How To Outsource Better Than I Did

By Leslie Samuel
45 Comments

Outsourcing! Such a beautiful word. It’s the magical word that can almost eliminate you from your business and make life so much easier that you’ll be sleeping on a bed of roses with money falling from the sky.

When I thought about outsourcing, I thought about uncle Scrooge from the cartoon “Ducktales” from back in the day, doing his daily swim through his money (if you don’t know what I’m talking about, you’re either too young or too old – just kidding). That’s how it’s supposed to be, right?

That’s what I thought. Since I got into internet marketing, I’d always heard that outsourcing was the key to having a very successful business. You can leverage the efforts of others to help you grow your business faster than you could do on your own. Ever since I read The 4 Hour Workweek, it was a concept that was always very appealing to me.

On one hand, it’s very true. If done well, it can cause many good things to happen. There are many benefits to outsourcing – some of the most notable (in my opinion) being the following:

Well, I tried it and it didn’t work. I posted a job on a scriptlance to get a V.A. and it ended up being a bust. In fact, it ended up costing me money with absolutely no return on investment.

I had it all planned out. I purchased an “outsourcing package” with a bunch of training videos that showed how to do a bunch of things that would boost traffic significantly.

The person I got was really good at writing, so she seemed like a good fit. I gave her some videos on how to write articles, comment on blogs, tweet about my business, do social bookmarking, do keyword research and a few other things. At the end of the day she would report back to me and she was doing a pretty good job at what I asked her to do. She was also very affordable.

However, there was a few HUGE problems with the way I went about my outsourcing. I hired someone to do a bunch of things without a clear understanding of HOW it would fit into my business. They were doing all of what seemed to be the “right things”, but there was no significant growth to my business, and I was spending just as much time on my business before hiring them.

So now I’m at Round 2. I’ve learned from my past mistakes and decided to give it another go. However, my approach to it was totally different. Allow me to share with you how I decided to outsource this time.

Understanding Where My Business Is And Where It’s Headed

The first thing I think someone should do is look at where their business is and what their goals are. One of the main problems I had with my first outsourcing experience is that their was no clear stance and no clear goals. Round 2 had to be different.

I run a biology website. My purpose for the website is to provide others with valuable resources that they can use to understand biology better and share it with the world. My slogan is “Making Biology Fun” and I plan on changing how the world learns biology. Yes, it’s a very lofty goal.

One of the main aspects of the website is that I’m providing daily videos explaining one specific concept in biology in a way that makes it fun and easy to understand. This is the most important aspect of my site, and what resulted in people coming to the site, and hopefully sticking around and sharing it with others.

That being said, I decided to look at the tasks that needed to be done to accomplish my lofty goal of making biology fun and reaching the world. Some of the main tasks were as follows:

These tasks can be summarized by saying: producing quality content and getting it out there. In the future, the plan is to develop products, but for now, it’s all about the content.

Deciding What Is Essential For You To Do

Once you have a good idea of where your site is, and where you plan on taking it, it’s essential to identify the tasks that no one else can do except you. This will vary from site to site and from individual to individual. For some people, their goal is to run a 100% hands-off business. This can work. However, for me it was different.

In my business, my main asset is the content. That’s something that I don’t plan on outsourcing, although that could change in the future. I want my content to be top quality content, so I decided to keep that responsibility. I committed to posting one new video every weekday (crazy, I know).

I also decided that it was my role to connect with others in my niche. Since I’m setting myself up as a brand, I’m the “face” of my business and I want to make that face as personal as possible, while still retaining a strong element of professionalism.

Outsourcing The Rest

Once I knew what I needed to do, it was easy to see what I didn’t need to do. These were the following types of tasks:

If these things are done by others, it frees up my time to be able to focus on what is important – content and networking.

Providing CLEAR Guidelines

Because I had been working my business as a solo mission before, I knew what steps needed to be taken to complete the tasks that needed to be done. To make it even clearer, I decided to write instruction manuals for all of the tasks that I could write instruction manuals for. Here are some examples of manuals I wrote for my outsourcers. Feel free to download them to use as guidelines for any manuals you might need to write:

As you can see, it was done in a step-by-step manner, and I tried to give as many details as were necessary to complete the tasks. I’m in the process of writing more manuals to be able to outsource even more tasks. Almost every task, except for the technical stuff, will have a manual. This allows me to train the members of my team well, and also makes it easier to replace someone in the event that they can no longer continue.

