Welcome back to the third installment of my case study on how to outsource effectively! In the first week, we talked about what modern outsourcing is and how it can make a difference in your affiliate marketing business. Then, we talked about how to identify the specific elements in your business that can be outsourced most effectively and how to find the right worker to help you with your business.
Today, we’re going to move on to the next important step – how to work effectively with the outsourced worker you’ve chosen. For the purposes of this article, I’m going to assume you’ve already hired a virtual assistant to help with your online business – if you haven’t, bookmark this article and come back to it when you’re ready to get started.
Specifically, there are a few things I want to cover in this portion of the case study:
* Effective communication tips for delegating to your outsourced worker,
* Training your virtual assistant and tracking his or her progress, and
* How your virtual assistant gets paid.
Let’s get started!
Initially, the biggest hurdles you’ll face when delegating to an outsourced worker will be language barriers. Since most assignments will be given via email or other text-based web application, it’s entirely possible for your instructions to be confused or misunderstood – even if you speak the same native language as your virtual assistant!
So basically, when you’re first getting started, assume that any problems you encounter with your assignments not being completed to your specifications are your fault, and that they’re the result of bad communication 🙂
Keep the following tips in mind as you begin communicating with your virtual assistant:
* Keep your writing to a third grade level. This is neither the time nor the place to show off your extensive vocabulary – if there’s ever a simpler way to say something, do it. This isn’t a commentary on your intelligence or your VA’s, it’s just incredibly easy for something you think of as common sense to be lost in translation via email text. Before sending instructions, ask yourself, “Would an eight year old understand what I’m saying?” If the answer is no, rewrite your instructions to be as clear as possible.
* Be specific. When sending an assignment to a VA, try to include step-by-step instructions, a short description of the desired outcome and any expectations you have regarding the time needed for the project and your target completion date. I’ll share an example of a sample outsourced task later, but for now, keep in mind that it’s better to be overly clear than to leave important information out.
* When describing difficult tasks, consider using video. In some cases, it’s just easier to shoot a quick video, add it to Amazon’s S3 service and have your outsourced worker watch it before completing a task, instead of typing out each specific step in the process. This also helps reduce misunderstandings that can come about via email translations.
A lot of this advice and my experiences with outsourcing in general draw from Tim Ferriss’ Four Hour Work Week. You all know I have some serious reservations about his advice on web businesses, but I actually think his section on virtual assistants is worth a read. Check it out, but don’t get caught up in the rest of the hype!
So now, preliminary advice and cautions out of the way, let’s get into the real meat of this section – how to delegate work to your VA.
In last week’s edition of this case study, we touched briefly on a few of the types of work your outsourced worker can do for you. Ideally, you should lay out exactly what you’d like to hire out before you put up your job posting, as you’ll want to look for specific skills and experiences as you weed out candidates. But just as a refresher, here are some of the things you can outsource…
* Backlink building. Many VAs have experience building backlinks using different methods – you can either train your worker on the specific methods you use or find one who already has the skills you’re looking for.
* Article writing. If you choose an outsourced worker with good writing and language skills, he or she can generate content for your websites, your promotional campaigns and more.
* Administrative tasks. Even simple web businesses have administrative requirements and a VA can help you to track expenses, email new contacts, approve comments on your blog and more.
There’s about a hundred other things an outsourced worker can do for you, but I think you get the picture. Remember – when in doubt, just ask your VA candidates if they’re able to handle the tasks you have in mind.
Once you’ve identified the tasks you want to delegate to your outsourced worker, it’s time to write up a description of the task you’d like completed to send to him or her. Check out the example below of a task I sent to my current VA:
There are a couple of things I want to point out here. First, you’ll see that the language used isn’t complicated. As I mentioned above, it’s more important to be clear with your outsourced worker than to impress him or her with your writing skills. The instructions follow a step-by-step format so that it’s easy to understand exactly what I’m looking for.
One thing I’ve found – 1-2 sentence paragraphs, bullet points and numbered lists make it less likely that things will get missed or lost in translation.
Another trick that I picked up from the Four Hour Work Week is to set a time limit on tasks. As you can see in the post above, I’ve asked my VA to work for five hours and get back to me with the results. This ensures that, if there are any misunderstandings, my VA won’t work for hours on the wrong thing – saving me money in the long run.
As it turns out, five hours was all that was required to finish this project (I was guessing it’d be at least 10-15 hours of work). As you’ll see, outsourcing tasks to competent VAs can be a Catch-22 – my VA is so fast, she’s often done with one project before I have a chance to get the next one ready!
In the example above, the tasks I asked my VA to complete were pretty straightforward – copying and pasting text from a website to a document. But what do you do if you’d like your worker to handle more complicated tasks?
