Outsourcing Your Life in 8 Easy Steps

Since discovering the wonder of outsourcing nine months ago, in October 2008, I've outsourced approximately 300 hours. That's 300 hours that I got to spend reading or playing (or working...) while various assistants re-formatted an e-book, researched traffic stats for competing sites, scheduled apartment visits, got price quotes for vacation rentals, designed posters for an upcoming party, performed bookkeeping work, handled support requests, and wrote software. All for a mere $3.50 / hour. (Slave wages? Hardly.)

Life post-outsourcing is much less stressful. Here's how you can get in on the action:

1. Understand what tasks you need help with: Spend three days figuring what you want. Each time you spend more than 15 minutes on a task, write it down on a list. At the end of the three days, go through your list. Which of these could you hire someone else to do?

2. Categorize the most important skills: What are the core skills that your tasks require? Photo editing, excel, etc? Is there particular software that your assistant needs? How good does the candidate's English need to be?

3. Post a job opening: I use odesk.com for finding outsourced assistants, because I love its transparency. I can see how many other jobs a candidate has (will they be too busy for me?), how much they've been paid (are they trying to overcharge me?), and their scores on a number of odesk-supplied tests. I post a suggested rate, and candidates respond with their own bid. Job applicants usually apply within minutes of posting a job opening.

  • Note: You might expect that if you post an expected wage of $7 / hour, no one will bid less than that. I haven't found that to be the case. Because you can see a candidate's prior wages, a person who's previously been paid $2 / hour has a hard time requesting $7. Furthermore, andidates are competing with each other to get each position, so they need to post competitive wages.

4. Interview via Instant Message (or Skype): I conduct my interviews over instant messenger. For an assistant, I'll usually ask the following questions:

  • What times of day are you available to work?
  • Are you available on the weekends as well?
  • Can you make phone calls, if needed, through Skype?
  • How much experience do you have with excel and photoshop?
  • [After providing a link to a recent news article] To better assess your English skills, could you please read the following article and provide a short (4 - 5) sentence summary?

You'll notice that my questions are very simple. Why? Because I don't think you can truly assess someone's capability without hiring them. So, I look for their English capability, confirm that they have the requisite software and skills, and then I hire them to test them out.

5. Hire Several, and Look for Quality not Price: You won't know how good a candidate is until they actually attempt a task and most, frankly, aren't very good. Hire several people, try them out, and then narrow it down to the best.

  • Don't automatically go for the cheapest. Suppose you have a $2 / hour and a $5 / hour candidate applying. If you have to spend even 20 minutes more time correcting the cheaper employee, it may be not worth it. Hire for quality, not price.

6. Clarify Expectations: Do you want an employee to make their own decisions? Or would you prefer that check with you first to see what to do?

7. Let Go of the Bad, Hold on to the Good: Some candidates won't be very good, but that's why you hired more than one. Let go of someone if they just aren't cutting it, but fight to hold on to the best. A good assistant is well worth it.

8. Go For It! Your new assistant will report his or her time to odesk.com, usually automatically using odesk's software (this software takes screenshots of their computer randomly while they're working, to ensure that their time reports are honest). Odesk will then charge you each week, giving you a short window of time to contest any charges. You can either IM or email tasks to your assistants. Note that both you and your assistants will be reviewed when you close the assignment, so it's in both people's interest to treat each other fairly.

Questions? Post them in the comments or email me.