One more thing I would like to mention on this topic – I find it extremely helpful to have a good handle of many of the tasks you are outsourcing BEFORE actually outsourcing. It’s not essential, but it has definitely helped me to be able to clearly train my outsourcers.

Why Text And Not Video

I’m the kind of guy that LOVES making videos. To me, they make it much easier for people to grab onto what you are trying to teach and do it efficiently. However, there’s something else I know. Since this is my first run through this process, I know that there will be things that I will need to tweak. In fact, there are things that I’m tweaking right now.

Because of this fact, it would make it extremely difficult to start with videos and then make the modifications as the need arises. For this reason, I opted for doing written manuals instead of videos. However, when the process reaches a period of stability and there’s little to no change in the instructions for some of the topics, I do intend to go back to my love of video :)

Why I Think oDesk ROCKS!

A buddy of mine has been trying to convince me that oDesk is the end all and be all of the outsourcing arena. He keeps telling me how great they are and that they are “the best”. I used to think that all outsourcing sites are created equally – that they all served the same purpose and provided the same functionality.

Oh man, I was dead wrong. I started using oDesk and fell in love. Now, I’m not going to say that they are the best, because I haven’t tried all of them. Not only that – I might find certain things valuable that you don’t, and that’s ok. But let me explain why I think they are awesome with this short story.

The first time I decided to outsource design of my site, I used one of the other sites, which shall remain nameless. I found someone on there that was really good. In fact, I was very pleased with the design I got. However, there was one thing I wasn’t particularly pleased with. I chose him because his portfolio was awesome, and his hourly rate was pretty low – significantly lower than the other bidders.

When he sent me the final bill, he claimed to have worked 24 hours on a project that, in my opinion, shouldn’t have taken any longer than 6 hours. Although his price was lower, he ended up charging me significantly more than I expected.

oDesk has a great feature where you can track how much time was actually spent on your project. Not only that – it randomly takes screenshots of their desktop and gives you an indication of how active they were during that time by providing you metrics like how many keystrokes and mouse clicks your outsourcer made during that given time period. In other words, I can always do a spot check to see if they were doing what they claimed.

Where everything else is concerned, they are pretty similar to all of the others. So for me, having that feature was definitely worth switching to oDesk.

Check out oDesk’s features

So, In Review . . .

If you want to learn from my mistakes, here is the short version of this entire post:

  1. Understand where you are in your business.
  2. Be clear about your goals.
  3. Decide on what is essential for you to do.
  4. Outsource the rest.
  5. Give clear written instructions.

That’s pretty much it. So how has outsourcing worked for you? Share your experience below :)

About Leslie Samuel

Leslie Samuel is a blogger who believes that the internet can change the world. He runs an Interactive Biology website that Makes Biology Fun and teaches people how to grow their online business in his Learning With Leslie podcast. He also runs a Become A Blogger - A blog dedicated to helping people Change The World with their blogs. Follow Leslie Samuel on Twitter.

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Outsourcing

45 Comments

  • Hi Lasie I always love the article about outsource. You give me the idea how to outsource. I think I’ll learn form your mistake. thanks again

  • Leslie,

    I have just started to outsource this past year and I agree Odesk is great. Thanks for the great tips. I especially like the idea of creating a manual. That way you can keep it and hand it on to the next worker if you need to hire another one.

    Keep up the great work!

    Karen

  • Great insight Leslie! I think my initial troubles with outsourcing mirrored those that you mentioned in this article: outsourcing without a clear cut vision. I remember one job in particular where I outsourced around 60 articles, but it took a few months for me to even get the content in distribution. Why? …because while I had all the content I needed, I didn’t have the time to manually handle it in the way I planned. What I needed was someone to handle the management side of things too.

    Nevertheless, I still outsource, but I make sure that I have a solid execution plan.

