual assistant to create all that for you.
Hire a freelancer for you: I have used virtual assistants in the past to help me find more specialized freelancers. It costed me $20 to get two assistants find the developer who helped me with developing TaskArmy. Anton was great.
Pay other freelancers: If you deal with freelancers often, paying them in time is important but easy to forget when you have other priorities. Your virtual assistant can help you with that.
Manage other freelancers: When your virtual assistant does not have the technical skills to accomplish a specific task, you can ask them to take care of the project and outsource it themselves. For example, recently my co-founder had recorded a video and we needed someone to edit it, add our logo, add a background music and cut down the scenes to the essential. My virtual assistant took care of finding the right person and managing the whole project.
Train other freelancers using screencasts: If you start expanding beyond one virtual assistant, you can ask your first virtual assistant to record videos to train your future additional virtual assistants.
Answering support requests: Most support requests can be answered by your virtual assistant (and you can ask your virtual assistant to update your FAQ as she get new requests).
Live chat: When you are not online, your virtual assistant can take on the job of answering live chat requests on your website.
Twitter: If people are asking questions in Twitter your virtual assistant can make sure they are answered in a timely manner. If someone says something nice about you, your virtual assistant can monitor it and retweet it with the Twitter account of your business.
Note: of course you can do that yourself, it looks trivial enough, like most tasks listed here. But the sum of all the small tasks really adds up and being able to delegate them takes a big weight off you. You’ll see, it feels good.
General business assistance
Web research: You can ask your virtual assistant to list all the most popular CSS galleries for example (then you can ask them to submit your website to them).
Data entry: You could ask your virtual assistant to find a more complete description and picture for each product in your ecommerce store.
Document your business: Your virtual assistant can start drafting all the procedures you have in your business to give you a head start. You can simply edit and add details to them.
Regular metrics reports: I ask(ed) my virtual assistant to prepare a weekly report that aggregates the metrics from different services (Google Analytics, MailChimp, my web app dashboard, etc…). Thanks to that, I get a feel of where the business is going. Without a virtual assistant to do that task, I would only do it once in a while, when I remember to do it.
eBook creation: Your assistant can put your best material together and find a designer to make the cover. Sell your eBook or use it as an incentive for people to subscribe to your newsletter (like I have done here).
Manage your A/B tests: You are running A/B tests on your website right? Good 🙂 Then your virtual assistant can take care of that side of the business.
Keyword research: Using tools like Market Samurai, your assistant can look for keywords you should target on your website.
Monitor and identify SEO opportunities: Using Google Analytics and Google Keywords, your assistant can highlight keywords that are driving traffic to your website. You should focus more on these keywords to increase your organic traffic.
Set up your WordPress website (or coming soon landing page): If you are working on a product that is not yet ready, ask your virtual assistant to put a coming soon page using the free LaunchEffect theme. She can of course help you set up the sales website for your business too and help you find the right theme.
Set up auto-responder: You are building a mailing list on your website, aren’t you? Nurture your mailing list by getting your virtual assistant to set up an auto-responder by using content you give her, or that she writes herself or that she synthesizes from other sources.
Outsourcing is really a mindset (or learned skill) and it becomes a second nature to identify what can be outsourced and not. Your business is unique and you will come up with unique ways of leverage your virtual assistant talents.
Unique tasks my virtual assistant helped me with:
- Pick better pictures for the popular TaskArmy services.
- Remove any dodgy looking services
- Submit our affiliate program to affiliate program directories.
- Write more blog posts
What about you? what did you delegate to your virtual assistant?
Please share in the comments.
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Outsourcing is getting more and more popular and has evolved a lot but people keep associating it with poor quality or frustrating calls with a customer support guy with a thick accent from halfway around the world.
Outsourcing is a skill that can be learned. Below are the deadly outsourcing sins that business owners commit when trying to outsource. Hopefully it will help you realize you are making some of these mistakes too and as they say, awareness is a step forward in the learning process…
Adding more cheap resources to a problem most likely won’t shorten the delivery of the solution, especially in the software development world. Replace poor performers with great performers, but do not simply keep adding more otherwise your management overhead will grow exponentially.
Outsourcing can be over-done. Once you have tasted the sweetness of outsourcing, you will be tempted to outsource more to the point that you will look for new areas in your business that could be outsourced. Your core business should not be outsourced. What if Zappos started outsourcing customer support?
Don’t pick the cheapest provider. As a business owner wanting to cut cost, you’ll be more tempted to hire the one offering the cheapest rate. When picking a provider don’t forget to take in account the risks of poor quality and the extra time it will cost of micro managing more junior providers.
