Every major entrepreneur has an army of people behind them, right? So how do you grow your business as a solopreneur while keeping your fixed overheads down?
When I left investment banking to launch my own business, I worked day and night to get it off the ground. However, there just weren’t enough hours in a day. Instead of adding large salary bills to my overheads, I chose the more flexible freelancer route, which allows me to pay for talent and solutions on a per-project basis.
Many business owners have gone this route and crashed and burned, never to dip their toe in the water again. However, if you get it right, using freelancers is an affordable way to access a growing source of talent across the Internet.
Running my business and not having the business run me
My businesses run with 95% of my staff as freelancers. The ability to hire top specialists for a specific piece of work when I want, how I want, is what I need to keep up with the market. It also frees me up to do what I do best, which is interacting with clients and growing my business.
The best part about utilising the freelancer marketplace is that it’s all on demand. You’re busy? Okay, you hire and when business is slower you don’t. No insurance, office space, rent or infrastructure, keeping those fixed overhead costs down and thus growing your bottom line.
The biggest fear I had when starting to outsource was the misuse of financial or confidential information. Fortunately, this is very rare in the market place. If it’s a huge concern, my advice would be to use a freelancer firm rather than a solo operator.
It costs a little more, but if your freelancer is sick, someone else in the team takes over. As an employer, you are protected and you get what you paid for. With fixed-price projects, there are no upfront payments either. You pay upon completion of the job or milestone.
Choosing what to outsource
So what should you outsource? Freelancers possess a wide array of skills, from web design to social media marketing, writing, app development, Internet research — almost anything your business could be in need of.
Time-consuming tasks or simple technical tasks like data input are great starting projects. Do not outsource important things that require your human touch.
Using a firm is also best for regular hourly work across weeks and months, such as virtual PA tasks or regular blogging. If you have once-off projects or small tasks, my preference is a solo operator, for example, someone who you can approach with a brief to ‘create me a banner design for my new marketing email’.
How and where do I start?
1. Eliminate before you delegate
Don’t hire virtual assistants to schedule meetings. It’s a waste of time and money. There are several apps that will integrate with your calendar and your client can use a link to schedule time with you.
2. Per hour isn’t the ultimate cost
If you have to manage an inexperienced freelancer, you have to factor your hourly rate in too. Generally, for small to medium tasks, I use a fixed price for the job, not an hourly rate.
To gauge how much to pay, work out how long the task should take, researching what those skills are per hour on your chosen site.
For bigger projects, use specific milestones. It reassures the freelancer that they will get paid and motivates them to keep working, then check up on their progress.
3. Remote vs. local
I prefer freelancers in India for web work and simple technical work, using local (that is native speaking freelancers) for written, speaking work. Use time zones wisely.
If I need something urgent overnight, the US and India are working while we are sleeping. If you need to brief something in the morning for later that day, find someone in your time zone.
4. The biggest challenge is letting go
I found this incredibly difficult until I was honest with myself: Most of my team are hired for what I do badly, or to complete work to a standard that I can’t. It’s also refreshing to know that while I sleep my team are working during their time zones.
5. Pay attention to your job posting
Make sure your job posting has the project/task overview, timeline, freelancer responsibilities, qualification/skill-set requirements and a clear ultimate goal. Be specific in your communication, especially when hiring overseas with language barriers.
I include questions to make sure I am being understood, such as, ‘tell me what experience you have and why you feel you are a great fit for this project?’ A lot of freelancers have a blanket reply for jobs. When I see one of these I discount them. If they can’t reply relevantly, they aren’t going to complete my job accurately.
6. Interview your freelancers, even if it’s a chat message or a Skype call
I like to make contact with every new freelancer before I award the job. Ask questions like, ‘what projects have you worked on that are similar to mine? Can you send me an example of something similar you have worked on?’
7. Pay attention to client feedback
This is invaluable in hiring the right freelancer. Gone are the days of having to call and check references.
Most sites provide feedback/ratings from other employers; amount of hours worked and percentage of completed jobs. You even have the ability to see the freelancer’s test results for sites that test their workforce skills.
Fine-tuning your off-site workforce
Here are a few dos and don’ts when you hire your first freelancer:
- DO provide an accurate and thorough job description with appropriate pay. Many sites restrict how many jobs freelancers can apply to within a set time period; a vague job description may hinder how applicants bid.
- DO set clear expectations. Make sure your freelancer knows the quality of work expected, deadlines and what will happen if the work does not meet standards or is late.
- DO start small and work up to bigger tasks or projects until you build trust with your freelancers.
- DON’T discredit inexperienced freelancers. Sure, experienced freelancers often carry less risk, but they also carry a higher price tag. If you have the time to properly feel out and interview a newbie, you can usually get great results for a great price.
- DON’T hire someone you don’t feel comfortable with. Some freelancers outsource their work to others. Take the time you need to feel comfortable with whomever you are going to hire and mention that they cannot outsource your work without approval.
- DON’T ask your freelancer to work for free on the first job with the promise of more work in the future. Instead, tell them it’s a trial run between them and a couple of others. If they complete the paid job to your satisfaction they will be rewarded with more work. Pay a fair wage overseas; India and the East range between $6 and $12 (USD) per hour, US/UK costs range from $10 to $25 per hour. You can hire someone for $3 per hour, but evaluate if the low cost affects the output.