This brings us to the subject of training. When you’re hiring an outsourced worker, you have a few different choices…
* You can hire a worker who is experienced in the exact tasks you’d like completed. This is best done through a service like Chris Ducker’s Virtual Staff Finder which pairs you with a worker who has the exact skills you’re looking for. You’ll dramatically decrease the time you need to spend training your worker, but the downside is that you can expect to pay fees to find the worker in the first place, plus a higher hourly rate on an ongoing basis.
* You can hire a worker who has some of the experience you’re looking for (for example, general backlinking, on-page SEO and so on) and then invest a little time into training your worker on the specific ways you do things. For example, your worker may know how to create “Paul & Angela” style backlinks, but if you’d like him or her to create Web 2.0 site backlinks, you’ll need to provide training materials that show your worker exactly what to do.
* You can start from the ground up completely, taking a worker who has no previous internet marketing experience and training him or her on both marketing and the specific systems you use. This is the least expensive option, as you’ll typically be able to hire a much cheaper worker, but will require a significant investment of time on your part.
Now, if you do decide to hire a worker who will require some training, be aware that this can take a number of different forms. If you build your websites according to a specific model (like the one described in the Community Marketing Challenge Course), you can share your course materials with your worker so that you’re both on the same page.
If you don’t follow a specific plan and don’t have info products to share with your workers, I’ve found that the easiest way to convey information is to shoot a simple screencast video of the tasks you’d like completed. You can then upload these tasks to Youtube (be sure to set the sharing permissions to private) or share them with your VA via Amazon’s S3 hosting service. In general, it’s easier and faster to create training videos than it is to write out instructions.
Obviously, for most beginning outsourcers, I’d recommend going with a middle-of-the-road, happy medium option, like the second case described above. If you aren’t ready to hire a full-time VA for at least several months, it doesn’t make sense to pay the fees of a staff finder program, while at the same time, training a totally new VA from the ground up is likely to be too time consuming at first to be worthwhile.
Once your worker is ready, it’s time to start sending tasks. If you use Odesk, the process of communicating with your worker and delegating tasks is pretty straightforward. Messages are sent through the Inbox system, work hours and productivity are tracked in the Work Diary and payment is handled automatically each week. If you’re new to outsourcing, this is why I recommend starting with Odesk – it’s easy to use and it takes a lot of the guess work out of hiring your first VA.
But if you don’t use an established platform, how should you handle things like billing, delegating tasks and checking up on the work completed by your VA?
Obviously, the easiest, cheapest solution to managing your outsourced worker on your own is to delegate tasks through email and manage payment via a free payment processor like Paypal. You can also take advantage of free file sharing websites like Dropbox to manage any joint files you share with your VA.
However, if you have a little extra to invest, I’d recommend looking into a project management program like Basecamp (or any of its free or cheaper alternatives). When you manage your outsourced worker via email, it’s possible for messages to get lost (or not be delivered at all in the first place…) and you’ll wind up spending extra time sorting the messages to and from your worker from your personal messages, bank notices and other emails.
Using a program like Basecamp will keep your VA communications separate, enabling you to track the status of ongoing projects quickly and easily. This might not be as big of a deal if you’re just working with one VA for a few hours a week, but as your business grows, you may find yourself taking on additional workers and you’ll need a more advanced management structure to delegate to them effectively. For this reason, it’s a good idea to get solid systems in place from the beginning.
One final note on managing your outsourced worker outside of Odesk and other freelance portal websites… The concern most people have when employing this type of system is how they’ll know that their VA is really being productive, and not just inflating billed hours.
Here’s the advice I’d give you, based on Chris Ducker’s recommendations shared on Pat Flynn’s Smart Passive Income podcast…
First of all, trust yourself. You likely have a general idea of how long a task should take – for example, if you ask your VA to submit information to 30 social bookmarking sites, you might estimate that the task will take 1-3 hours. If your outsourced worker comes back and bills you for 10 hours of work, either he or she misunderstood the task or is inflating the hours for billing purposes. If the latter is the case, simply move on to your next outsourcing candidate.
It’s also important to keep in mind that you’re taking on a VA to help reduce your workload and if you spend all your time micro-managing your worker, you aren’t really getting the biggest possible benefit from the arrangement. If you do your research ahead of time and hire a well-reviewed, qualified worker, try to let go of these concerns and trust your VA to get his or her work done.
So that’s the nuts and bolts of interacting with your newly hired VA, including how to communicate effectively, delegate tasks, ensure productivity and manage payments. If you have any specific questions about these materials, I’d be happy to share my advice with you in the comments below.
Stay tuned for next week, when we’ll be talking about how to take your outsourcing to the next level, including more advanced tips on how to maximize your VAs productivity, how to retain good workers and what an entirely VA-driven internet marketing business model can look like
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