My journey with outsourcing began in college.
I wish I could say that I accomplished something. I wish I could say that my decision to outsource made me money, or even just saved me time. Yet, I can’t. I did everything wrong.
I saved up $800 for outsourcing tasks (which was also my net worth at the time). I decided to “invest” this into my first business. Six weeks later, I had nothing. Actually, I take that back. I did have something. I now possessed irrelevant and error-ridden work product from the people I outsourced to (Irrelevant research reports, spreadsheets, and a half-done website). And it was my fault.
Looking back, I really didn’t have the right reasons to outsource in the first place. What started it all was listening to a friend brag that he was outsourcing everything. He said he was building a business and didn’t have to do anything. This sounded neat, I thought. But what pushed me over the edge was hearing the media talk about outsourcing. Thomas Friedman in “The World is Flat,” wrote about how miraculous outsourcing is, and how the world is changing forever. The message from him gave me the sense that if I didn’t outsource, I’ll miss the boat. So with my brain’s FMO decision making process (“Fear of Missing Out”), I decided to jump into the outsourcing game head-first.
When I was outsourcing my tasks, I walked around campus arrogantly. I felt innovative. I felt cutting-edge. I remember listening to my professors lecture on some theoretical concept, and then getting distracted by an IM on my phone from a worker in India. I bragged to family and friends that I was working smart, not hard. I told others around family gatherings that academia was out of touch with reality. “I’m listening to pedantic professors with an army of workers in India building my business.” But the bragging would be cut short by the reality that I was failing to outsource effectively.
In those days, I outsourced tasks like, “Determine the market size of Israel-based startups by writing a 30-page paper supporting your findings.” You see, my first business idea was strategy consulting. This was genius because I had absolutely zero business experience (sarcasm). I reasoned that because I had put hundreds of hours into studying strategic models and theoretical business concepts, I could create my own business that taught this to others. Turns out, business school is different from the real-world. It took me about six months of denial, and living paycheck-to-paycheck before it set in that I wasn’t creating much value. Actually, this really set in when I discovered that my younger sister, who was working at Golden Spoon, was pulling in more cash than me. That was a hilariously painful reality.
There’s two lessons in the story above: First, fail fast and move on. Second, don’t outsource for the sake of outsourcing. We’ll concentrate on number two: how to outsource effectively.
Why Outsourcing is Important
The thesis of this book doesn’t center around getting organized and concentrating better. It doesn’t even concentrate on getting things done. It centers on getting the right things done. It revolves around integrating a specific set of habits and actions that allow you to focus on important items in life, and outsource, delegate and not get distracted by the rest.
If you want to become a more focused person, the answer doesn’t arrive through doing uninteresting tasks in a half-assed manner. It centers on defining what you’re good at, what your purpose is, and carrying that out in the most effective way feasible. For all the other items that arise in life, you must find a way to rid yourself of them through outsourcing them, or getting them done through others that are passionate or proficient at carrying out the task.
In this chapter we’ll first explore when it’s appropriate to outsource (so that you’re not outsourcing for the sake of outsourcing like I did above), and then I’ll take you through a series of steps and practices that helped me outsource effectively.
When should you outsource?
The first step in outsourcing effectively concerns itself with the question of, “Should you even outsource this?” This is the most important step, and the most critical piece when beginning the journey of outsourcing. It doesn’t matter how well you define and communicate the task. If you’re outsourcing something that really isn’t that important, you’re wasting your time.
For this reason, I created the diagram above, which should help you decide when, where and with whom you should outsource your tasks. And yes, I outsourced this:
In the end, if you decide to outsource, you’re left with three options of where to outsource your tasks:
- Outsourcing to a rock star: I feel that this is the best-case scenario, because you know what you want and that you can rely on this person.
- Outsourcing globally: Outsourcing globally is a good option if you know exactly what you want, and how a person should likely carry it out. Outsourcing globally enables the scenario where you’re sleeping and work is getting done. And that’s a really good feeling.
- Outsourcing locally: If you’re a beginner, or you’re fairly new to outsourcing, I suggest using Craigslist for one reason: If you can’t really explain what you want, or how you want it carried out, you can meet for a cup of coffee face-to-face and iron out your confusion.
Before beginning the journey of outsourcing, make sure you review the diagram above. Otherwise you could be wasting time in the steps below.
Share this with your friends via email, Twitter, Facebook, or whatever floats your boat.
Just ensure that they don’t make the same mistake I, as well as many others make, outsourcing irrelevant tasks.
Critical Steps of Outsourcing Effectively
At the very core of outsourcing, we all know one thing: If you’re outsourcing, you have a problem. Don’t freak out. That’s not a bad thing. When outsourcing, you have an important problem that you’re willing to pay someone else to solve. And getting this problem solved effectively centers on two things: communication and people. You must ensure that you’ve effectively communicated what you want done, and you must ensure that you have the right person attempting to carry it out.
People that you outsource to are usually smarter than you think; however, for your own sake, you must write as if you’re speaking to someone who has no idea what you’re doing, why you’re doing it and what you’re looking for. In order to get this message across, I’ve outlined a 5-Step formula for outsourcing.
