A successful entrepreneur shares her thoughts on business success and failure.

oDesk Review: Is Outsourcing Worth the Effort?

oDesk review: Outsourcing.
oDesk review from a real user. Does oDesk work?
I wrote about how to outsource around-the-house tasks earlier, but many of you (including, most recently, Christine) wanted more detail on how to outsource jobs that can be done online.

I’ve definitely had success outsourcing jobs online. In this blog post, I’ll show you which tasks I recommend you outsource, how much you can expect to pay, and where to find good workers. When you’ve read this post, you can immediately take action and start taking some work off your own shoulders.

Step 1: Determine What Your Priorities Are.

As a blogger, my #1 priority is content creation. Though some people outsource content creation, I don’t. Every post you see on erica.biz (that isn’t a guest post) is written by me, and I star in all my own videos!

That’s what I don’t outsource. But around that, there are hundreds of hours of work I do outsource.

If you’re a blogger and feel overworked, the first thing I would recommend you outsource are menial blog tasks. You shouldn’t be upgrading your own plugins, tweaking themes, or upgrading WordPress to a new version. Let a worker handle that for you. I outsource all of that for $30/hour, though you can find workers to do it for even less.

If you’re still moderating comments by hand as a blogger, the first thing I’d do is to kick yourself. Ouch! There. This is one of the easiest tasks to outsource. Your time as a blogger is far more valuable than that!

Other things I outsource include video editing, audio editing (especially important for podcasters!), bookkeeping (keeps those accountant fees down!), transcription, Internet research (great for “10 ways to…” content), and programming tasks.

Thinking about what your priorities are should allow you to see at least one routine task you can outsource. Start there.

Which Freelancing Site is Better?

I’ve used eLance, RentACoder, and oDesk. Of the three, I vastly prefer oDesk.

Elance charges a minimum of $50 for project tasks, and a $5 minimum per hour. This alone makes eLance a complete waste of time for me. Often the tasks I want to outsource will only take 30 minutes or so, and many of the bids are far lower than $5 per hour.

RentACoder is great for finding talented programmers, but the interface is cumbersome and they encourage you to make the bids per-project instead of hourly. My preference is to pay hourly. I have used RentACoder successfully, but the interface bugs bothered me.

They also force you to communicate through their buggy system. For instance, when I was using it, every time I wrote a comma, it would delete the rest of my post. For a system written by programmers, I was amazed it had those bugs. They fixed that bug a few days later, but I was already used to editing out all my commas. Blech!

After using both those sites, as well as oDesk, I found myself coming back to oDesk repeatedly for a few reasons:

  1. oDesk lets you see what your employee is doing–it takes screenshots of their computer every so often, and shows their level of activity (i.e. are they idle or actually working?) That way you know you’re getting someone who is actually motivated to work.
  2. There’s no minimum bid or minimum per-project amount. I’ve hired freelancers who have billed me $7 for a couple hours of work. oDesk bills your credit card once a week, and manages all the payments to providers. If you have a dispute, there is a dispute resolution process. I used their dispute resolution process once and managed to get all my money back, so I’m happy with that.

Step 2: Write Your Job Description.

When you first set up oDesk, it will charge your credit card $10.00. That’s to make sure you’re legit. You can then use that $10.00 credit to hire your first employee!

The next step is to post a job. Keep in mind that the more specific you are in your job request, the better off you will be. A common mistake is to want to hire one person for everything. Hire for a specific, small job first. Then, when you’ve found the right person for that job, either expand what you want that hire to work on or hire another person for your next task.

In your job description, explain the task, then ask the provider to do something specific to make sure he or she has understood what is involved.

Here’s one I posted a couple months ago:

“Looking for someone who can do some research online and generate a list of 50 blogs that accept guest posts.

You MUST understand what a guest post is and how to tell which blogs accept them in order to be hired for this task!

To be considered, please send with your application one blog URL that accepts guest posts. Can be any blog — any topic — it is just so that we are both clear that you understand what the assignment is.

Assignment will need to be completed within 14 days; please do not apply if you are not available at this time.

Thank you,

I stated my requirements specifically, and asked them to prove that they had read the job description and were qualified for the job by giving me an example.

The great thing about oDesk is that applicants start coming in in just a few minutes. For simple jobs, you’ll get 15-20 qualified people in 20 minutes. For more complex jobs, you’ll likely have a qualified person or two within a day!

Typically, for the less complex jobs, I hire someone within an hour.

Step 3: Picking the Right Person

Since you’ve added a requirement in your job description, anyone who doesn’t meet the requirement should immediately be out. I also look at previous tasks the person has performed. I don’t take a risk on a new oDesk person; I want to see that he or she has done similar tasks in the past.

Ratings can be staged a bit, so a person who has all 5-star ratings still may not do a great job. However, the more similar jobs the person has done in the past and the better ratings he/she has, the more likely he or she will do your job well.

I usually look for someone who writes English pretty well in the application and who has met my specific requirements. I don’t usually pick the cheapest or the most expensive. And I tend to be biased toward the Philippines since I’ve hired so many amazing workers from there.

Step 4: Communicating with Your Employee

I usually hit “Interview” with 2-3 people and ask for their Skype usernames and whether they can interview right away. I communicate with all my employees via Skype text chat. I love Skype because it shows me what time it is in their time zone. It’s a free download, so there’s no excuse to not have it.