Unfortunately, most outsourcing marketplaces have bidding systems that force providers to push their prices down. Don’t fall into the trap.
Outsourced work needs to be actively managed. Don’t give away your work and hope it will come back the way you want it done. People can’t read your mind and your own requirements might evolve. Although outsourcing does relieve you from a lot of work, stay involved with it. Monitor the progress, give feedback and set deadlines.
It is not rare that clients are disrespectful to the providers. Don’t forget the providers are human beings with flaws but also with feelings. If something wasn’t done the way you wanted, remember that you are partly responsible because you have hired the provider and you should have been managing them.
Stay respectful. It is not because the provider has a thick accent that he is stupid or less important than you are.
It is not because your entrepreneur friend has successfully outsourced the management of his social media presence that it means you should do it too. Depending on how much focus you want to put on your brand, outsourcing your online presence at the early stages might hurt your brand or might not fit the vision you had of your brand. Each business is different and tolerates different areas to be outsourced. Learn the different facets of your business before thinking of outsourcing some of them.
Don’t underestimate the effort required for a successful outsourced project. You need to be able to give away control, you need to be able to communicate with and understand people from different cultural background, you need to get used to different timezones and you need to be able to plan ahead to prepare your requirements. Outsourcing simply doesn’t work for certain people and if you are one of them, simply accept it or get better at it!
The 8th sin: Silence
Lack of communication is the greatest sin of all. Don’t let more than three days going without contact with your service provider. At taskarmy, the outsourcing platform I have developed, the service providers receive a *friendly* automated notification if they let more than three days pass. I also often require the providers working with me to send me daily emails with the things they worked on yesterday, the things they will do today, and any blockers I can help with.
Hopefully you found this article useful. I am Aymeric and I run theoutsourcing platform taskarmy (and sister website taskangels) that aims at simplifying outsourcing. We offer a free email course if you want to learn more about outsourcing and how to improve your website.
In the previous blog post, I explained why I outsource the development of my startup and this post I would like to explain how we work together.
I started with using podio.com to manage the work to do with my team. Podio is an impressive (and free) web application that has in-app applications for almost everything you may need for your business: invoices, timesheets, todo-list, etc…
The need I had for a task management were:
– can prioritize
– can comment on a task
– can see latest changes (recently completed, new comments)
– can assign work to someone
– can see all the tasks in one page
– not too expensive
– can attach files
I created a simple Google Speadsheet:
I share the file with all my remote contractors, giving them access to a specific tab only (Marketing, Development or Accounting).
Having everything in one file make it really easy to get an overview of the progress.
Another great feature from Google Docs is the built-in chat sidebar:
It makes it really easy to discuss a specific task or discuss the objectives for the incoming week.
I use Skype + Emails (associated with TaskArmy messaging system) + Google Docs chat + Gyazo (this one is probably new to you). Gyazo will take a screenshot of part of my screen and upload it straight away online. I just need to take the link and share it with my remote contractor.
Anton is great at keeping me up to date with what he is working on and what he plans to work next. He sends the updates by email but using my TaskArmy email address, so his messages appear also in TaskArmy:
I always ask the remote contractors I work with to send me a daily email with the following structure:
1. Things I have worked on today
2. Things I will work on tomorrow
3. Questions and things that are slowing me down
By receiving this email every day, it gives me the opportunity to re-prioritize the tasks, clarify some requirements and answer his questions.
Developers are generally aware of the daily SCRUM meetings and this email is simply a replacement for it (although I should be sending it too in the true spirit of a SCRUM team but there are three days in the week where I am gone for some consulting, unrelated to TaskArmy).
Weekly Skype call
I usually organize a Skype video call every Monday morning to chit-chat and discuss about the week’s objectives. It is really important to get some live time together because informal topics might come up and it helps me detect any untold concerns.
It is a bit harder to organize the weekly call with Anton because he is still in week end when I start my week so I must admit I haven’t had the discipline to organize any call at all with him (but it works great with Jessica who has only 2 hours difference with me).
We use git and github to manage the sources of Task Army.
We have two main branches, master (that reflects what is on production) and development (that represents what is production ready but hasn’t been deployed yet.
For each task he works on, Anton creates a separate feature branch out ofdevelopment (for example feature-rss-feed). When a feature is ready to deploy, he merges the feature branch into the development branch.
I am the one responsible for reviewing what is in development and merging it into master and deploy it onto production.
This is a simplified version of what is described on this post: successful git branching model. Because we deploy often we don’t have this concept of releases.
We use Heroku for hosting by the way, which means we are one git command away from deployment.
