Last year I attended a business conference where James Cann, from the UK-edition of the popular TV show Dragon’s Den, was a speaker.
One of the questions he received from the audience was, “How do you know when it is the right time hire somebody in your business?”
James answered this question by recalling a personal story from the 1980s, during the time that he was starting to build his multi-million dollar recruitment business…
One Sunday morning, whilst working in his office at home, his wife came to see him and suggested that the grass at the back of their house was getting rather long and he should really think about mowing the lawn.
As James set about taking the lawn mower out of his garage he started to think about the value of his own time and in particular which profitable activities he could be doing in his business if he wasn’t about to spend an hour working in the garden.
It became pretty clear to him that the value of his time spent in his business was worth much more than the cost of hiring a gardener.
So, you won’t be surprised to learn that he did go-ahead and hire a someone to cut the grass!
Of course, the basic lesson from this story is that we should always prioritise and focus our time on the highest value activities in our online businesses.
However, despite attending that business conference and hearing this story in March 2010 it wasn’t until some months later that I really started to understand this point…
For me, the “tipping point” was spending day-after-day writing articles for my niche websites.
Whilst this certainly contributed value to my business the problem was that I spent much less time on much more important tasks such as planning new websites, working on new product ideas and developing relationships with joint venture partners.
Obviously, the solution to this problem was to outsource my article writing and redirect my time towards these more critical tasks.
As soon as I did this and immediately felt like a large burden had been lifted from my shoulders.
Today, the only writing I do personally is here at Gain Higher Ground, guest posts for other blogs and for specific products that I’m creating (my stock market trading product for example).
All of the writing for my smaller niche websites is outsourced.
How Do I Know When The Time Is Right To Start Outsourcing?
With the exception of technical jobs such as programming and graphic design, I believe it is important to do each of the jobs in your online business yourself, at least once, before you hire other people to do it.
This way, when you do come to outsource a particular task you have a much better understanding of what needs to be done and can provide high quality guidance for the worker that you are hiring.
I would like to offer you 2 more points here:
1. If you feel that the burden of routine tasks such as article writing, building websites/Wordpress blogs, or link building is beginning to weigh heavily on your progress then it is definitely time to consider outsourcing some of these tasks.
2. I personally feel that I didn’t start outsourcing soon enough. I’m not sure if this is typical of most people when starting out online but I have heard several other marketers make this point too.
For these reasons, I would suggest as a rule-of-thumb, that if you have built a website and have been writing articles for at least a couple months then you need to take a serious look at outsourcing some of your work.
Where Are The Best Places Online To Find Outsourced Workers?
Firstly, I should just say that I’m going to concentrate on the first steps to outsourcing here.
This means that I’m not going to talk about hiring full-time or (even part-time) virtual assistants. I think this is probably best left for a separate post because it is a fairly large topic and something that typically comes later on in a more established internet business.
Instead, I’m going to focus on hiring freelancers for one off jobs.
I’ve used a number of different websites to outsource my work but Elance, Odesk and 99designs are by far my preferred choices.
Let’s take a closer look…
Elance & oDesk
I have grouped these 2 websites together because they are both great places to hire freelancers for pretty much any task you can think of, from writing a simple 400 word article to building an entire iPhone app!
It’s free to sign up to both of these services, although be aware that you will not be able to make hires until you have verified your payment method.
This usually takes a couple a days (ish) so it might be an idea to sign up now if you think you might be wanting to use Elance or oDesk anytime in the near future.
My main use of the services has been for article writing and link building. Overall I have to tell you that, in my opinion, I really prefer Odesk to Elance.
Here are my reasons:
1. I have found the quality of workers (and applicants) on Odesk are generally superior to Elance.
2. There is a minimum $50 fee for fixed price jobs at Elance which is not the case at ODesk.
3. If you hire on a per-hour basis (rather than a fixed price) then oDesk allows you to see actual screenshots of your worker’s screen at regular intervals!
Take a look at this real-time video of me hiring a freelancer on oDesk for a recent audio transcription job:
I actually used 99designs for the header design you see above here at Gain Higher Ground. It is an awesome service which gives you access to high quality designers for headers, logos, business cards, brochures, t-shirts, banner ads and even stationery!
At first glance you might think that the pricing is fairly high and whilst it is true that you can certainly get cheaper graphic work through Odesk or ELance, the really special thing about 99Designs is that you can hold a contest which invites multiple freelancers submit their designs.
After you can have received several designs you can then liaise with them to refine and improve their work until you find a design that you really love which you then pick as the contest winner!
Check out the 1 minute video on the home page to see what I mean.
How To I Post My Job And Hire The Right Worker?
