Could You Out-Source That?

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It is now possible to out-source just about anything online. From a simple logo to a customised website built from the ground up, armies of start-ups and business owners are turning to a virtual market place of talent to ‘get a job done’. But just because you can turn to out-sourcing, does it mean you should?

I know many a creative type in the industry are feeling increasingly threatened by the burgeoning out-sourcing population and the increasing public consciousness that out-sourcing is an option.

Just this week on a private facebook group I belong to, one of the members, a graphic designer of many years, posted:

“How do you respond to a client who is sooo impressed with http://fiverr.com/? I got my own answers.. which one is yours?”

My answer to her? “For a fiverr I will prepare a response on why fiverr is not a good out-sourcing strategy????”

Not sure what fiverr is? Then read on…

In tough economic times when consumers are driven by the dollar, the highly competitive out-sourcing rates which transcend borders and currencies suddenly become highly attractive.

I’ve never been one for judging anything unless I’ve given it a test drive (don’t judge a person unless you’ve walked a mile in their shoes right?!), so I thought I’d conduct a little social experiment, as much for your benefit as mine, by outsourcing some tasks to some off-shore freelancers, and share my experiences of this exercise with you in a blog post.

FIRST A LITTLE CONTEXT….

Way back in 1998, I was actually a freelancer or outsource talent you could turn to myself. As I led a hedonistic lifestyle of travelling and partying, occasionally I had to do a bit of work to support my luxurious lifestyle, so I turned to sites such as http://www.writerfind.com/ (still unchanged in design I note from the days I used it) and https://www.elance.com, which was big even back then in the UK.

Through sites like these, I picked up odd writing or editing jobs, either in between or in addition to day jobs. Whilst I wouldn’t have wanted to rely on those sites to support myself in those days, they were certainly good for some extra dosh.

For some jobs within these sites the budget was set by the person seeking the assistance. Other times you had to bid. And when you won a project it was a pretty good arrangement. Work when you want, where you want, how you want, no boss breathing down your neck. Suited me a treat actually.

Even way back then, there were plenty of ghost-writing gigs, that is, where you write the ebook, book, article etc. but the person who pays you for the gig gets to put their name on it. Yes. Really. I’m still amazed to this day how many people I explain the concept of ghost-writing who look at me as if they’re a kid whose helium balloon I’ve let off into the stradisphere. Just think, perhaps that last book you read wasn’t really written by that author at all!!!

MY (SOMEWHAT) OUTSOURCED BUSINESS MODEL

When I started The Creative Collective back in 2007, I was a time-poor Mum, at home, who knew I couldn’t do it all and that I simply had to find a way to leverage my time. Whilst I could comfortably graphic design, write, edit, plan and execute marketing campaigns, take photos and more; I turned to freelancers to be the ‘technicians’ of my business, whilst I took the responsibility of sourcing clients, wining clients and managing clients. I soon discovered that this was a pretty good arrangement. By playing on their strengths (creativity and the ability to use software to get the desired end result) and eliminating their weaknesses (marketing, admin and finances) it was a win-win situation. Interestingly however, many a so-called ‘expert’ told me it was a bad business model.

“You’ll never get loyalty from a contractor,” some said. “You’ll pay more for the privilege,” said others. “They’ll steal your IP and move on,” others warned me.

Well today five years on, some of the contractors I had in the beginning are still with me, and almost all of the 35 strong team are Aussies (with a few Kiwis thrown in for good measure). I’ve watched as many a business person who thought they had it right has laid off staff or even gone under through tough economic times, and I’ve counted my lucky stars that I did go for a contractor model when I started. It is important to note however that I also employ 5 people and have 2 franchisees. And of the 35 contractors some of them are living here in Australia, and others living the Life Of Reilly around the world.

Take two Brissie boys are for example – who are doing work for us whilst currently living in Lake Garda, Italy – one with a penchant for sailing, the other wind-surfing, and enjoying regular, low-stress work that allows them plenty of time for R n D (research and development) and plenty of time for R n R (rest and relaxation). I really should take them up on their offers to go for a visit some time!

BACK TO THE OUTSOURCING TEST DRIVE

So as any of you who have read some of my previous blog posts will know, recently I stated a new online business awardshub.com. Being a start-up, with zero capital injection I haven’t wanted to incur any expenses that aren’t absolutely necessary in the early stages while I’m still building it up. So whilst hiring a part time staff member that reports to me on a daily basis at my office might seem like a good idea, it ain’t going to happen any time soon because I’d be looking at $20 per hour at least and that is a cost I simply don’t want to bank roll at the current time.

Armed instead with an hourly budget of $5 – $10 I hit the outsourcing sites with a view of nabbing myself a fabulously diligent, hard-working and reliable out-sourcer, who would help me with my most pressing business development issue – adding content to the ever expanding website.

SO WHERE DID I LOOK FOR THEM?

There are STACKS of outsourcing sites, as any Google search for ‘find an outsourcer’ will prove (480,000 results at last check).

