Are You Ready to Outsource to a VA or Freelancer?
Using a virtual assistant (VA) is a choice that everyone might have to make at one point or another. I have used several in the past and it has worked out great. My issue is that I do a lot of creative things and not a whole lot of data entry work which is what many VA’s do. There are VA’s with specialized skills such as photo manipulation or coding, but those are premium tasks that you will have to dig deeper into your purse for.
Let’s start with what a VA is before we get into when is a good time to look for one. A VA is someone who works remotely from anywhere in the world and has a certain set of skills to accomplish simple or repetitive tasks for a low cost. This could be data entry, excel worksheets, or data scraping. There are plenty more things they can do for you and if you want to see what people are hiring for just go to a website like eLance or Freelance dot come and search. You will have a much better idea where you can reduce your workload and find a better way to use you time by getting an assistant.
Next we should discuss what your time is worth. I have been doing this for years now. I simply figure out how much income I generate per hour I work by dividing how much I make in a month by how many hours that took. If you are not generating income then you could assume reasonably how much you could earn from looking at your competition’s margins. It should go without saying but if you would only be watching TV and hanging out then your time is not worth anything at the time being. That’s not an insult, but more of a harsh truth. I hangout some times too.
Once you have an understanding of what a VA is and can do, you will need to separate what tasks you have to do and what you can teach or have someone else do for you. This will allow you to spend more time focusing on the harder stuff and let someone else complete tasks that you don’t have to.
Before we go to the next section I want to make a note. A VA is someone you hire on a weekly or monthly basis. You can hire them on a fixed price or hourly basis. That’s a deal you make with them. They will continue to do the tasks you assign them. I am also going to discuss the word freelancer a lot in this as well. Both terms mean about the same thing, at least to me. Usually a freelancer is used on a job and that’s it. The VA is usually a long term deal. No matter which you prefer, it boils down to how long the work is. So if you will, entertain my thoughts and ask yourself if you can outsource to a VA for long-term, or a freelancer for short-term.
My Mom Uses a VA
One example I will give is my mother’s business needed a newsletter. She uses Prestashop and there was a fantastic plugin that exports .csv files from whatever fields you need to create a simple list. Then that could be formatted in excel and then finally printed for mail orders. Crazy right?
People still mail order and losing this segment of her business would have put her out of business. She still has orders from online, but she wasn’t good enough in excel and didn’t have the time to generate this list. She asked me to help her and do it for her weekly. I tried for a little bit but I have far to busy to be doing this and it wasn’t worth my time from a business point of view.
During this time I have an awesome VA that I found through eLance. He is from the Philippines and understood English which is why I prefer to hire from that country. I asked him if he had time to do this work and he gladly accepted. I began by setting up the automation so the export would be 1-click and he could focus on formatting and emailing the results over.
The two of them agreed on a price per mail list and it’s now twice a month. My only task is to upload it to the server in it’s final format so people can download it and mail it to my mom. It takes me 4 minutes per month instead of 3-4 hours and she pays only a few dollars. Everyone wins.
Where and How to Hire
Everyone has a preference on which countries you want to hire from so I can’t tell you what’s right for your tasks. I can guide you a bit from my experience but please understand that what I am about to add is only my personal preference and I mean no offense to VA’s and freelancers in the following paragraph, however, I do mean the way I feel. Unfortunately, in my case a few bad apples spoiled the entire country.
I hire from Canada, the U.S., Philippines, Australia, Romania, United Kingdom, Thailand, South Africa, Vietnam seldomly, and Mexico. There are several other countries I am open to hire from as well. The countries I refuse to hire from are India, Pakistan, Burma, Egypt, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Ethiopia, and there are a few more. The #1 country that I won’t even entertain is India because over the last 10 years in hiring hundreds of jobs, and spending tens of thousand of dollars, I have had the worst experience from India.
That list is only for outsourcing and not my travel or dining preferences. I don’t know why some countries are better than others beyond final results of the tasks I hired people for. So you can either go from my list or try for yourself. I should at least explain my decision for putting the U.S. on the good list and India on my list.
The global recession has changed the tides of riches between countries. In 2003 when I first started hiring I would never look at the U.S. for freelancers because they were always the highest bid. This changed when the recession started in 2006 though. As the years went on more and more U.S. freelancers had no choice but to lower their price so they can make money. The price for an American to hire for your job is at it’s lowest right now with over 25 million Americans still out of work. The dollar has dropped in value around the world and that includes the value of my work too.
