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“Hire. I’ve had webpages created for $50—$200. I’ve had script installations and other techie work that would have taken me all day done for $40. I had a software programmed for $80 (I made 5-figures with it). I have valuable market research, data management and data entry that gets done for me daily and would tie up my days… instead it costs me $120 per week. Hire.” – Rob Toth.
Outsourcing successfully is a skill that can be of immense value, whatever kind of business you are running – or whatever kind of life you lead. Yes, it is a skill – because one needs to learn how to hire, manage and keep the best workers – and how to get the best performance out of them.
I’ve made just under $2,000,000 online (revenue) in total – mostly through blogging – and it’s interesting to observe that I didn’t really start making good money until after I started hiring outsource workers.
Coincidence? I don’t think so. If you are trying to do it all yourself, you are quite possibly completely preventing yourself from succeeding.
I have outsourced a ton of work in the last 10 years, having hired well over 80 workers for various projects – and have been able to scale my business exponentially as a direct result of using outsource workers.
Overview – What Is Outsourcing
Outsourcing has become quite the buzz word in the last few years. The basic concept is simple – there are many people all over the world who are looking for work of all kinds. Many of these people are very skilled, competent and reasonably priced. Instead of performing a tedious, time-consuming, repetitive or unfamiliar task yourself, or having someone in your organization do the work, you can contract or outsource the work to an independent person or organization.
Outsourcing is one of the modern keys to automated income and is often used in combination with other revenue-generating strategies in order to either scale or create a “hands free” business. Outsourcing is used by large corporations, individual web entrepreneurs, eBay sellers, estate agents, and innumerable other kinds of ventures.
Modern internet communication has enabled outsourcing to come of age – and this brings much potential for the entrepreneur. One of the chief reasons it works so well is because Western currencies such as the dollar go much, much further in countries such as India or the Philippines; meaning that you can get work done cost effectively while still offering someone better pay than they would be able to achieve locally otherwise.
One of the benefits of outsourcing is that it is often employed to get “one-off” tasks done or specific parts of a job handled by someone who has the requisite training. Thus a person designing an online sales page may outsource the graphics, logo creation, copywriting or even creation of headlines – depending on their skill set and inclinations. It is often easier to find a specialist via the global marketplace and have them deliver the work than it is to hire someone from the pool of local talent.
Web sites, content creation, apps or web traffic generation are typical examples given; though essentially any type of computer-based work can now be outsourced.
Outsourcing is not only a useful tool to “get stuff done”, but if utilized well it has the potential to activate one of the great keys to passive income: Your time is freed up to design new business systems, instead of spending all your time doing the laborious tasks. If you can set up or create a system which makes money, and then outsource the construction / maintenance work for less money than you are bringing in, then you have effectively created an auto-pilot system that brings revenue with minimized further effort!
It is now common practice to outsource “busy work” of all kinds – leaving the business creator more freedom to work on their business rather than working in their business. This strategy was the backbone of Tim Ferriss’s famous book The Four Hour Work Week, where he took outsourcing to the extreme, even having others handle his email and other personal office duties in order to free up even more time for more “important” things.
Key Skill #1 – Finding The Rock Star Workers
One of the great skills in outsourcing is that of finding (and keeping) the winning staff. If you are inexperienced in hiring, it is often difficult to tell who is really going to shine. Sometimes, you may have to “hire ‘n’ fire” a few times before finding a really stellar worker. But once you find someone “golden”, do whatever you can to hold on to them, because they are incredibly valuable.
I have found that the best way to hire is to give the worker a trial period of a few days or a minor project (paid of course), and evaluate their performance. The reason why I advise this is that you would be amazed at how good people are at bluffing their way through interviews and at delivering resumes with polished examples of work (it could be their older brother’s for all you know!) I have hired people with polished resumes who seemed as though they were going to be incredible – and then as soon as they started working, I realized to my horror that their work was absolute crap. Conversely, I have hired workers who I wasn’t really sure about, but who “went out of the gate like a greyhound” and I realized within a few days were absolute rock stars.
I have a great team of VAs hired through onlinejobs.ph who have taken on entire chunks of my daily work, and handle them with such efficiency that I barely have to check up on them. They are fantastic. They run the Facebook and Pinterest posting and comment moderation. They upload articles to WordPress and add the formatting. They create web pages, do research, create graphics… etc. When you find workers like this (you will, if you are patient and persistent), you will be so delighted I cannot even describe it in any other way. All of a sudden you can get back on with actually running the business rather than being buried in it.
What to look for: The most important quality to look for in a worker, in my opinion, is what others have called being a driver.
