Outsourcing: The Crash & Burn Story
What’s up, folks! So this post is dedicated to my good buddy John Stevens, who gave some very solid advice about outsourcing, and hiring Virtual Assistants. You should check him ...
What’s up, folks!
It got me to thinking of my own recent experiences with Virtual Assistants.
FAST TIMES AT ODESK!
Disclaimer: I haven’t actually SEEN this movie from 1982. But the movie title came to mind when I started writing this post. I do not advocate the actual “Fast Times” depicted in the movie! LOL! So send complaint letters to Sean Penn (the guy in the picture.)
It was the Fall 0f 2010.
I learned from one of my good webpreneur buddies, John Easton (Video That Wins Customers) that oDesk was a great place to find Virtual Assistants.
He was using a couple, with great success, in his business.
Now John Easton is “the brain outside my head”. He’s got a phenomenal business mind, and I consult with him often.
Anyway, I had done one-off outsourcing for graphics on Guru.com.
But I’d never incorporated a Virtual Assistant into my ongoing daily operations.
John made a compelling case for it – so off to oDesk I went.
The benefits that I see with oDesk are:
- They have a worldwide marketplace.
My first 12 V.A.s were from Canada, Pakistan, Kenya, Philippines, and Egypt.
- The hourly rates vary widely.
I consistently found hourly rates of $1/hour and $2/hour.
There were lots of people charging much higher rates, but I gathered that these were people with very specialized and expert skills, and/or people living in countries like the United States, Canada, and England (with more expensive currencies).
- The skillsets vary widely.
This was definitely a good thing. You don’t always need an expert (read: expensive). More often than not, you need someone competent and reliable, to do tasks that, while they’re not complex, they’re time consuming. Or tasks that you would otherwise procrastinate because you don’t like doing them. LOL!
- The risk of being cheated is removed, for both you and the V.A.:
oDesk verifies your credit card before you can even list a job, or make a job offer. They let you know what you’re going to be charged each week, and they do charge on a weekly basis. The same day, every week. You have a few days to contest any charges made to your card… so you’re protected too. (Unless you aren’t paying attention to the charges… which happened to me. FAST TIMES.)
Back to the story.
I went to oDesk, took a few minutes to understand how to use the site, and then started browsing.
Soon after, I posted my first job. I was almost shaking at the possibilities!
“You mean – all that manual work that I HATE doing, and often PROCRASTINATE, can now become someone else’s problem?
For $2 or $3/hour?”
(birds start singing… the sun shines… harps play…)
I already had a laundry list of what I wanted these V.A.s to do.
I posted my first job, and within minutes, applications started coming in.
Within a few hours I had dozens of people, eagerly asking to do my work!
WAS I ON CANDID CAMERA???
It was so easy to get a Virtual Assistant for the first job, that I posted a second.
And a third.
And a fourth.
And a fifth.
Each time, applicants would come pouring in. Asking for the privilege of doing my work for me.
I was ready to retire to a beach house at this point. I HAD MADE IT!
Okay. So here’s what I had the Virtual Assistants doing for me.
- Podcast transcribing:
I interviewed a few entrepreneurs for my niche site on Nigerian entrepreneurs and wanted text versions of the interviews.
But transcribing takes a really long time. So I was glad to outsource that!
The per-minute transcription prices on oDesk were a lot lower than the ones I had found in previous months, from U.S.-based transcribers.
Note that transcription is a tricky thing. You need someone who speaks English as well as a native English speaker (not a requirement for many other outsourced tasks). I got one transcript of poor quality, but the rest were satisfactory.
I soon settled on one of the four transcribers I had used as my main guy, and sent him more business.
- Video Submission to Traffic Geyser (Video Syndication tool)
In 2010, I resolved to get a lot more into video. After 2 years of false-starts. Ha ha!
So I finally started recording some videos, and putting them on YouTube. But I was hardly getting any views or web site traffic!
I signed up for Traffic Geyser, as a way to get my videos on dozens of video sites at once.
However, I found it tedious to go into the Traffic Geyser tool and do the submissions .
So I outsourced this, and it worked like a charm.
(Note: For now, I have canceled Traffic Geyser. I’m streamlining my costs.)
- Discussion forum sign-ups:
I decided to take Alex Jeffreys’ advice and use niche Discussion Forums as a source of traffic. Becoming a vocal part of a niche discussion forum allows you to build relationships, and generate very targeted traffic. Maybe not a huge amount, but whatever traffic does come to your site will be very tuned in to the niche that you’re blogging about.
I had a Virtual Assistant find me about 30 discussion forums related to Internet Marketing, and sign me up for them all.
