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.
Charity Begins At Home This Festive Season
3 Ways to invest in your own employees.
We often only think of corporate social investment (CSI) as an organisation’s actions in the surrounding communities (philanthropy and volunteering), but CSI is also inward facing. By promoting employee well-being, your business can be a vehicle for change, not only in the society around it, but also directly in the lives of those working there.
Here are some ways you can invest in your own employees during the festive season:
1. Involve your employees in a higher purpose
This might sound like a bit of circular reasoning, but studies have shown that involving employees in CSI activities has several benefits. People involved in meaningful activities tend to be more motivated and willing to go that extra mile because of the higher good associated with the work. CSI programmes also:
- Increase co-operative behaviour and employee relationships
- Enhance the sense of company identity
- Improve employee retention and commitment
- Create an attractive company culture.
2. Provide the space for physical and mental breaks
The end-of-year and festive period is often a very stressful period. Balancing festive and family duties with increased pressure at work due to colleagues taking leave, looming year-end targets and planning for the next year can take a toll.
You, as the employer, can ease this stress by ensuring that there are systems in place that define holiday working policies. Promote time and productivity management to plan workflows and keep the momentum going in these last weeks of the year. Also make sure you have effective communication strategies in place for plans that are in the pipeline for the new year, so that employees can get their heads around upcoming changes. This will allow employees to plan ahead and build in time to switch off, knowing that all of the boxes have been ticked.
3. Constructive feedback/motivation
Also, take the time to acknowledge and show appreciation for the hard work that your staff has put in throughout the year. As the saying goes “valued employees are valuable employees.”
How Medical Savings Accounts Are Changing – For The Better
By Jeremy Yatt, Principal Officer of Fedhealth
The concept of medical savings accounts (MSA) emerged in the industry in the early 1990s, reputedly when Discovery founder Adrian Gore was working at Liberty. At that time medical scheme benefits for different kinds of day-to-day healthcare were specified, so for example, you’d get a certain amount of Rands to spend on your over-the-counter medicine, or for optometry services. But this was problematic, as people’s daily medical needs are all so different. So, you’d have medical aid members calling their medical schemes saying, “I haven’t used my spectacle limit this year, so can I transfer it to use on medication instead?”.
The idea for MSAs was to pool these separate benefits into a total Rand amount, that you could then spend how you wanted, and more importantly, retain if you didn’t use them all. Initially, medical schemes were reluctant to follow this idea, as they thought it would lead to under-servicing: medical aid members might be unwilling to spend their savings, and so might not get the proper day-to-day medical attention until it became a crisis and they were hospitalised. However this was not the case, and MSAs proved very popular.
At first, there was no real limit on how much of your contributions as a member could go into your MSA, so most schemes allocated around 40-50%. Many schemes also pushed major medical procedures like MRI scans into savings, which was effectively a way of forcing members to self-fund these costly medical expenses. As a result, the Medical Schemes Act was amended in 1998 to impose a 25% limit on the benefits that could be put into MSAs, which largely forced the schemes to be responsible for these major costs.
Under the previous structure there was no disincentive not to use your benefits, particularly as they didn’t roll over from year to year like Medical Savings do. It was therefore not uncommon for a call centre to get queries from members asking how much was available in their different benefit areas, so that they could make sure they used them all up.
MSAs solved these sorts of problems by giving medical aid members increased convenience and autonomy, which is why schemes have been using them for the past 20+ years.
The concept of an MSA isn’t far removed from a loan. Like a loan, an MSA lets you use a sum of money when you want to, but you still have to pay for it regardless of whether you use it or not. It forms part of the registered gross contribution to the medical scheme. Take the example of a member who has R12 000 they can access in their MSA each year. Effectively they are paying for this “loan”, contributing R1000 a month, starting in January. However an MSA means they can use all of that R12 000 upfront, such as if they need expensive dental treatment (crowns etc.) at the start of February that costs R12 000.
In this situation, the member has only paid for R1000 worth of that R12 000 “loan” (with their January contribution), so they effectively “owe” the medical scheme R11 000, which they then pay off over the remainder of the year. If the member left the scheme straight after their dental work, the scheme would then contact the member to repay the R11 000, as they still owe that amount.
The concept of giving members access to medical financing led us to develop our new MediVault offering for day-to-day medical expenses. Describing it as a loan holds negative connotations for some, but it’s not that different from the concept of an MSA: in fact, we see the MediVault as a natural evolution. All it means is that you won’t need to pay for day-to-day savings upfront. Instead, you’ll be allocated money for these everyday medical expenses in your personal MediVault and, once you’ve taken the money out, you only have to pay it back over a period of 12 months – completely interest-free. This is a far better option than taking out an expensive loan from a traditional loan company, or getting it from an unscrupulous loan shark.
Our MediVault offering is not at all about loaning funds to people irresponsibly. We’re not creating a monster that’s going to indebt you – we’re just changing the way you can access funds for your healthcare. After all, health is everyone’s most worthwhile investment, and we want to give people the flexibility to make it their top priority.
Year-End Reviews Are Not Always A Positive Experience
This is largely due to parties entering into it without proper preparations, thinking that it can be done in one meeting.
Performance reviews are similar to entering a race. It’s all about race day, but what you put in before the event (the discipline to wake up and train, the commitment to push yourself and stick to your training plan) is what makes race day either a great positive journey or a terrible experience. The same principle applies to performance reviews. It should not be a once-a-year meeting. It should be part of the monthly job description for both the manager and employee to be able to compare, adjust and review on an ongoing basis. Then, once a year, all the insights gathered during the year should be reviewed to plan for the next year.
Performance excellence reviews contribute to the culture of a company
We always say that attitude determines outputs or achievements. Personal attitudes, and the character of the business, is the culture. A great culture will lead to great achievements.
Performance excellence reviews are the tool we use to compare, adjust and shape what we want to achieve and then benchmark to know if it has been achieved.
Employee performance reveals a lot about the business’ achievements. A business is great when it is profitable, cares about and looks after their people, and contributes towards the wellbeing of society and/or the planet. It is all about performance. What you put in is what you get out. And this is what we need to understand.
Related: How to Set Up Employee Assessments
Performance excellence reviews can be a positive experience
Know the individual and their needs. There are really no one size fits all generic option.
There are however a few general good practices :
- Managers should firstly understand the value that performance excellence reviews contribute towards overall achievements.
- When the manager is positive about the reviews and the value it adds, automatically the employees follow.
- On a monthly basis, review the employee’s feedback relating to the progress of the functions / tasks.
- Be understanding as a manager – not all functions might haven been able to be completed due to job changes or the complexity of a growing job function.
- As employee, understand that a manager is employed to manage the performance of the team, the department and the business. This entails understanding the employees’ performance.
- New employees need to be reviewed more frequently eg. Bi weekly. When the employee has found their feet, review monthly or bi monthly.
- Do not review performance once a year only. Review frequently, and once a year have a focused meeting around performance to discuss what was achieved during the last 12 months.
- Managers should be responsible, and held accountable, to get all staff to complete their reviews (monthly, quarterly etc). It is the managers responsibility and it should be one of their functions.
- Employees should know that performance reviews are simply there to understand the job, and help to align the job and the person’s talents to get the best outputs. It’s about continuously striving towards efficiency and effectiveness.
- As a manager: Communicate progress feedback and offer assistance.
- Be consistent. Review frequently.
- Celebrate achievements.
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