The 5 Steps to Effective Outsourcing:
When signing up for an outsourcing service like Odesk, or speaking with someone you found on Craigslist, you’ll want to get the following five elements communicated to them. Whether through Odesk’s messaging service, email or chat, make sure you communicate these five elements:
The first step when outsourcing centers on giving the person some context as to who you are and what you do.
Example: “Hello, my name is John Smith. I live in Northern California and I have been in the real estate industry for 25 years. Basically, I help people sell their homes.”
2. Your Goal
The second step gives the person a sense of what you’d like to accomplish.
Example: “My goal is to break into the social media space by releasing 10 videos and having them appear on YouTube.”
3. My Problem
The third step centers on defining the problem. Usually the problem is implied by your goal (i.e. you don’t have the know-how to reach your goal); however, you must make sure that you clearly state your problem for yourself, as well as for the provider.
Example: “I’m having a tough time achieving this because I don’t know how to do any of the following items: 1) Edit the video, 2) Add music, 3) Add text introductions, 4) Upload it to YouTube. I do know how to record the video because I have a camera, though.”
The fourth step is where you outline how you envision the outsourcing relationship to carry out.
Example: “Correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe the following scenario would work: 1) I will record the video and send it to you via email, 2) You will carry out the items I outlined above, and then upload the YouTube video, 3) You will then send me the link to the video.”
5. Next step
The last step is essentially a “call to action” for those reading your job description. It’s critical in this step that you cater towards those that have done similar work in the past. You don’t want people who think they can solve your problem. You don’t want someone learning on your dime. Thus, ask them for their portfolio and past work.
Example: “If you feel you are suitable for this position, please email me with your portfolio and sample videos that you created.”
Last, here’s an important tip: Select the candidate with work product that fits your needs at a fair rate. Do not simply search for those that are the cheapest. Quality may suffer by employing this habit and you’ll end up wasting time. The goal is not to brag to your friends that you paid someone in the Philippines $3/hour for work. That’s not only immature, it’s ineffective. Your goal is to solve your problem with solid workers in an effective manner.
The 5-step process above works great for projects; however, when there’s an ongoing task, you’ll need to employ another method to make it work. For instance, if you’re a small business looking to hire a social media manager that does all your tweeting, you don’t want to subject yourself with moving through the 5-steps above, and training many providers over and over again. You want to hire one provider, and have them execute your plan on an ongoing basis. For these type of tasks, the 5-step process above is necessary, but there’s an additional component: a checklist.
If you’re a checklist fanatic, or even if you’re not, a book I highly recommend picking up is “Checklist Manifesto.” It’s a book about the effectiveness of checklists. It’s astonishing how organizations can drastically improve, and lives can be saved by merely employing a checklist in your organization.
If I had to work off a checklist all day, I’d go nuts; yet there are certain people who prefer checklists. It gives them a sense of consistency and comfort. I find that those who seek out process-based tasks, really enjoy and value checklists. And that’s why I recommend it. I’ve been using this technique for about a year, and find that the people I outsource to absolutely love it. It enables them to not be micromanaged. I don’t constantly have to check in with them–I can just glance at their checklist.
You’ll want your checklist to be simple and separated as follows (usually in an excel or Google docs spreadsheet):
- Checklist Item: Column where you outline that item you need done
- Date: Within the date box, have them put in their initials (it somewhat bars against any b.s. taking place)
You’ll be surprised with how effective this simple tactic can be.
In closing, it’s critical that you outsource for the purpose of getting important items done, not for the sake of outsourcing. In order to become a more focused person, it’s critical to understand your strengths, and master the art of outsourcing your weaknesses. If your strength is in development, and you lack design skills, it’s important that you understand design, but even more important that you know how to effectively outsource design.
By now, it’s clear that outsourcing is here to say. It’s no longer the future, but the present. But it’s not going anywhere. If you don’t outsource right now, don’t think that you’re missing out. You likely don’t need to because you’re not faced with a task so critical that it needs to be outsourced immediately. Yet, when you do find an appropriate item that needs to be outsourced, make sure that you follow the steps above. It will hopefully make your first outsourcing experience a lot more effective and enjoyable than mine.
As always, feel free to ask me any additional questions in the comment area below, and also feel free to suggest or add any tools or methods that have helped you outsource more effectively in the past.
- I’ve used Elance, Asksunday and Getafreelancer, but I’ve found the best service to be ODesk. For some reason, I just find the service, the organization, the website and the providers to provide a better experience than the other ones. Admittedly, I haven’t tried the other ones for over a year, so maybe they’ve improved things. But barring any unforeseen scenario, I’ll continue using Odesk and continue recommending them.
- I’ve used 99designs for logos, blog headers and other items and found their model to be excellent for myself. I’m not sure how much designers like it, but I’ve been a satisfied customer whenever I’ve used their services.
- Last, but not least, Craigslist is a great tool for beginners because you can meet up with the person you’re outsourcing work to. Just make sure going into it that you understand the spammy nature of Craigslist. Tread lightly when looking for somone on craigslist because you may receive a hefty amount of spam. Additionally, make it clear that you’re only looking for a local provider. Otherwise, you’re better off simply going with Odesk.
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