A driver is someone who just wants to get in the driver’s seat and DRIVE. They will finish up a task and be bugging you for what’s next – rather than you having to chase them. They want to show up, focus and kick butt.
These are your people.
If you find a “driver”, everything becomes easy and fluid. If they don’t know how to do something, you can instruct them to look it up and teach themselves, and they will figure it out.
The other kind of worker, the “passenger”, continually gives you the feeling that you have to drag them along. They give the impression that they resent being there… and have every intention of doing the absolute minimum possible and providing the minimum possible value in return for their pay check.
On the outsource websites, there are all sorts. It’s a spectrum of quality from incredible to terrible, from thoroughly honest to absolute scam artist. You have to learn quickly to figure out which ones don’t want to be there, can’t be bothered, don’t really care and just want to do whatever they have to do so that they can get out of there and escape from the tedium of doing someone else’s grunt work. I can empathize to an extent – but these are not the kinds of workers that you want. Learn to recognize negative traits / red flags and send them packing as quickly as possible. They will waste your time and your money and could even cause significant damage if they have very negative character traits.
Note that race, gender, age, and any other factors do not affect whether or not someone is a driver. Drivers can come from all walks of life. However, looks may correlate…. negatively. This is a bit controversial, but what I am saying is DO NOT discriminate based on looks. If you are not careful, you will do it without even realizing you are. It is called “the halo effect” and has been scientifically demonstrated that we tend to assume that good looking people have better character. Be very careful not to hire someone because they are good looking! Ignore the photographs! Often the outsource workers whose resumes you will see on the websites are very pretty young women – and you will have to be disinterested (you should be) not to give them special bias. Not only should you not mix business with pleasure, but I do believe that you will often find that the ones who are working the “cute” angle are specifically not drivers. They have learned from a young age that they can use their looks to get what they want – and I do believe you will find that there will be a corresponding lack of discipline in their work and general behavior.
Let Go Of Underperformers
Always let go of workers who are sub par. There are rock stars out there, and it is worth putting in the extra effort to find them. By all means hire a new worker before getting rid of an old one if need be – but don’t waste any time and energy on someone who is failing.
Be nice about it, however – and always pay them for the work they have done. Always. Best to send the payment immediately as you make the announcement, too. If you need to let go of someone because their work is just not up to the grade, be polite. Say something like “I’m sorry, but I don’t think this is going to work out and I am going to have to let you go. I have realized that I need someone whose skills are more advanced…. (etc)”
If there is bad behavior or bad attitude, get rid of them without hesitation. Dishonesty is absolutely unacceptable and I would advise you also to have a zero-tolerance policy for it – as it tends to be a character trait that continues. Pro Tip – if you are going to fire someone because you have caught them being dishonest, make a backup of their work before you do so. I once caught an outsource worker cheating (very seriously) on his hours. I fired him on the spot and he became angry and sabotaged all the work that he had done (it was stored in Google Docs). Fortunately I was able to restore an old version of the document. Be careful, it is uncommon but it can happen.
What To Outsource / How To Get Started
I would start by creating a complete inventory of:
1) all the things that you do (literally, all of them) in your business. All the day to day tasks from checking email (yes, you can outsource this!!) through to research, making travel plans, you name it.
2) All the things that you WOULD do if you had infinite time and resources.
The next step is to look through this inventory, and plan to start handing over:
1) The tasks you dislike
2) The tasks that can easily be taught to someone
3) The tasks that eat the most time
4) The tasks you find boring (someone else might enjoy them!)
5) The tasks you would like to do, are relatively easy and would generate the most value for you
Start with the easy stuff that you feel is wasting your time and hand off as much as you are comfortable with.
The next tip: Start by hiring one worker at a time. Get them to handle some of your mundane office tasks and free up some of your time. Don’t start out by hiring a whole team – or you will overwhelm yourself, as to begin with there is always a “time investment” in taking on a new worker. It takes a little effort and energy to train them, get them up to speed, check their work, communicate with them and do quality control.
I would also counsel against hiring a new manager to oversee your other outsource workers. If you have grown a team and are looking for someone to oversee them, pick the best of the workers that you already have – because they have already learned your systems and thus will be far more able to teach them to someone else. Note that some simply do not have the aptitude to manage others. Choose someone who works well with others; not everyone who is very good at their work is very good at training and managing others. Some want to be left in peace to get on with their work and you should ascertain their nature before pushing them into management. I once found that someone who was extremely polite when working for me turned into an absolute tyrant when managing others. She scolded them like they were dogs! It was totally inappropriate although I have to admit, somewhat amusing. But it did not make for good business and I had to put a stop to it ASAP.