Whoever replies back the fastest and I can get on Skype gets the job. Usually, the person can start right away. I relay the job description again and make sure he/she understands. I remind the employee that I am available for questions if needed. I then send any files that are required either via email or Skype.

If it’s a long task, I ask for the employee to do one piece first, and then send it to me, so I can make sure it’s being done properly. For instance, for the above task, I asked my employee to send me 10 blogs, formatted in a spreadsheet as I requested, first. Once he had sent those, I gave the green light for the rest of the project.

Step 5: Closing and Leaving Feedback

Once the employee has completed the task, it’s time to close the task and leave feedback. If you have any issues with the employee, try to bring it up first instead of just leaving negative feedback.

In general, the employee will complete the task. Your next step is to close the task on oDesk. oDesk makes it simple to re-hire someone, so don’t hesitate to close the task unless you immediately have more work for the person.

To close a task, go to My Jobs -> Assignments, then click on the task and click End Assignment. Then rate the person. I like to add a bit of feedback as to what they did to help future providers, too. For instance, I might write “Great work inputting all the data into the Excel spreadsheet and then emailing it to my clients!” This lets future providers know that this person knows how to work with spreadsheets and email.

Conclusion: Is Outsourcing Worth It?

In general, using oDesk has worked out great! I’ve found many amazing workers, and only one truly bad one (a PHP programmer I fired after he had spent just a few hours working with me.)

I’ve hired people for a total of 387 hours of work on oDesk–that’s a lot of time I’ve saved!

It’s definitely worth a shot. You don’t have a whole lot to lose–since you can expect to pay $3-$10/hour for most basic work, it’s low-risk if you hire someone and he/she doesn’t work out. Since you’re starting with basic tasks and expanding from there, you can quickly gauge if a person is competent. And, if someone doesn’t work out for whatever reason, you can simply “End Assignment” and start a new job with new candidates.

I encourage you to try this route if you have any rote work that needs to be done that you’re currently doing yourself.

“But Isn’t This Exploitation?”

I’ve posted about outsourcing before, and I always tend to get comments about how I’m “exploiting” workers.

oDesk, and other outsourcing sites, are not exploitation. A worker has to actively apply for a job. No one is putting a gun to that worker’s head and saying “Apply for jobs online, darn it!”

A lot of the background of this theory, though, is that $3/hour (or less in some cases) “seems” exploitative to us. After all, most Americans couldn’t live on that wage.

To illustrate my point of view, let’s take a typical American named Craig and give him a $30,000/year salary. Now let’s place him in my hometown of Brookville, Indiana. Craig can live pretty well on $30,000/year. He can buy a 3BR, 2ba house on 1/4 acre of land (~$80,000), go out to the Dairy Cottage for some good fried chicken, and afford a decent car–you need one there, because the nearest Wal-Mart is 20 miles away. But overall, Craig will live a pretty happy life!

In fact, Craig’s salary is pretty close to the median household income of folks who live in Brookville: $32,670/year.

Now let’s put Craig in San Francisco. $30,000/year is painful to live on in San Francisco–I speak from personal experience! Tax rates are much higher, including a whopping 9.5% sales tax. Craig won’t be able to afford a house on 1/4 acre; he’s probably stuck sleeping on someone’s couch or living in a bedroom that was once a closet and sharing a house with several others. He probably won’t be able to afford a car–fortunately, he probably won’t need one. With lunch costing $9.25 for a sandwich, he’ll probably learn to cook. Craig probably feels poor compared to his other friends in San Francisco; San Francisco’s median income is $65,519.

In the Philippines, the median annual income is 111,000php, or about $2,450/year in U.S. dollars. Our friend Craig could live like a king there (and, in fact, many Americans do choose to retire to lower-cost countries like the Philippines and Thailand.) Divide it out into an hourly rate, and you’ll find it’s about $1.18/hour–which means people earning $3/hour are similar to folks earning $60,000-$90,000 annually in the U.S.

Of course, “middle class” means different things to different people, and you’ll likely find a “middle-class” lifestyle in the Philippines to be far different than here in the U.S. But the important thing to note is that none of these people feel exploited. In fact, they’re thrilled to have the opportunity to prove their worth, and they are some of the nicest people you’ll ever have the pleasure of working with.

I know outsourcing can be a touchy subject, but I use this story to help you break through your own barriers. We know you wouldn’t work for $3/hour, but a sandwich doesn’t cost $6 in the Philippines, either. It’s all a matter of perspective. Should you still have concerns, I encourage you to spend time in third-world countries. See for yourself the type of people you’re giving opportunities to. It will change your perspective entirely.

Outsourcing is great for you, but equally great is giving other people an opportunity to share in your success. It will help you double the amount of work you can do and deliver even more to your clients and prospects. And when you find the right people, you’ll wonder how you ever lived without them!

Give outsourcing a shot today. You have nothing to lose. Get started with oDesk.

Have a question on outsourcing? Ask me in the comments!

Recommended Reading:

  • Five Steps to Freedom: How to Outsource. In my earlier post on outsourcing, I show how to outsource common household tasks, like cooking and cleaning, to make your life easier.
  • oDesk. Set up an account today and get started outsourcing. It’s painless.

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After selling my online business at age 26 for over $1 million, I created this blog to help you grow your own business quickly.

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