With this drop in the dollar, the India Rupee has more value than before against the dollar. For years people have been hiring from India and transferring wealth. My jobs that I post receive a huge amount of bids from India and I completely ignore all of them because they are now the highest proposal. Almost every job I have hired for resulted in terrible workmanship, and I either had to do it all over again myself or rehire. I have lots thousands of dollars in those jobs. The language barrier was too great and at this point I minus well put an American to work and get exactly what I want at a reasonable rate.
That turned out to be a lot longer than I had originally planned in my head and I haven’t even gotten to where to hire. If you have read my stuff previously, you know I am long winded but add a lot of useful gems in my writing…well I hope you feel that way.
Let’s get to where to hire. There are so many websites such as oDesk, eLance, Freelancer, Guru, HireACoder, and many more. Freelance.com has been buying many of them as they get bigger and bigger. I personally hate the Freelance platform because 90% of all bids I get is from India and they are all taking advantage as much as they can. I just don’t like the layout, the feel, and their user base. I avoid Freelance(r).com as much as I can. I do try 1-2 jobs per year to see if things have changed. In 2015, I can report it is the same as each year prior.
My go to site is eLance. They have recently been bought by Freelance.com and that almost made me close my account. I have a gut feeling that it is about to change and if so, I will leave it for good. For the time being, my recommendation is eLance. It is simply, yet has a wonderful base of freelancers that come from most of the countries on my go-to list. I will update this recommendation if my opinion changes.
Where to go: eLance.com
I tried oDesk back in 2007 and had a couple okay experiences and one really terrible one. I didn’t like their interface and ended up never doing a job there again. I used Guru.com before and ultimately never hired again.
I should explain how I hire as well. This certainly has a huge effect on my choice of platform to hire from. I solely hire for fixed rate. I know about how much something should cost so fixed rate is much easier. If the freelancer gets it done quicker then it’s a benefit. If the deadline is busted or not correct I don’t have to feel like I was charged for extra hours. oDesk has a workspace view which takes screenshots and monitors whether or not the worker actually put in the hours you are charged for. That works for some people. To me it feels like CCTV and dirty.
I don’t want to track digital hours. I have much better things to do than itemize my bills. If I know something costs $200 and your bid is for $190 and you are from my go-to countries then it’s a deal. It’s that simple. I can “fire and forget” and when you are done let me know and I will send payment. Again, time is money and the less time I have to manage your work, the better off my profit is.
Keeping the Good Ones
This might be the most important part of this entire post. The strongest part of what I do is also my secret. A lot of people who befriend me know that I am an “Idea Man” and that I have deep rooted ties with special freelancers such as design, coding, audio and video editing. I limited who I share my freelancers with because you have to earn that. Only a few friends that have become close with me have one or two of my contacts. I have had some of the very closet friends become competitors of mine and use the same source. This strained relations and ultimately severed.
I take this part of what I do serious. This is probably one of the few things I won’t share with my audience. I apologize, but an amazing freelancer is rare to find and even harder to keep. I have about 5 that I keep employed to some degree over the last 10 years in a couple cases. So, this leads me to explain how you get your secret stash as well.
After you hire for about a year with different jobs you will begin to go back to a certain freelancer a few times. These people that over deliver on expectations at a great price are your contenders. You may meet them from forums, outsourcing sites, or maybe on social platforms. Either way, you will develop a relationship and trust. Once you have established this, you ask for their email. Sure, it’s against the ToS to ask for personal contact information on freelancer sites, but I will absolutely break them for someone I plan on working with for years to come.
My graphic designer has been with me since he won a logo design competition for me in 2007. This was a forum so I didn’t need to break a ToS. We swapped emails and he works for me every month and I have given his contact information to exactly one other person to date. I have a couple friends that continue to try to get it, but we aren’t there yet. In this case, he is more of a VA because it’s ongoing.
Always be vigilant and take note about quality, speed, cost, communication abilities, and more when you hire a freelancer. I always demand communication in every job so I know things are going well. You should outline your expectations in your job posting as well. You will have to decide what you are looking for. When you find it, keep it. Break the ToS in a way that doesn’t make it obvious and they close your account for it. Keep you secrets and share when absolutely necessary.
Lastly, keep them employed once in a while so they don’t forget about you either. While you are studying them, they are studying you too. Be a good employer and when appropriate, tip them a bit extra. I always treat my freelancers really good and even share personal details and sometimes become friends even on Facebook.