He filled out my profile on each site, creating a backlink to my blog in the process.
Now – the plan was (and still is) to post a question relating to some content I’ve already written, on each of the discussion forums, on a periodic basis.
My V.A. will post the questions, but responses will come to my email address. I’ll field the conversation from there.
I’ll be implementing this starting in January 2011. We’ll see how it goes – it’s an experiment.
- New blog setup:
I wanted to create a new blog, separate from my main one.
A lot of the Virtual Assistants I had interacted with on oDesk indicated experience with WordPress… so I had one of my VAs completely own the task of setting up this new blog. Templates… plug-ins… all that good stuff. I haven’t had to touch the web site at all!
While this is work I could do myself, I prefer to focus on higher-value tasks. And this one is going quite well.
(Note: Mainly because it’s being done by the V.A. I found to be the most reliable. She’s a dream to work with.)
- Web research:
I had 3 or 4 Virtual Assistants do web research tasks for me.
In one case, I was trying to figure out what topics to focus on for my next eBook. I had read somewhere that the best place to find out what questions your audience is asking is in niche discussion forums. So I had a Virtual Assistant get me the most commented on topics from about 5 different Internet Marketing forums… and put them in an Excel spreadsheet.
Interestingly, this did not go so well. I was working with several Virtual Assistants simultaneously at this point… and still learning the system.
So I allowed this one VA to have 4 hours a week, and didn’t check on her for a few weeks.
By the time I got the work back, the quantity of work she completed in 8 hours was disappointing.
I could have done that same work in 30 minutes or less.
This happens sometimes.
So it’s helpful to start the Virtual Assistant off with only 1 or 2 hours, check on them, gain confidence in their work, and THEN increase their hours.
- Building backlinks from Squidoo:
I read about the importance of building backlinks to your site, from high authority web sites.
Web 2.0 sites like Squidoo, HubPages, as well as article directories like eZineArticles.com, are all highly reputed.
So what I resolved to do was to have some of my existing content repurposed and placed onto Squidoo.
I had a Virtual Assistant manage this for me. To be honest, I wasn’t thrilled with the results.
The idea was (is) a good one. But the implementation left a lot to be desired.
- Sending out cards:
My wife and I are independent reps for a company that helps people send out physical greeting cards through the mail. All done from a web browser.
It’s a fun and handy service – no more going to the greeting card store, then going to the post office, buying stamps, etc. And it saves your contact list (including birthdays), so that you can easily send a card out whenever the thought crosses your mind.
Anyway, I found that being a bit of a creative person, I was spending WAAAAY too much time designing each card! I was getting all fancy – designing completely custom cards… with the recipients’ photos included and everything. Ha ha! So rather than sending cards frequently, I was doing these really elaborate cards, but only once in a blue moon.
On the prompting (okay, kick in the pants) from a friend, I decided to outsource this task to a Virtual Assistant.
Since my list of contacts was already in the system, I could simply tell the Virtual Assistant to whom I wanted to send the card, and what the personal message should be. The V.A. could then pick a nice “thank you card” template, enter my message, and send to my recipient.
Boom. All done.
This one is in progress – and will be a big focus for me in 2011. I plan to send one card a day with this system.
There are always people to thank, birthdays to acknowledge, congratulations to extend.
There is NO WAY I could think of doing a card a day, without a V.A.
The V.A. I’m using has worked with me on other tasks above, to great success… so I know I can trust her with this.
(I have her doing, I think, 10 hours/week for me at this point. And I’ve stopped working with most of the other V.A.s I had hired.)
Just to give you a picture of how much more EFFICIENT oDesk made me in the past 3 months, here are some stats:
My monthly summary on oDesk:
- Oct 2010: 61:20 hours, $133.98 (average of $2.18/hour)
- Nov 2010: 20:00 hours, $ 54.76 (average of $2.74/hour)
- Dec 2010: 14:00 hours, $ 42.00 (average of $3.00/hour)
- Total: 95:20 hours, $230.74 (average of $2.42/hour)
You can see how I started off in the fast lane, but eventually settled into a groove. Ha!
Anyway, my outsourcing adventures continue.
It’s really easy to get started, so I recommend you make a quick list of stuff you SHOULD be doing in your business, but aren’t. And then look to outsource them.
One other note: Outsourcing increases your efficiency – it lets you do more in less time.
But it doesn’t necessarily increase your effectiveness – getting the right things done.
You have to come up with a game plan that gets you from here to where you want to be.
Only then, can outsourcing move you in the right direction.
I’d love to hear of your stories, or fears, about outsourcing!