I’ve worked with VAs and writers for years. I’ve made every mistake under the sun. I’ve learned a’plenty. I have a GREAT team right now of VAs, writers and managers.
Here’s a list of my favorite outsourcing tips.
Table of Contents
- Specify both minimum AND maximum hours to work each week
- Train with video
- Require daily reports from everyone
- Use time-tracking software
- Hire/promote a manager
- Specify that everyone must work on a laptop or desktop
- Work towards automation
- Do not give away keys to the kingdom
- Have realistic expectations
- Be content if they get 50% of what you do in a shift
- What if you run out of work for VAs and others?
- Monitor new tasks/hires closely
- Watch out for overhead creep
- What if you don’t want to hire anyone?
Specify both minimum AND maximum hours to work each week
My favorite lesson learned from outsourcing makes me laugh now. It was pretty funny when it happened even though it cost me a few hundred bucks.
I hired a graphic designer from Onlinejobs.ph. It was quite a process involving test projects and shortlists. After one round of test projects one person surpassed all other applicants. His work was amazing and he did it in the least amount of time.
I offered him the job. He accepted it.
I told him the position required 40 hours per week. He was good with all terms and was off to the races.
I had a backlog of graphic design projects for him. I gave him the list. He had a lot of work. I explained he didn’t have to get it all done right away… just chip away at as best as he could. Back then I didn’t have a clue about how long graphic design projects took. I learned they take quite a while.
I pay everyone on the 15th and last day of the month.
When someone starts I tell them what their prorated hourly rate is and suggest their first invoice reflect that rate times the hours put in. Going forward the pay is $X amount each pay-period assuming 40 hours worked. Usually if hired mid-pay-period they don’t hit the expected hours. This never posed a problem.
When he submitted his invoice, it was double what the position paid.
I emailed him and explained the position paid $XXX amount every two weeks.
He replied telling me that he figured he could work as many hours as he wanted at the prorated rate. In the first two weeks he logged 100 hours per week.
I laughed. I paid up. I laughed again.
It’s true I didn’t specify a maximum number of hours to work.
I do now.
That’s the first tip.
Train with video
Back in the day I meticulously write out instructions. These took me forever and were long, long, long for the simplest task. They were nearly impossible to follow.
Eventually, I learned there was such a thing as screen share video software. Wow, what a great idea. There were even free options.
I signed up, created my first instruction video and never looked back.
These days, all instructions, unless it only requires a sentence or two, are done with a screen share video.
A 2-minute video is equal to 30+ minutes of writing out instructions.
I use Loom for this but any will do.
Require daily reports from everyone
Daily reports make it possible to quickly see what’s been done by everyone. It also helps keep everyone accountable.
My managers like them too so they know where things are at.
I don’t need a long-winded report. Just 3 to 8 bullet points listing out key tasks. For example, if they formatted and set up 8 blog posts, I ask that they list out the blog post titles.
I also have my managers send me reports so I know what’s been done at their level.
These reports make it easy for me to get a big picture snapshot as to what’s going on.
Use time-tracking software
I don’t like the concept of time-tracking software but I use it as a measure to prevent shirking.
About five years ago I had paid someone for many months who did almost no work. Yeah, I still don’t know how that happened. I was so busy then and had a few VAs on board. I failed to check up on their work set out in the reports. She made up reports and had done pretty much nothing.
Back then VAs were hired for some huge projects I was building up. They took months to finish. I failed to supervise progress as closely as I should have.
I had no checks and balances.
Eventually, I discovered that she did almost nothing and asked her about it. She said she was having some issues and apologized. In other words, she admitted she had done nothing for months.
I had to let her go.
I also needed to implement checks and balances.
I promoted my best VA to manager to supervise and started using time-tracking software.
I rarely check it.
My credits (I use Screenmeter) expired recently. I asked one manager if she thought it was worth using. She said “yes” because she believed it helped with output. She’s tracked in it as well so it’s not like she gets a pass.
Based on her feedback I fed the software more money for credits and will continue using it.
Hire/promote a manager
I should have promoted my current VA manager years before I did.
It was one of my best decisions I’ve made as VP of human resources.
She knew and knows almost every aspect of my niche sites. She’s wicked smart. Unbelievably well organized. A natural-born manager. I got lucky hiring her many, many years ago.
She now manages a team of 5 VAs. She also does most of the hiring, tracks paid time off… everything except pay them.
What this does for me is I now I need only communicate with one person instead of five.
This is a huge time-saver for me.
Plus, because she knows so much, it’s rare she has a question for me.
Apart from hiring folks in the first place, nothing I’ve done has freed me up as much as implementing a management level of help.