    – Yolanda

  • Leslie,

    Great post. We too have experienced many of the symptoms you are describing. And I couldn’t agree more that a little bit of planning can go a long way in getting the most out of your remote workers.

    You mentioned ODesk as your favorite place to find resources and the cool tools they have to monitor their productivity. This is key to protecting both you and your worker(s).

    But if you don’t use ODesk, you can still monitor your remote workers with check-in, check-out, and random screenshots using HiveDesk.

    Thanks again for a great post with a lot of helpful tips.

    ~ Michael

  • Hi Leslie

    I have to agree.

    When I speak to businesses and people that outsource on a regular basis and they tend to use odesk for the value and quality of staff.

    Great post

    Phill

  • As a proponent of “why pay for something you can get for free”, these are my thoughts…

    I’ve always had the belief that I could get quality work done for $0 and so I never even considered it an option that I should pay. This may sound like an asshole thing to say, but it was borne out of necessity, not avarice. It may not be for everyone to do this type of “power of zero” thing, but it sure has worked for me. The trick is that you must be able to motivate people with other things than money (which, counter-intuitively perhaps, makes them even more motivated).

    What I spent so far:

    Articles – $0.
    Artwork for covers – $0.
    Graphic design – $0.
    3 assistants – $0.
    Webmaster and web host – $0.

    I HAVE given out a ton of free books and such, but always in the form of review copies (which didn’t cost me anything) so it doesn’t really count as payment in my book.

    I am not against paying people, obviously, but I guess one needs to be really careful that the money is spent well (ie has a decent ROI) and that the other person on the other side is actually motivated to deliver their best efforts.

    There is a pop-psychology book (can’t remember the name) in which the author says that people were happy to work for free in a soup kitchen but if they were offered a wage of $2 an hour they lost interest. If you pay people $0, they are glorious idealists volunteering for the cause. If you pay people $2, they are just employees, and underpaid ones at that. Something to consider…

    • Definitely an interesting concept. Yes, you can get good stuff done for free, especially if you have a community-feel to your website. This is definitely something I will be doing in the future as I expand. For example, if you have a forum, you can have moderators that work for free, because they want to help build the community.

      That being said, I strongly believe it’s good practice to pay someone for the work they do. It’s one of the things that should be done to let people know that you appreciate the work they do. The climate I try to have in my business is that every person who works with me is highly valued. That’s just one way of showing it.

  • It really requires business owners to examine the needs of their business and figure out if outsourcing is really the way to address it.

  • Hi Leslie,

    I really liked the way you’ve explained what needs to be outsourced, it’s so true that one must be aware of what responsibilities you need to take care of yourself and then it automatically becomes clear what can be outsourced, a lot of people fail to do that and end up outsourcing major responsbilities which only a business owner can understand. I have personally been a fan of odesk myself and think it’s the best site for outsourcing and anyone who believes in the concept should definitely try this site out. Thanks for sharing!

    Riya Sam
    Training for Entrepreneurs.com

  • I really like you way of effectively outsourcing. I haven’t managed to successfully outsource yet. I had someone work on submitting articles to 10 sites but he only managed to submit to three. I tried calling him on Skpe and he wouldn’t pick up the phone. I actually found him on elance. I think I would try getting a VA on Odesk. I heard they are better for developing?

    I write the content for my site too. I would also like creating video and wouldn’t mind finishing someone do the editing so that I can work on creating more content. I would also like to find some do the editing of me calls with clients to.

    Thanks for your CLEAR Guidelines on deciding on what’s essential for me to more forward
    .

  • I m also an internet marketer, I m also in search online work, It’s really a very informative post to me.

  • Leslie I agree with you, having a clear picture of what your looking to achieve from out sourcing, will definitely assist you in finding someone that can fit into your business perfectly. I outsource some aspects of my business mainly so that I can focus on more important things that I am good at.

  • Hi Leslie,

    I agree with your opinion on outsourcing. It is impossible to do everything yourself and still have enough time to enjoy life!

    I just started with this website and I outsourced the tech and design part. Works great for me!