Here’s the ones I tested, why I tested them and how I found them:

1. Odesk.com oDesk enables buyers to hire, manage (that’s different from many other similar services), and pay technology service providers from around the world. The service is fairly well organized, fast and reasonably priced – that’s if you are prepared to pay fees. In my case, someone had recommended a particular person on odesk (which is a way to minimise your risks when outsourcing) so I went looking for her, made the connection and she performed some work for me, at a very reasonable rate of $5US per hour. This person was a US citizen, living in the US, with impeccable English and coutesies.

THE RESULT? Overall a good experience (though I found my odesk account a little tricky to set up), while it lasted. Things were going swimmingly with the person performing as many as 20 hours a week each week for several weeks…until she dropped off the face of the earth. Despite several follow ups, no response.

Fortunately the tasks handed to her were not particularly time sensitive, so there was no real impact on the business. But lesson learned – probably safest not to give your outsourced staff anything that is time sensitive or sensitive full stop. If they ran off into the sunset with your IP, where would that leave your business?

2. Freelancer.com – Created by Aussie Entrepreneur Matt Barrie (who coincidentally won the 2011 BRW Entrepreneur of the Year which is fair enough with USD$23.5m turnover in 2010) I had heard all about Freelancer but never used it until my experiment. The landing page says it all. They have freelancers across A LOT of disciplines. Creating an account was easy enough (they let me connect my Facebook account – a facility I love) and from there I posted my novice listing (for free). Which read as follows:

Subject: Assistance in building up the content of my website

Hi there

I’ve recently created a new online business and I need someone to further investigate links I send them, gather relevant information online, then upload them to the website.

As the website is also soliciting suggestions from users, they will also need to review and enable relevant content submitted by users.

There is potential for the role to expand to also be writing business awards submissions and doing some PR and / or social media if the person also had this skill set. They may also be emailing clients to respond to their enquiries.

The person needs to have good written English.

Experience with business awards would be ideal but is not essential.

I look forward to seeing who is interested!

Note I did not give too much away. I mean these people could be ANYBODY, and one has to keep their cards to their chest somewhat don’t they?

THE RESULT? Pretty good. All in all I received 9 bids, most of which were in a relatively short space of time (2-3 days – your listing stays live 7 days for free) and from five different countries: India, Jamaica, USA, Pakistan, Indonesia immediately dispelling the common misconception that all freelancers are Phillipinos or Indians. Interestingly a couple of the American bids were quite comparable with the Indonesian, Pakistan and Jamaican bids, quite possibly indicating that outsourcing is making the world flat i.e. it’s a global market and you have to be globally competitive.

I hired a Philipino woman at a rate of $6.50US. Similar to my American friend above, this freelancer started off wonderfully. She sailed through the trial (another recommendation I have if you want to dabble in outsourcing), moved into week 1 as I watched with great excitement as the content on my site seemed to finally be gaining some momentum and then activity flat-lined. I receive an email saying she is experiencing problems with her internet connection ‘I shifted to another provider and was approved just yesterday. I think installation will be done today or tomorrow’ (but no fore-warning that this was going to be happening and I may experience issues), then nothing.

I’d been warned about the Phillipinos and their dodgy internet and phone connections before when one of our board of advisors spent some time there scoping out the out-sourcing scene (which by the way is pretty interesting – did you know for instance a lot of Indian firms sub-contract work from the Western World to the Phillipines???)

Anyway, 2 weeks later, when I’d started the search for someone new, a bunch of listings go up on the site and I hear from her out of the blue via email “Our home is 3meters higher than the street. So, the flood is already waist-high and about to enter our home.” Wow first internet connection, then floods. Well any Queenslander would have to be empathetic to that. On this front, shall we just say ‘we’ll see’ but I’m certainly not counting any chickens.

3. Fiverr.com – Fiverr is a newer entry to the outsourcing world. It is a small but very powerful micro freelancer site which plays on the simple concept – things people will do for you for $5. That’s right – FIVE BUCKS. Whether you’re in the market for a freelancer or not, it’s a pretty interesting exervise to visit the site, just to check out the random crap bored or desperate people will offer up for $5. Everything from will create an awesome sketch from your photo for $5, I will design logos for $5, I will answer 10 questions about Tunisia and the tunisian revolution for $5 and I will draw a scary monster for $5.

THE RESULT? I thought I’d struck gold when I found someone offering “upload content in your website and manage it daily” posted by a guy from India. FOR $5. So I took a $5 gamble enlisting the guy from India and his outlandish offer. He did an ok job, though some feedback had to be provided to get the first few listings where they needed to be. In his defence he did finish the job, for which I paid him, but no follow up for further work from him – I fear I asked too much for the princely sum of $5 (but afterall he offered in the first place!!)

THE VERDICT?

In short, a very mixed bag. Outsourcing is great…when it works. But getting the right team in place that have an operational workplace, who communicate when there is a problem and who are ready and hungry for the work takes some doing.

My latest quest is trialling another team on the recommendation from an industry colleague. He’s had such great success with them, he’s managed to fully auto-pilot his business and over a coffee last week, explained how he is now in a position that he can provide one paragraph which they turn into a fully fledged online program. Only time will tell if I can get awardshub.com to where I want it to be – auto-pilot as much as possible too. With a little tenancity, I’m sure I can.

Have you tried out-sourcing before? What were your experiences? What do you think of all the work going from Australia to off-shore freelancers? Would love you to share your thoughts in the comments section below…

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