Right now I’m reading Tim Ferris’s book The Four Hour Work Week, and I’m deep in outsourcing mode. I’ve got an Indian company that I’m courting to redo my accounting system and I’m testing out VA (virtual assistant) companies.
Here are my tips so far:
1. Don’t get desperate and try to unload the store on someone. If you’re like me you’ve waited far too long to start delegating things. There’s this lovely vision of relief “Oh, I can pay someone else to do this! Sweet Jesus!”. You find someone that seems good, and then you dump the whole mess on them. Yeah. This doesn’t usually go well. Don’t let your emotional need for relief get in the way of being clear and effective.
2. Write obnoxiously clear directions. You’d be surprised what people can misinterpret. One of my first test projects was for someone to find 200 wallpaper images for my free wallpaper site, and then to crop and resize them to the proper dimensions for people’s screens. The first set of images came back all distorted. They had just batch-resized them, with no regard to the original aspect ratio of the photo being different than the wide-screen or even normal screen. Now I thought that was obvious, but clearly it wasn’t to the person doing the job. So, spell out the things that are obvious to you. Doing a few trial runs with $50 Elance projects will help you get used to this.
3. Continuously rethink your barriers to delegation, like “I have to get this organized before I can hand it off to someone else.” There are some organizational and oversight tasks that you will still need to do (see #1), but many things initially seem like that but aren’t. For instance I had on my list that I had to install Subversion (a tool that helps programmers work together on the same code) before I could hire a programmer. But then I realized that I could have the programmer install that–duh. Then I thought I needed to write out the complete design as to how the programmer would create the software I wanted. Then I realized I needed to hire a programmer who could work at that level, ie who could architect a system if I described what I needed it to accomplish. So part of it also is realizing the scope of skill you need your outsourcing person or company to have.
4. Let go of your perfectionist number. Once upon a time I tried using an outsourced technical support company for Acorn Host to answer tickets, and I originally vetoed the idea because they didn’t answer tickets as superbly efficiently as I did. Then I tried hiring someone who I could train to answer tickets and ended up micromanaging him to death. Then I realized that the company could answer the tickets just as well or better than the one harried employee, and I decided to just let them do it. No, it’s not as perfect as I could do it. But doing it myself is so not the best use of my time, let alone what I enjoy doing. They are the best company I could find (they are US-based, not Indian), and they do a damn fine job compared to a lot of places. So I’ve let good be good enough and I’m much happier.
5. Don’t hire one person for a job: hire a company to do a type of job. This is a point Tim makes in his book: a single person is a potential breakdown waiting to happen. If I work with one VA, and they are critical to my business system, and they happen to get pneumonia or have a baby or move to Argentina and join an ashram, then I have to do the work of finding a whole new VA. On the other hand, if I hire a VA company, they are responsible for staffing, and I only have to do the search for the company (of course, it then becomes imperative to look for a company with consistent quality in hiring). This is one reason I decided to go back to a company for technical support: my tech support guy had a family emergency and had to quit. I couldn’t face more searching for someone who wanted to work for $300/month extremely part time but be available at all hours of the day. Yeah. That’s the ideal time to hire a company that specializes in helping web support companies with technical support tickets. Duh.
6. Make a list of “To do” and “To outsource” and keep moving things from the first list to the second. Even if you do some of the things on the second list from time to time, it gets you in the habit of knowing the difference and your goal of eliminating everything that is not the most effective and enjoyable use of your time.
7. Start where you are and learn as you go. The first programmer I hired was good for awhile, and then I realized I needed someone who had more experience and could envision the whole project and where it needed to go rather than just follow directions. But I figured that out from working with the first guy. So, that’s how it goes. Don’t try to anticipate every need and every angle. Just pick some immediate need, write up a clear instruction someone can follow to solve that problem or do that task, and find someone who can do that. Jump in, the water’s fine!