    Paul

  • Leslie,

    elance also has a working room, where you can monitor the outsourced work. I have now started my website, and tried outsourcing article writing through fiverr.com
    I got some pretty good articles, but agree with you, that the production of content is something I must keep doing.
    So i have to really analyze where I’m at, at this moment.

    My problem is that I cannot really find any other websites with the same niche, which probably is a strength.

    So I am not sure at this moment how I can make a next step with outsourcing

  • I don’t do a lot of outsourcing yet. I’m signed up as a business at Elance.com to do that. And got tons of offers for a tentative project once. The 4-hour work week I’m sure talks about automating too not just outsourcing. That’s where I’m at — just making my job easier to run. I’m finding SiteBuildIt! very helpful for the money. I can’t put my main blog there yet http://www.katherinekay.com. But for a longterm focused niche it is fantastic. But that’s another story. I think just thinking of ways to do things on a shoestring, using good tools out there. And trying to do the personal stuff — writing, meeting and greeting ourselves.

  • Leslie,
    Thanks for the timely tips. More and more I’ve been outsourcing a lot of things to different people. Matter of fact…semmy up above is one of them. ;)
    He does GREAT graphics work if any of you are looking for somebody.
    By the end of this year, I have specific things I’m looking to move more toward automating, and I can see that I’ll definitely need to put more time into determining how best to get them working efficiently.
    Sounds like we need to provide very clear guidelines.

    Thanks,
    Brandon

  • So far what I have learned from outsourcing that you will not be getting what you are expecting from outsourcing. so keep your expectations low.

    • If that’s what you learned from outsourcing, it’s probably because you aren’t doing it effectively. There are right ways to do it and wrong ways to do it. If I don’t get good work done, I believe that it’s because I made a mistake somewhere along the line. Of course, that mistake can be the fact that I chose the wrong person :)

  • I also bought the Jonas outsourcing product. Not great content and a lot of broken links. Just thrown together stuff. 2 out of 10 stars.

  • Having a clear plan of what you want to accomplish when hiring a freelancer is important. I mean if you do not know what you need to get done how can you ever get there? I am sure you had a lot more success the 2nd time around once you had a precise plan in place. Thanks for sharing Leslie.

    – Robert

  • I will need to outsource next month. I worked out that I need to get someone to share half my load and I will be able to more than double my production. Hope my math is accurate.

  • Interesting article. There seem to be two basic schools of thought regarding outsourcing.

    Some people go for the cheap outsourcing option – elance and the others are only really populated by workers from developing countries, as the hourly rates WILL NOT ATTRACT quality people from the US or UK. It can be a cost-effective option, but there are risks, as you have pointed out. Many people get burned this way.

    The other option is to find trusted professionals through your networks, pay the going rate and build a team you can trust.

    I run a web services company and I always hire freelancers this way. I now have a trusted network of highly skilled professionals. I have worked with most of them for years. My profit on each job might be less, but I have the confidence that what I deliver to my clients will be great quality, delivered on time and within the agreed budget.

    My company now has a great reputation and is built on solid foundations. I would always suggest taking the time to find your people through contacts and friends, rather than through outsourcing sites.

  • Leslie great point. I had my first go at outsourcing last month and it went really well. I chose Elance and just jumped straight in to find someone to re-write some articles of mine for Ezines. I think what made it go so well was the fact I wrote a very clear spec. I made out clear points of what I wanted done. I think communication is key to any outsourcing, because if you don’t get your points across clear and concise, it’s going to take longer sending work back etc. Anyway, by the end of the 10 days it took her to write these posts, I gave her a big bonus because I felt I’d accepted to pay her a too low a rate. I know that’s not business sense, but these are humans were are asking to do jobs of work. I like to connect and make people feel good. I kept her motivated after every piece of work too to get the best work from her possible…Although this was a small job, it taught me a lot about the necessity to communicate throughout.

  • I realized early when starting SEO, that I would have to learn how to master the art of outsourcing.

  • I find when you setup processes, outline daily tasks, and provide instructions on how to do those tasks, you can easily plug-in your outsources have them work efficiently.