Are You Ready to Hire?
The question of whether or not you are ready is hard to answer. You might need to list all the things you do and how much time it takes you. You also have to be comfortable paying someone money that would have gone in your pocket too. Hopefully, when you do hire someone it’s to make more money than you would have without doing so. Let’s do an example.
One of my projects is building a directory of all the car washes in the United States. I need to do the following:
- Find all of the businesses I can via Google
- Capture their basic information in a spreadsheet
- Format the data for entry into the directory
- Enter all of them in the website database
- Build the website
- Manage the server
- Design the look and feel of the website
- Refine the user experience
- Perform SEO to rank in search
- Tackle social media marketing (SMM)
- Build traffic to the website
- Create original content and infographics
- Look for potential advertisers
- Build the company
- Continue finding new car washes
- Create a review/rating system for these businesses
- Create an iOS/Android/Windows App
- Continue to promote and grow all of these aspects
You can see how one simple looking website can begin looking a bit overwhelming right? Trust me it is. Even this simple blog takes a mountain of effort, but to a simple user that happens to visit just sees a directory with information they need or they don’t. They don’t see that it takes a village to raise a website.
What can we outsource to ease the load and move some of the hours to the other items? Here is my approach to this assuming I at least have a small budget to do it.
The first step is to hire someone to build a simple script that scrapes the information I need from any and all car wash companies. It may or may not be this easy, but that’s why I am outsourcing it. I will let an expert tell me if they can do it and if so, for how much?
Once I have the scraped data I am moving right into a VA that can do data entry and move all of this data to my database. As long as I get a good price I am in. So far we have solved 2 very large upfront tasks that I don’t have to do. In the meantime, I am building the website framework, setting up the server, getting the SSL in place, and building the social media pages that I will be using to gain traction.
I might take on a freelancer to write a few press releases and distribute them for me. As that’s going on, I am going to research some facts about car washes. I should go to a car wash in my town and ask if I can take a few pictures and I will feature them on the site in return too. They might tell people about it and help me gain a bit of traction.
As much as I don’t like hiring for SEO, I may search for someone that is trustworthy to get me some links and help my keyword ranking. It’s less I have to worry about as I am trying to get all of my research done so I can send the data to my graphic design to create infographics with it.
I may hire 5-7 freelancers for these tasks over the initial 1-2 months of getting things started. Hopefully at least 1 of them might be able to do multiple things and we can build some kind of relationship.
I will do the social media part since it’s within my scope, but if I spend my time bringing in advertisers I could probably hire a professional social media manager to do it for me. This leaves me to deal with getting money flowing while everything else is happening. I also hope I am within my original budget. My time is more beneficial managing the entire project and finding a way to get money funneling in to continue growth.
That example wasn’t real, but it’s a pattern I have used in the past. It’s certainly what most websites do. I wanted to show that you can figure out where your time is worth investing in and what can be done cheaper by being outsourced. You have to make the decision on whether or not you are in a position to hire a freelancer, or even a VA. They are both similar, but they both bring a huge increase to productivity.
If you can afford $400-800/month for 40 hours per week to have someone full-time to be you assistant then do it. Having a full-time employee without needing insurance coverage, workman’s comp, and all the tax drawbacks is a huge bonus.
If you just need someone from time to time, then maybe a freelancer that you have had good success with in the past is the correct way. I prefer this over the VA, but I am not against the VA. Usually my projects don’t call for it.
List the things you do, how much you can afford, and figure out the timespan of your needs. From there, go out and search and post jobs on platforms. You can take a good project and make it a great one by deciding on making the right moves and outsource your tasks. I would love to hear your experiences and if you have your own tips you can lend everyone. I often like to think of this blog as a conversation and I look forward to learning from the readers.
This might be one of the longer posts, but I had a lot on my mind while writing this. I wanted to share more than just a normal post. I find too many times that people are holding back because they are afraid to Paypal money to a freelancer, or even harder to hire a VA. Make sure it’s a benefit and not a hinderance.
Get your thoughts heard and seen below in the comments. I want to hear what others think about freelancers and VA’s. Maybe you disagree with my choices in countries that I hire from. Perhaps it’s a comment on not sharing my secret freelancers with friends. Or maybe you just want to say hi. I want to hear from you and I hope you will stick around for more content. If you have a question for me, let me know. Maybe I will answer it in a future post or just give you a quick answer in a comment reply.