Outsourcing is a gradual process. You can’t just hand over your entire life overnight – and you’ll come a cropper if you attempt it. But given time and persistence, you can reach the point where your outsource workers are handling very many aspects of your daily life / business. I have found that the best thing about this is not just the time that it frees up, but the focus. Instead of having a million little things to deal with, like a cloud of mosquitos around my head, I can really think again. My imagination and creativity, and the quality of my own creative work, have grown as a result. I can get back on with my work.
I have on occasion experienced frustration at the amount of training that is sometimes required to be given for certain tasks to be done effectively. One way I have found to minimize this is to either search online for existing tutorials (there are tons out there) or to create my own (that way I only have to do it once at the most!)
Bear in mind also that you will often be dealing with someone in another country, for whom English is a second language. It can be a challenge to create jobs that are easy to explain and easy for the worker to execute – yet create them you must; and a degree of structure will be required. Spreadsheets are your best friend – and I would advise to get into the habit of creating spreadsheets that both you and your workers can edit, in order to structure and track various aspects of the work.
What Not To Outsource
I have a successful blog that gets thousands of visitors a day – and I once made the mistake of outsourcing the writing to a low-cost outsource worker.
It sucked. I just couldn’t get them to do it right.
I (foolishly) didn’t think it was all that difficult – but then it dawned on me: My blog really needed my unique personality and all my years of knowledge of the subject. There was no way I could get someone to do this without immense amounts of training – possibly years.
I ended up rewriting most of what they had sent me, before rapidly letting go of them and doing ALL of it again, myself.
There are certain aspects of being you – and consequently, of your business – that require you. Your personality, your knowledge, your understanding. There are certain arenas in which you cannot “replace yourself”. For example, a high-ranking official or celebrity must make personal appearances. They simply cannot delegate this and send someone else along. The appearances are the part of the job that cannot be outsourced.
However, they can hire a driver, a tailor, a hairdresser, a chef, a secretary, a publicist, a web designer, a personal assistant. They can organize their life so that 90%+ of their daily tasks are handled.
The joy of this is when you realize that by outsourcing the things that “aren’t you”, you get more time for the parts that “are you” – and you can greatly boost your overall creativity and output.
Where To Locate Workers
Here are some examples of portals where outsource internet workers can be found.
fiverr.com (anything you can think of and more! This site has really come of age and has proven to be a fantastic resource.)
upwork.com (freelancers of all kinds from writing to customer service)
guru.com (3 million freelancers of all kinds)
textbroker.com (content writing)
onlinejobs.ph (VAs and internet workers in the Philippines)
freelancer.com/ – claims to have 39 million professionals available!
It is worth bearing in mind that outsourcing doesn’t necessarily mean international: Work of other kinds can also be outsourced locally – for example product fulfillment.
Tools For Outsourcing
There are several tools and apps which can help greatly with the online outsourcing process: Dealing with workers, very often in other countries, requires efficient systems for file transfer, communication, productivity checking and so on.
Below I have listed currently some of the best “tools of the trade” I use most of them. Some of these are online tools, others are free software that you can install on your computer and others are just some things I think are great. Some of them you may already know.
Time Tracker App: These are essential and outsource workers such as VAs are used to them. Examples include http://www.tracklabor.com and http://www.timedoctor.com These time trackers are amazing tools for making sure that workers overseas are actually spending their time working and not playing games or chatting with their friends. It also gives the workers a form of proof that they actually did the work, so it is beneficial to all. Absolutely vital if you oversee several workers (outsource or not) and are somewhat removed from keeping an eye on their daily activities. Be sure to check the screenshots and take action if they are not working when they are supposed to be.
Google Docs / Google Drive or similar: http://drive.google.com Google Drive great for collaborative documents and in-place editing real-time – although the big G has come under critique of late for privacy and data harvesting practices – and you may wish to explore alternatives. One tip I would advise is to have a worker write in one color, then you can write in another and you can see at a glance who has done what. Maintaining a commentary on work in-place is in my experience so much better than trying to keep track of instructions and comments across multiple communication mediums – text messages, emails, etc. Tutorials can be found here : https://support.google.com/drive/?hl=en_US&p=mktg_home
Messenger App: Many workers like to communicate via Skype chat. It is an industry standard. However I have had fantastic results with Signal Messenger – which is lightning fast and highly rated for its end-to-end encryption and other security/privacy best practices. I would strongly advise against using Facebook messages as your text chat system as you may find that if you do this, your workers are chatting with friends while on the job. They just cannot resist answering that message. Unless your workers are doing social media management, Facebook should remain closed during work time!
