General Rules for Outsourcing
Interestingly enough, managing outsourced "resources" is a lot like managing W-2 employees in your office. After all, they are people who need to communicate with you, and potentially with your clients. They need to perform tasks efficiently. And they need to report back to you.
If any of that fails, it's partly your fault. Just like any other employee.
I only have a few rules for managing outsourced resources. They are all in support of the goals just stated.
1) Be very clear what you want. You have to define the desired outcome in order for someone to be successful. It might be to call down this list of prospects, configure a firewall, install a printer remotely, or produce marketing graphics. It could be just about anything, but you need to be super clear what you want.
Example: You cannot assign a task that simply says, "Fix the Router." Just as with your own technicians, you need to define the problem and the desired outcome. And the more steps you give them the better. In some cases, you might say that you don't know what the problem is. Maybe port 3389 looks open but you're not getting a response via RDP. Tell them everything you know.
At other times, you might know exactly what you want but you just don't want to do it yourself. For example, you want them to open port 3389, forward it to an internal machine, and verify that they can access the logon screen. Of course you'll also want them to back up the configuration before they start and after they finish - to a specific location.
2) Define one task per request. Just as you do with your ticketing system, you need one task per request. This is especially true if you are connecting primarily via email. It becomes a disaster if you have seven tasks in a massive email string that gets longer and longer as you work your way through totally unrelated activities.
Use a good "title" or short description. Then have a clear longer description of what you want. For Example:
Subject: Calldown for Lunch and Learn
Content: Download the "Friday Lunch and Learn-Chamber" excel spreadsheet. Add a column for your notes and comments. Call each person on the list using the script on the second worksheet. Add "Yes," "No," and "Maybe" notes to the attendee worksheet. Let me know if you have any questions. Due by Wednesday 5PM Pacific time.
3) Agree on Reporting. How will the outsourced resource report to you? Email? Via your CRM logon? Inside the Upwork tool?
This is particularly true of longer projects. If you use email, also use some kind of filters so their email doesn't go missing. You can filter outsourced resource emails into a specific folder within your "inbox" - or whatever works for you.
Remember, reporting goes both ways. When they ask for feedback or clarification, don't wait a week. You'll start wondering what they're up to and they'll start wondering if you really want the work done. As I mentioned above, management comes down to actively managing.
Related to this: You need to hold your virtual assistant (or whoever) accountable for what they agreed on. You need to hold up your side of the communication system, and they need to hold up theirs. If they're good, they'll be busy. So you need to work on making sure you agree on timing and feedback.
4) Agree on Data Exchange. Everyone has a place in the cloud where they want to store stuff and exchange information. You need to be in control of which tools you use. If they throw something on an insecure, free hosted drive, you have no idea how secure your data are. You need to have a tool and you need to give them access. In some cases, that costs money.
Go slow. Be careful. Make sure you all agree on where things get put or exchanged. I'm not a fan of email for this stuff, but lots of people still use it.
5) Use checklists whenever you can. Whether it's configuring a firewall or agreeing on graphic design, the more you can define exactly what you need and the order you need it, the better.
Humans have an amazing capacity to assume information that is not present. We literally fill in the blanks. You might assume that "anyone" would do it your way. But someone else might ask why you think this is related to that. To combat this, it's your job as the manager to fill in the blanks and be as clear as possible.
Good outsourced resources might have their own checklists. They will also help you refine yours. The result is a process that becomes easier and easier to outsource with better results. Embrace the checklist mentality!
6) Pay promptly. Whether you pay by PayPal, check, ECH, or credit card, pay promptly! People who work virtually are almost always independent contractors and small businesses. They are not large corporations. You want to be paid promptly. So do they.
You already know this, so I won't go on and on. Just do it. It's great for the relationship.
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What Can't Be Outsourced?
A few years ago I posted an ad for an in-house administrative assistant. In the add, I said please don't reply if you're not in Sacramento. OMG! This opened an amazing storm of virtual assistants pummeling me with complaints that I don't understand how much they can do.
One even said she could do my filing. If I sent her the paperwork and the file cabinet, she would send it back in perfect condition, perfectly filed.
I hope she understands how thoroughly absurd that is. There are MANY things you need to outsource to a real human being who lives in your town. Maybe you need an employee. Or maybe you need a contractor.
Remember: Outsourcing does not mean you are sending work to another state or country! Here's a list of things I pay someone to do. If I have enough things to do over a long period of time, I will probably hire someone. But sometimes I need three or four different people to get all these things done. In that case, I will probably hire each of them separately as 1099 contractors.
Here's the list of things I don't outsource over the Internet:
- Filing papers in my file cabinet
- Putting gas in my car
- Scanning business cards into my database (This could be sent to a remote V.A.)
- Tiny jobs such as mailing a letter or box
- Packing my signs and handouts for a trip
- Print handouts, build folders, prepare name tags, etc.
- Install network cards (hard drives, memory, etc.)
- Onsite prospect network evaluations
Obviously the list goes on. The point is, you should make these lists. You should list out the things you CAN outsource. Once you begin outsourcing, you will find that you can do more than you thought.
Remember: YOU are someone else's outsourced resource. They hire you so they don't have to hire a technician in-house.
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If you haven't read the first part of this two-part series, check it out.
This is the future economy. There is massive talent all over the globe, being connected more and more every day.
Outsourcing allows all of us to get more done, expand our offerings, expand our work hours, reduce our costs, and even help us get into new markets. Once you start delegating beyond your employees, you see that you really can expand your business dramatically!
Some people give me a bad time for sending programming work to India and the Philippines or for using Fiverr for finding graphic artists. All I can say is that I have access to amazing talent at a reasonable price. They're happy. I'm happy. And I think outsourcing will continue to be a growing part of our national and global economies going forward.
Expand what your company can do today and in the future: Embrace Outsourcing!
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