We spoke to one of the first adopters of outsourcing, Katrina McKinnon, who has been outsourcing work since the 90s, before it was the cool – or understood – thing to do. After years of experience, she shares her best outsourcing tips.
She specializes in how to find the absolute best candidates and make sure both the employee and the employed are happy.
How To Find Great Outsourcers
Though there isn’t a magic wand you can wave to drum up excellent candidates for work, McKinnon suggesting focusing your attention on a few distinct things.
Ask Existing Employees
Have an outsourced employee you already trust? Have them do some of the heavy lifting. “I’ve hired siblings, best friends, so I’ve got quite a few people that have already worked with other people in the team. This makes it easier because they already have a working relationships, and if they appreciate the relationship we have, I know they’ll bring someone good on board,” she says.
Use a Script
If a good referral doesn’t come her way, Katrina relies mostly on oDesk. Her first step is to create a simple job description that states exactly what they’re looking for, with four or five criteria including, hours needed, pay rate, skill required, etc. She’ll also ask a basic question at the end of her posting for applicants to answer, such as asking for examples of a recent project completed that’s similar to what her company is seeking.
You want try and get the best people to rise to the top.
“I use very basic criteria. I see other employers want you to be honest, dependable, work hard. But for everyone, that’s an aspirational job application and it’s also subjective. My definition of a hardworker might be different than someone else’s,” she says. Instead, she sticks to skill that are measurable.
Eliminate The 90%
The downside to using job boards like oDesk is that the applicant pool is much, much larger and it can take a lot of time to sort through. Katrina recommends doing a first sweep and eliminates 90% of people that apply based on if they answer the question at the end of her job posting. Many applicants run bots on sites like oDesk to auto-apply to jobs, so if her question at the end of her job description isn’t answered, she automatically discounts all of those applications.
Narrow the Final List
The next few culls come from looking closely at grammar and spelling, if an application shows creativity and if the applicant has looked into what her business does. “You want try and get the best people to rise to the top,” says Katrina.
Reverse Engineer Job Postings
oDesk is surprisingly an open book when it comes to its information, so if you are an employer or contractor, its easy to see who’s been hired and used frequently by comparable companies.
Look for similar jobs that have been advertised on oDesk or other job sites that have already been filled. She filters it by employers that have spent the most money. “I go and find other oDesk employers who have the same budget as I have and see who they have hired,” she says. If she sees applicants that have worked 1,000 hours for someone, she might approach them for work. The rationale, of course, being if they kept them around for 1,000+ hours they’re probably a great contractor.
Ignore the Ratings
Just because filters are in place, doesn’t mean you have to use them. You won’t necessarily want to discount a potential employee if their ratings are low, since they can be new to oDesk but still be a very worthwhile candidate.
The Hiring Process
The hardest part for finding outsourcers is the application process. Once the scripts have done their job by weeding out the weakest applicants, send everyone an email that acknowledges their application and includes a potential task or trial run for the spot.
Start with a Trial Basis
To get a sense of how someone works and the quality they are willing to put out, it’s important to offer up a real-life task. Though it’s a trial basis, it isn’t gratis work. “If you get them to do real work, they should be compensated. You will get a real feeling of how they work and I always pay them fair value for that task,” Katrina says.
Use a Contract
Once you’ve assigned work, also include the rate and the date the contract closes. “I always tell people well ahead of time that I’ll be ending the contract after a fixed period of time, so I have the option not to renew.”
oDesk has features that can limit the amount of work someone can bill for, and also automatically send out out contracts so no one is surprised when a working relationships ends.
Assigning Identical vs. Different Test Projects
There isn’t necessarily a right way or wrong way to test applicants against one another. For example, a job for a content writer might each be tasked with a separate blog post topic to write, whereas HTML applicants may all do the same task.
No one is a unique snowflake.
Either way, the trial task should be small and discrete, nothing too complicated. “Assign small tasks that take maybe 2-3 hours, just long enough for it to take some thought and give someone the opportunity to start working within your systems.”
Do Higher Rates Mean Better Work?
Is there a correlation between pricing and the quality you get?
The going rate should always be market rate, according to McKinnon. But be mindful that paying a premium doesn’t always mean you’ll get the premium. “I have definitely overpaid before,” she says.
Market rate is dependent on location. A new, young VA overseas might get $4 an hour. Designers tend to be paid more, at $40 to $50+ an hour for a U.S, Australian or Eastern European. Katrina tends to look to the region where people are known for their skills when it comes to hiring.
Make sure to look at the whole picture in aggregate. It’s tempting to assume someone charging twice as much will be twice as good – but that’s not always the case.
Firing From Afar
Though no one likes to think about the best way to fire someone, it’s the reality of any trial process with new employees.
“If you think something doesn’t feel right and you put time into even thinking about firing someone, you should just fire them,” says Katrina. “No one is a unique snowflake.”
Often times when a working relationship needs to end, it’s not always the contractor’s fault. In order to allow someone being outsourced to be successful, the training and systems available to them need to be rock solid too.
“If someone is clever and they have experience, if they aren’t able to continue working with me, then I probably haven’t provided a clear enough process or training,” she says.
Think Long-Term Hires
Many people view outsourcing on sites like oDesk as a way to hire one-off contractors for individual jobs. But this isn’t the route that Katrina takes.
Instead, she looks to hire part-time specialists that can play an ongoing role in her company and operations. That way, she has trusted and integrated team members than can help her achieve her ongoing goals.
To help create a long-term relationship and build rapport, Katrina will setup her contractors on a retainer basis each month for a set number of hours. It shows them she’s serious about giving them work, builds trust, increases their loyalty and allows her to also negotiate a lower hourly rate.
Outsourcing can work for one-off jobs. But the real power and savings comes when you can bring on part-time team members to help with your ongoing operations.
Great Outsourcing Sites
Once you’re ready to start the hunt for outsourcing work, there’s plenty of great sites to help you get started and that will offer some great outsourcing tips.
Here’s a few to bookmark today:
– Huge applicant pool and great timetracking feature so your projects progress is visible and contracts are held accountable.
– Specifically for designers. Includes access to portfolios and filters to search by specialty.
– Large talent pool for finding work within any creative field.
– Crowdsourced design work.
This post was taken from our podcast on outsourcing with Katrina McKinnon. You can learn more about Katrina and her work at The McKinnon Group. Original podcast produced by Andrew Youderian with post written by Laura Serino.
Additional photos from Flickr