  • Very useful article Leslie, What software do you use to make your manuals

    • I use Keynote on the Mac. It’s like Microsoft Word, but 100 times better :)

      But it’s only available on mac.

  • Interesting blog. It would be great if you can provide more details about it. Thanks you

  • Personally, I feel that the quality of the staff at odesk is quite mediocre. I tried hiring some writers from there but after a week or so, I terminated their services as I just did not want to spend most of my time editing their english. Any past experience with odesk writers guys?

    • I have one person working for me right now that’s a writer, and they are pretty good. I actually hired 3 of them initially to work on a test project and then narrowed it down to the one I work with currently. You can find crappy writers everywhere. You just need to have a good process to narrow them down to the one that works for you.

  • Awesome post Leslie,
    Nice tips bro. It;s better to decide on what you need to outsource for before taking any action. Thanks so much for sharing bro. Rock on!

  • I know I need to outsource. Just can’t afford it right now. But If my IM efforts ever give me a little surplus to work on, then I’m going to go by your suggestions. Thankx…

  • I see so many people talking about outsourcing. I think I may have to try this out once I have a solid plan running.

  • Lee

    Great post! I’m just now getting to the point in my offline business where I need to really get organized about outsourcing. Writing the guides is good. I thought I would write guides, and include videos where it’s a little easier to see something than to read about it. My problem is taking what I do, which is sometimes fairly intuitive, and breaking that up into tasks that I can get someone else to do. Thanks!

  • Leslie, great article, and I do remember “Ducktales”, loved that show! I’ve used oDesk a few times and my experience has been successful. I would love to read a nitty-gritty guide to oDesk, the tips and tricks for starting out and negotiating personable prices for tasks.

  • Outsourcing definitely has its advantages, especially early on when the pressures of starting your endeavor itself takes up majority of your time and resources, making it almost necessary to outsource a lot of work that you’re not experienced in, to others. Later on, as you are more comfortable with your work, perhaps you can learn to do that same thing yourself if you feel you can do a good job with it yourself and save some money also.

  • i am the one who just follow these simple steps . outsourcing is the best way you can cut your prices good way

  • I started to just do that: whenever I post an article, I also post a video on youtube Then I start to look at my blogs, and add a post. I am now posting 2 to 3 articles a week, and I know traffic is coming. At one point, I had a lot of traffic. now it is less but I know it is like that on line. no problem. keep focused and remember that blogging is a high maintenance kind of thing.
    Success to all!

  • Leslie,

    I really enjoyed your post. I’m just begining to realize that without outsourcing, I’m not going to advance any farther than I am right now. I’ve hit sort of a “plateau” in my marketing business right now and I’m spread too thin. I’ve just started to outsource the article writing aspect of my business, but it took me weeks to find a writer who was able to provide the level quality I wanted at a reasonable price.

    It’s easy to fake a resume online and lead someone to believe that your work is actually the work of someone else. I went through 10 or so writers who claimed to be pros but were absolutely horrible. And forget about sites like Fiverr. Out of 25 gigs I have ordered so far, only 10 were completed.

    Outsourcng is definitely not as easy as it sounds!

  • I ran into the same problem when I first tried it. When I went back and tried it out again I had to map out a plan and stick the small stuff to outsource such as you said, like design and transcribing. You gave me a few other points to think about when i am ready to give it another go.

  • thanks you Leslie! you really taught me how to outsource….

  • Great post. I recently outsourced my real estate business to a virtual assistant overseas by using Odesk. Glad you shared your story with us.

  • Its amazing how much more I can get done with a little outsourcing. Plus it allows me to really focus on the activities that really bring in money. Great article Leslie.

  • Nice stuff leslie, I haven’t outsourced enough because of my low budget but that’s not an excuse since at ODesk you can find cheap freelancers.

  • I have yet to outsource, but having read The 4-Hour Work Week myself I see the power of having others run most or all of your online businesses. It seems like finding a person that you trust is difficult, but I suppose that just comes with trial and error.

    Also, considering that native English speakers are not going to be the ones hired to do a lot of this work, I would be worried about their ability to write well. I see poorly written niche websites too often.

    – Andrew

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