There are many valid ways to collaborate online with your remote contractors. The one I presented is in no way the only one that you must absolutely follow. I described the way we work to give some ideas on how to tweak yours.
What else would you like to know?
That’s right, I prefer writing code than writing words and yet it’s been two months now that I started outsourcing the development of TaskArmy to someone in Ukraine.
I spent the first 8 months developing the website myself until I proved to myself that my idea was a viable business idea. I was then ready mentally to spend more money into my idea.
Anton is working full-time with me and I wouldn’t look back on that decision.
Why I outsourced the development
Development takes a lot of time and is too enjoyable. I would procrastinate a whole week by developing something new or by tweaking the design rather than do any marketing stuff.
I would also tend to work on the things I’d enjoy coding instead of working on important “details” like streamlining the buying process.
Focusing on the development I couldn’t see how much effort was required in marketing.
Why developers should outsource development?
A developer can talk to a developer.
Being a developer myself it is easy for me to explain what I want to a developer. We talk the same language.
One of the main risks of outsourcing is miscommunication but by removing the barrier of domain language, the risks are reduced.
I know how I would code a requirement myself and sometimes to make myself clear, I simply show him each step I would follow to code the requirement so that he can have a better understanding of what I want. He might not follow the steps I listed and I don’t care about it but what is important is that he understood what I want.
I also know where we can take shortcuts and what solution would require less time to develop. I can say “just hard code that in the view, this will be used only the admin”, he understands what I mean and I spared him 10 hours.
Benefits from outsourcing development
Obviously, since I outsourced development, I have more time and I can spend this time for marketing and blogging. I would probably not be writing this blog post for example.
Another benefit is that I am not working in the business anymore but on the business. I have a higher level view of the whole business.
Each feature I add to TaskArmy costs me money so I am much more disciplined in prioritizing the tasks.
And finally, Anton is a better Ruby on Rails developer than I am (I come from a .NET background) so his expertise is very valuable.
How I found the developer to outsource the development
This is the part where you expect to say: “On TaskArmy we have great developers…”. Well to be honest, only very few developers have listed their services on TaskArmy and at the time I was looking for Ruby on Rails developer, none was available on TaskArmy.
By the way, if you are a good developer and understand that constant communication with your client is important, please list your services on TaskArmy.
What I did is I went on Odesk and looked for a personal assistant who would help me find a developer. That’s right, the plan was to hire someone that help me hire a developer. I was looking for someone I’d pay $3/hour who would look for a developer for me.
This is the ad I posted:
Hi I am looking for someone who can speak perfect English, and who can help me recruit contractors for various areas of my business (web design, marketing, blogging, etc…)
You first tasks would consist in recruiting a Ruby on Rails developer and a blogger for example.
I actually hired two girls for $3/hour each with this ad.
The virtual assistants I hired were “IT recruiters” or “Technical recruiters” from the Philippines. I wanted to find a Filipino developer so I hoped by picking Filipina assistants it would simplify the search because they would use their personal social network. It turned out that they didn’t know anyone good enough and after trying to hire only in the Philippines without success, I opened up the criteria to accept Eastern Europeans.
I wanted to work with a Filipino because he would be in my time zone. The advantage of working with Eastern Europeans is that they are usually very reliable, they speak their mind and the time difference works well too for me (I start my day when he finishes his). They found Anton a great guy a week later. Overall it costed me somewhere around $20.
How we started working together
Like anyone else, I am not comfortable sharing my intellectual property with someone I don’t know who lives on the other side of the world. So originally I gave him an independent project that didn’t have any dependency with TaskArmy. Then slowly, as I grew more comfortable with him, I gave him more and more access to TaskArmy’s core code.
His first task on the TaskArmy source code was to write a team time zone visualizer. It was an independent tool that was not relying on any existing model in the core which made it a nice introduction to TaskArmy’s source code.
To describe the tool I wanted to Anton, I used OneNote to quickly draw a mockup:
The first version he came up with looked like that, which was spot on what I wanted:
And this is what it looks today after a few iterations:
Anyway, progressively Anton started working deeper and deeper inside the source code and recently he has rewrote part of the payment processing.
It is not the first time I outsource development work and it doesn’t always work. Before Anton I had hired another developer to work on the same micro project and he was not responsive enough.
The important in outsourcing is to fire fast if things are not smooth so that you can find someone better. The less time you spend with a bad performing provider, the less painful outsourcing as a concept feels.
Outsourcing also makes sense financially if you are doing some consulting work on the side. One day of consulting may cover the cost of several days (or several weeks) of a freelancer in a country with lower cost of living. It is a great way to leverage your time.
Give it a try, it is sincerely liberating!