Outsourcing to low cost international contractors may not be for everyone but it is key to my working and management style.
I have become an expert in delegation, just ask my partner and kids.
And with only a limited number of hours in the day, and not having a money tree that I can use to pay the most expensive experts in the world, outsourcing to international contractors has been a real saving grace to my life and business. I have used many international workers over the years here are some of the things I do and don’t outsource and my experiences with them.
I can outsource parts or all of web design and development, content writing, social media management, SEO and general admin duties. I have kept hold of book keeping myself because, one, it doesn’t take me too long to do it these days using Saasu. And two, it keeps my eyes on the accounts every month. But this is more of a personal choice, I know a lot of people hate book keeping and I’m sure it is something that could be outsourced.
There is a real cultural bridge to get over as well as language and found that was a big learning curve.
One mistake I made was to create a huge task list for a new contractor right from the beginning. I did this because I wanted to get it all out of my mind onto paper and I wanted them to not have to worry about what to do next. In my experience employees from Asia get overwhelmed by this approach and often just don’t turn up for work, never to be heard from again. (This is especially common in Philippines). I have adjusted my approach now where I still write my big list but I only give them a couple of tasks from it at a time. It means I have to spend an extra few minutes each day cutting and pasting the new tasks into an email for them, but I think I may have missed out on retaining some good people because I overwhelmed them too much at the start, so for me it’s worth the extra effort.
Virtual Assistants (VA’s)
I hire full time admin (all-rounders) from the Philippines. Full time is good because it gives both myself and them a level of security and they really take on the ownership of their work as team members rather than shot-term contractors.
I have 3 great ones at present that are like 3 extra sets of hands.
I do a DISC test but much later down the recruitment process and it is really just to get a feel for them rather than employment criteria. But I make all recruits do a couple of online IQ tests which is my primary filter.
To do this I specify at the end of my advert:
“To apply please take the below tests and submit your results with your application
We get about 30 applications from these ads and most ignore and apply without the test results which is a red flag that they do not follow instructions so that is a strong initial filter to cull the results.
I have found the best results from staff that have an IQ of over 120 so that is where I set the minimum limit. If we were a bigger company and I had some simpler tasks on an ongoing basis I might remove this restriction and focus more on personality traits like reliability and consistency.
Since we are a small company, my VA’s need to be able to comprehend a wide range of tasks and they need to be able to learn quickly with as little effort from myself as possible to train them. For the moment, high performers are necessary to achieve this and I pay a 30-50% premium in wages.
VA’s in the Philippines start at about $250 pcm and I pay between $600 – $700 pcm
In the Philippines there is also what is called the 13 month pay that is equivalent to a month pay that I give my team just before Christmas. It is heavily entrenched in their culture and I feel obliged to pay it. In addition to this, I also offer what I refer to as a loyalty bonus and pay an additional month on 30th June. The reason I do this is that I invest a lot into training and allow my team to spend 20% of their time training. I don’t want them to take these skills elsewhere so preface both the 13th month and loyalty bonuses with conditions that they are a reward and incentive for high performance, long service and commitment to the company. Employees that are dismissed for poor performance or resign will not be entitled to any amounts accrued other than their base salary.
I recruit by advertising on onlinejobs.ph. I pay for just for one month whenever I need to recruit someone new. We are not recruiting constantly so this is the cheapest method for me just to use it when I need it.
Web Design and Development
For web development I use freelancers from Elance.com. On my Magento stores, I need strong ongoing development and have found the best success with the larger companies. They are more expensive than a sole freelancer, but you can tell they have their own internal training and process management to deal with us annoying and demanding westerners and I find that I get more things done in less time compared to some of the cheaper developers. I also feel like I have the security of having a project manager that has all my files so if my developer is away and I have an urgent task it can be assigned to someone else without the need of retraining on my end.
For WordPress sites, I have been using sole freelancers from Elance as I am more confident in handling any problems that arise with WordPress so don’t feel the need for a full service agency solution that I need with Magento.
For web design, I micromanage (which is a personal choice for me) and do a really detailed brief and mood board and basically the first part of the design process. Then I send that to a 2-3 inexpensive Elance contractors to get more ideas (a form of my own crowd sourcing) and use their designs to improve on my own. This works for me, but probably because I enjoy design and can leverage my time by this process.
I have a preferred Photoshop guy from Pakistan who I met on Elance and have been using regularly for a couple of years now. I use him as much as I can and my VA’s have authority to give him any image editing work they have.
Articles that I want decent content I get from US contractors on Elance. This is only suitable for commoditized content that someone with decent writing skills can quickly research online and pump out some interesting articles.
As the web matures content is becoming more of a craft and an in depth knowledge of the industry is needed or a unique perspective by the business owner on topics they have had a lot of experience with. This level of insight is hard to get from an outsourced freelancer
Outsourcing to international contractors is by no means a magic bullet to free up your time and systemise your business and can be very challenging. But over time with patience and effort, I believe it is worthwhile. I can’t imagine what I would do without my team spread across the globe. For more details about my personal journey systemising my business with the help of international contractors check out this post.