You want to get to productive stages fast as you ramp up your business. This could be custom site development, podcast bumpers, application development. field research, and many other tasks. Doing this by yourself is most likely not possible. Even if it’s possible, is this the best use of your time?
The next question you ask yourself is “am I ready to take on staff to handle this work?” The work tends to be needed before the revenue can support a steady staffing cost, so what’s the alternative? This is where outsourcing your projects comes in.
Why Outsource Task-work and Development?
It comes down to the scalability and value of your time. What are you doing in your day that can give back more than it takes in time? When you spend 4 hours writing a business proposal it could lead to a multi-thousand dollar return in a piece of business. If you are writing blog content that is meant to build your profile and reputation then you are definitely getting back more than you put it because the 1 hour of writing could lead to hundreds or thousands of impressions on your site.
Think of it as a value ratio of input time versus output value:
(time spent on task) * (regularity of task) : (return value in hours or revenue)
The worst thing you can have happen is shown in an example where you have an 8 hour task per month that nets no significant return. That ratio looks pretty harsh across the measurement of a year. Assume the the lowest return we apply to a return is 1 hour. Here is the 8 hour monthly task as a time to value ratio:
(8 * 12) : (near-zero return) = 64:1
Measure that against a task like doing sales meetings or even blog creation. A blog that will result lots of readership (and ultimately turn to conversions) means that 1 hour of input that gets 5000 views at 5 minutes per view looks like this:
(60 minutes) : (5000 * 5 minutes readership) = 60:25000
Not difficult to see where your value from input to results plays out in your favour.
When to Make the Leap to Using Freelancers
Spoiler alert: you are ready now. The only question is the level of readiness from a cost perspective. Freelancing is free of long-term obligation but definitely not “free” when it comes to billing. The advantage you have is that you can scale the work and project to match your budget. Fans if Tim Ferriss will have inevitably heard of his use of outsourcing in order to scale his businesses. This started with the firm known as YMII (Your Man In India) which has spawned a whole industry of outsourcers and freelancing sites.
There are two powerful ways to use a freelancer:
- Regular, Repetitive tasks that cannot be automated – This could include things lie invoicing, collecting research articles, interacting with survey respondents, making newsletters, or other tasks that take time but do not scale your growth. Not everything can be automated. When it can’t be automated and it’s a 1:1 time to value ratio then it’s time to look at handing off the task to a freelancer
- Development and IT Services that are outside of your comfort or skill level – Let’s face it, you are trying to build your business and not necessarily a product. Sourcing your IT and development to a skilled expert on that particular subject matter means getting someone who is ramped and ready, and proven on the task.
You are an expert at the thing you do. That is an incredible value that you can bring to your customers. This is your chance to take the same approach your customers do by bringing your expertise and value to something they cannot or do not want to do themselves.
Up Your Productivity with Upwork
Upwork is a freelancing site that connects up subject and task experts at all levels with people and organizations in need of help. The coverage is pretty wide for service availability. You can engage with creative producers, application and mobile developers, writers, virtual assistants, and much more.
I decided to give this a go recently to really measure how well I could do by bringing a project to a freelancer for sole application development. The results were even better than I had expected. The scope of work was some authentication plugin development using Ruby on Rails. Once it was published to the available jobs, I was presented with a number of relevant freelancers to choose from.
Criteria you need to consider will be price, experience, previous ratings, and may even include location and supported speaking languages so you can ensure clear communication in a language that you and your team are comfortable with. The range is everywhere from beginner developers to advanced (and pricey) experts who have a wide range of skills and background.
My two choices were to opt for a seasoned developer in the 30-35$ per hour range or opt for a more junior, but well-reviewed developer at 15-18$ per hour. The job was pitched to both and each came back with their time and duration estimates. With the type of work I had and the timeframe, the 30-ish dollar per hour developer won with a 10 hour bid.
The communication is done via messages on the Upwork site and you can choose to engage over audio and video as well if you want. Progress is measured using an activity log by the freelancer. My developer was posting different code updates and screenshots of the application during the process so I could see all of the steps he followed. This was incredibly helpful because I will be taking over the code at the end. We chose to work on a private GitHub repository to exchange the code.
My 10 hour estimate became 2 hours. This turned out to be faster than my dutiful Upwork freelancer had thought and he was kind enough not to run out the clock just because we had set the upper boundary at 10 hours. The project was reviewed, code tested, application working, and I closed out the job within the Upwork platform where I also left a healthy bonus. My developer (who I’ve planned to re-engage with for future work) even spent additional time troubleshooting some config changes needed when I tested the application.
My Upwork review: A++ would use a freelancer again!
How to get ready for the best freelancer experience
There are important steps that you should have in mind as you start with Upwork and the freelance engagement. Being ready as a consumer of freelancing services means that you can hit the mark for cost, time, and quality.
- Think about how much your time is worth – Too many people think about task-work and minor development as something they can do in free time or between other tasks. The reality is that you are killing your productivity towards real business growth when you spend it on tasks that can be offloaded or outsourced. Think about the hourly rate you would charge a customer or employer for your time and then weigh that against the cost of your freelancer.
- Use a freelancer as a test for long-term development or task outsourcing – This is not just a way to get something done in a pinch. This is a way to measure how prepared you are to scale your business without the commitment of taking on a full-time
- Know your limits – what is your budget? Lay that out up front and define it in your scope and within the freelancing site. Upwork includes this out-of-the-box which ensured I didn’t go over budget.
- Be prepared to communicate regularly – the top reason software projects go over budget and scope is miscommunication. Be clear on the needs and the deliverables. Set your check-in plan to keep track of the progress. Work with your freelancer to map to their style as well. Good management and project success work on a give and take.
- Start small and practice outsourcing – choose smaller, fixed tasks that are easy to measure. This lets you get used to managing a remote worker who you have no history with. Reviews are going to be the key as you look at patterns that your freelancer has had in the past.
Effective use of freelance resources means that you can get those priority tasks sorted and make someone else’s value ratio work for you. The end result is that my 2 hours plus a bonus was still far better than me learning the process myself or in having a full-time developer on board. This also eliminates the need for payroll, health benefits and all the other administrative challenges.
You will be starting from scratch with a new person. As in the tips above, be clear, concise, communicate regularly, and make sure you attack the task and measure progress.
Can I Trust my Freelancer?
The question of trust always comes up. What are you opening up to a freelancer that you could put yourself or your business at risk with? The irony of freelancing your mundane tasks is that the most common thing is finance management and invoicing. Luckily, you can set up invoicing without opening up the bank account access to a freelancer. Having them do your accounting and handle cheques is another story.
Building your applications also has implications around the ownership of intellectual property. This is all accounted for in some of the basic terms of freelancing sites but there truth is that it is 100% on you to protect yourself. Upwork has a great 7-point resource blog on how to deal with IP here that is a must-read in my opinion.
As far as the trust and safety with Upwork, I’ve been very satisfied. There is a Trust & Safety reference page to help give you a few tips and answer the high-level questions. You are responsible to fully review the Terms and Conditions which is important as a business owner and for your own personal brand. This is not the time to scroll and just click “I agree”.
Please do reach out to us here at the site via the comments below if you want more information. Your mileage may vary as they say, and it is helpful for you to share your experiences with Upwork and freelancing in general to give ideas and guidance to those getting started with freelance hiring and outsourcing.