Screen capture / video capture / annotation app: Example – https://www.techsmith.com/screen-capture.html
This is a superb tool – fantastic for making quick photos and videos of pages, it helps a lot when explaining things. You can take a snapshot or video of your screen and quickly add arrows and words. You can then upload your screenshot really fast and send a link.
File sharing App: Sync.com is a good one, has robust privacy with end-to-end encryption and has 5GB of space for the free version. Have your outsource workers install Sync, then you can send them a link that enables your computers to share a dropbox folder. Then, all you have to do is move a file to the folder and it immediately starts uploading and it will appear on the other’s screen. Other options include Dropbox and Tresorit.
http://wordcounttool.net – Just a simple word count tool – a really quick way to see how many words have been done on an article or web page. Useful if you are outsourcing article creation.
http://www.activecollab.com – Team management app. There are various of these out there. I haven’t tried this one yet but looks good.
I would advise to use Transferwise.com if possible for making payments to outsource workers in other countries (fantastic rates and fast transfers!) Xoom has also worked well for me – and is great for direct “cash pickup” which Philippine workers are generally familiar with – with a fee of $4.99 per transaction. And then there is good old PayPal which is still an industry standard although I take a dim view of their exchange rates, fees, slowness. There are in my view better services now for many things.
My only other note on payments is to develop a reputation for rock solid reliability when it comes to paying on time. ALWAYS PAY ON TIME. You are dealing with workers who very often are supporting their entire family on the income from their foreign boss. You are literally their lifeline. You must treat them with respect. Chatting with my team I found out that they have almost all had bad experiences with foreign bosses who did not pay or were unreliable in some way. Don’t be that guy. Not cool. Memorize the old saying “If you can’t afford to pay your people, you should not be in business”. I also like ultra successful entrepreneur Felix Dennis’s mantra: “Always meet payroll, even if it means going without food.” Now that’s class. That’s what it means to respect your team.
Keeping Your Workers
One thing that you will realize when you have been in this for a while, is that there is a time investment involved in hiring and training someone to take on a large chunk of your work. When you find someone good, they can improve your lot so much that you feel they are like gold – and you will want to do whatever you can to avoid losing them.
If you have a good worker, be sure to treat them well. State that you will pay bonuses for good work, and then follow through. Give praise. Be respectful. Find out what their plans are for the future and see if you can be the one to help them get there. Most bosses don’t do this and so if you do, you will stand out. You will make them want to kick ass for you and be part of your team! Take an interest in their professional life and in being the support system that they need to fulfil their own ambitions. It is always a two-way street. In order to get what you want out of them, you have to be giving them what they want out of you! Most good workers want stability, safety, a reliable income, an opportunity to grow, to learn new skills and of course to be appreciated.
If you don’t do this, you’ll lose ’em. They will just disappear off the map without explanation (this sometimes happens anyway). So be good to the goose that lays the golden egg – because if you don’t, someone else will…
“Work Arbitrage” / Subcontracting
Here’s a further spin on outsourcing – an “advanced tactic” – that will open up to you when you get the above aspects down:
So, you developed your outsource team and they are cracking away on various aspects of your business. Life is good. Suddenly, it occurs to you that you can get your team not only to do your work, but the work of others! You can offer new services in getting the things done that you needed done – and now that you have a highly trained team, working for a good rate, you are now in a competitive position to offer these services. A new potential for profit has appeared!
You have already done the hard work in training and developing a team: Now you can brand that team and create new opportunities. There is huge potential here!
If you can be paid $20 to provide a service, and you can get that service done for $10, then you can have the potential to “join the dots” and keep the difference. There are all kinds of places where this is being done. For example, I know of people who are subcontracting via existing work pools i.e. www.fiverr.com.
Find someone paying more than $5 for a certain job. Then find someone offering the service on fiverr, and make sure they are doing it well by getting a test one done. Then place your order!
This is work arbitrage and it offers virtually unlimited opportunities, especially to those who can think about it creatively. You could even take it one step further and hire someone to seek out the opportunities, get the work done and (if you are fortunate enough to find someone who is able to do this) provide quality control.
There are as many options for exploring this as you can imagine. If something is outsource-able, then there is the opportunity for you to create an online presence and sell the service, or to find others who are in need of the service and act as “middle person”.
There is plenty of scope for automated business here – and given that the “global marketplace” has now truly come of age, it seems that there is a vast, untapped river of potential.