This year I hired another manager who does higher level work including some KW research, technical SEO analysis and cleanup, all content management, works with writers and the VAs and is not spearheading my new site (which is not easy at this point).
Now I need only receive and reply to emails from two people.
Specify that everyone must work on a laptop or desktop
Are there options other than a laptop or desktop?
Yup. While hard to believe, you could hire someone who does this work on their phone. You’ll probably figure it out when they get 1/10 the amount done compared to other VAs. It could happen.
In other words, specify they must work on a laptop or desktop NOT a tablet or phone.
I know it sounds ludicrous that this should be specified but you never know.
Work towards automation
Set up your delegated workflow so that eventually people know what to do and have access to what they need to do their jobs without you getting involved.
Part of this is having a manager but it also means ensuring your team can access all tools and work without you getting involved.
For example, I don’t want to download images from Shutterstock for anyone. I added team seats to my account. They can get the images. If you’re worried about whether they’ll select good images, monitor their choices for a few weeks with feedback. Eventually they’ll get a sense of what you want.
Another example is getting them access to Canva, wherever content is delivered (in my case it’s in WriterAccess), etc.
You want to get yourself out of the production as much as possible.
This won’t happen overnight. It takes some trial and error.
It takes trusting your team to an extent (although see the next tip on never giving out the keys to the kingdom).
I do set everyone’s role in WordPress to admin. I’ve never once had a problem doing so.
Besides, my hosting service does daily backups. If something went really wrong, I have a backup from 24 hours ago.
Do not give away keys to the kingdom
There are some accounts and access I do not give anyone. Two actually. They are:
- Hosting account access (other than user role with limited access); and
- Anything with access to money such as Paypal, credit cards and bank accounts.
Yes, this means I have to deal with receiving, reviewing and paying invoices twice per month. Not my favorite job but the potential downside of handing it off to someone else is very, very bad.
Have realistic expectations
Anyone you hire probably won’t get as much done in eight hours as you.
Perhaps in 3 months they’ll be as fast as you but not in the beginning.
Be content if they get 50% of what you do in a shift
It’ll improve over time.
Once they get in the swing of things, their work will become intuitive, they’ll figure out good ways to speed up the process and eventually may be faster than you.
Just don’t get super frustrated in the beginning and fire everyone because they didn’t match your output.
During the first week I’m happy if they more or less grasp the work even if they’re pretty slow at it. If they understand it and do it right, they’ll get faster.
What if you run out of work for VAs and others?
This can be a problem. For example, it can happen when waiting on content to be delivered.
One solution is to have some long-term, non-urgent or important tasks/jobs planned out that you’d like to have done but only if there’s extra time.
I have a few of these jobs. It never ends so there’s always something for folks to do.
One pretty much every website owner has is internal linking. I’ve yet to meet a publisher who publishes frequently who is totally up-to-date with internal linking. This is one of those great backup tasks.
Monitor new tasks/hires closely
When you train someone new or assign a new type of task, take the time to review their work/new tasks carefully.
It’s important you iron out the kinks as soon as you can.
It’s easy to send instructions, return to your own work or return to doing nothing assuming everyone will do it right. That is not the case. Sometimes they will nail it the first time but sometimes they won’t.
My MO is when I implement a new workflow or task, I send it to a manager. I then ask that once a couple of the tasks are done to email me so I can review it.
Usually, I just need to send refinement feedback once and the team knows exactly how to do it.
Watch out for overhead creep
Overhead creep is common in business. You have a few good months with a few extra bucks in your pocket and go on a hiring spree. Each hire doesn’t seem like all that much money but before you know it, you’ve added thousands to your overhead.
I’m very careful before deciding to hire someone because I don’t want to lay anyone off. I’ve let overhead creep get out of control in the past. I don’t like it.
This is another reason I like getting a good chunk of my content from WriterAccess. I can reduce or increase how much I spend on content very easily. While I suspect some of my regular writers appreciate regular work from me, there’s not nearly the expectation of regular work on WA as there is with hired in-house folks.
What if you don’t want to hire anyone?
There’s no rule that says you need to hire someone.
Many bloggers have built up highly successful blogs and other channels on their own with no help from anyone.
I prefer setting up systems and workflows but I get the “going it solo” preference.
Jon runs the place around here. He pontificates about launching and growing online publishing businesses, aka blogs that make a few bucks. His pride and joy is the email newsletter he publishes.
Hyperbole? Maybe, but go check it out to see what some readers say.
In all seriousness, Jon is the founder and owner of a digital media company that publishes a variety of web properties visited and beloved by millions of readers monthly. Fatstacks is where he shares a glimpse into his digital publishing business.