This is a great question and personally this was definitely something that stopped me outsourcing sooner. I guess I was afraid of getting ripped off or even getting laughed at for not saying the right things in my job post!
Like most things, the first time you hire a freelancer is the hardest.
However, after your first time you’ll find the process extremely quick and easy…
Here are my tips for hiring freelancers:
1. Be Very Specific About The Details Of The Job
One thing is for sure, if you are not highly specific about the task you want doing then the chances are that you will not be satisfied with the outcome.
Here is one of my actual job postings from Odesk:
What I was aiming to do here was provide an overview for the required task with some general guidelines.
You don’t need to go over every single detail in your initial job posting. Freelancers are super busy applying for multiple jobs per day and if your job post is too long and complex they may just not bother to apply (or if they do apply they may simply ignore what you’ve said anyway!).
You can – and should in my opinion – follow up with more details in a private message chat with selected candidates before you make your final decision on who to hire.
2. Check Previous Employer Feedback, Ratings & Work Samples
All good outsourcing services, including oDesk & ELance have worker rating systems and provide you with the ability to read feedback given by previous employers. As a general rule, I only look at hiring workers with 4 or 5 star ratings:
Also, it is always a good idea to ask for previous work samples in your job posting. It’s amazing how many workers bid without samples even when you’ve asked for them!
This is a great way of filtering out candidate workers: If they can’t take the effort to apply properly then perhaps they aren’t going to be able to complete the job in the way you want it.
3. Chat With The Worker Before You Hire Them
This is so easy to do and is a great way to quickly provide extra details about the project that you may not want to place publically in the job posting. It’s also a great way to test the responsiveness of the worker before you make a hire.
4. If You Have More Work In The Future, Say So
Many freelancers jump from job-to-job on a daily basis and have very little financial security in terms of future guaranteed work. So the possibility of repeat work from the same employer is often a big incentive to achieve high standards on this job.
4. Treat Workers Well
This might sound very obvious but I have heard some examples of workers being treated extremely badly. Perhaps this happens because everything is online so sometimes employers forget that workers are human beings too!
So remember your responsibilities as an employer and always stay polite (but firm), even when things don’t go so well.
When you are really pleased with the work that the freelancer has done, and especially if you think you would like to hire them again in the future, then you might consider paying a small bonus (10-15%). This is something I’ve done on several occasions and I can tell you from personal experience that this generates loyalty that money simply can’t buy!
Concentrating on the most important money-making tasks in any business is one of the keys to success and when it comes to an online business, outsourcing is a crucial part of this.
There are many other ways to outsource online through sites like guru.com, freelancer.com and even forums such as digital point. Whilst I have used other services I have tried to focus this article on the ones that I have personally found to be the most effective.
Did you enjoy this post? If you have any questions about outsourcing then please let me know in the comments section below…
Rob, thanks for the feedback on transcription. The lady you found on oDesk looks to be ideal – unfortunately I could not locate her on oDesk. Perhaps your assignment demands caused her to pack her bags 😉
Haha – yes, maybe Joseph!
Glad the video helped you – great interview at your blog recently as well. I hope for a transcription!
Yes, I see George just gave you an invite to his ‘Lundunur’ 4-Hour Work Week meetings. That could be interesting!
Sorry did not manage a meet up with you this time around Rob. Maybe you should head on over here to Kuching for a holiday, as and when the time is agreeable to yourself. Open invitation!
I’ve just posted up on oDesk for a transcriber for the interview Rob. I also far prefer oDesk over Elance. I find Elance really tricky to get to grips with, where oDesk is fairly straight-forward ish, and their live help is/are great!
Catch you soon!
Joseph – Yes, it’ll be great to meet George – I’ll be going along on the 12th.
Glad you’re figuring out oDesk, I too much prefer it to Elance.
PS. I might take you up on the Kuching offer 😉
Great post Rob, it is informative and very helpful especially to those who are planning to hire a freelancer for the first time. I’ve also been hiring freelancers from different sites like oDesk.com and eLance.com. When hiring it is not enough to hire freelancers from legit sites to assure that the person you are going to hire is the right one for the job. You need to test them first so that you would know their full potential to do the task. Now, I tried hiring freelancers from Staff.com that allows me to conduct interview or have a 10 hours trial, which allows me to see their full potential. I’ve hire freelancers for two weeks now and they work great.
Thanks Jerry – appreciate you sharing your thoughts on this and glad you enjoyed the post too 🙂
Kind regards, Rob.
Thank-you, very helpful step by step. It makes the task and headache to hire someone so much easier 🙂 Natacha
Great to see you here on the blog and thank you for the comment 🙂
So glad you found some useful tips here.