Outsourcing Tips for Finding Phenomenal Remote Workers

Outsourcing Tips for Finding Phenomenal Remote Workers

Finding great outsourcers is hard.  How can you hire great remote workers among the sea of amateurs who will waste your time or, worse, hurt your business?

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.

(To help get contractors that are an even better fit, check out our article on writing highly effective, creative job descriptions).  

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.

99 Designs

– 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

Andrew Youderian
Post by Andrew Youderian
Andrew is the founder of eCommerceFuel and has been building eCommerce businesses ever since gleefully leaving the corporate world in 2008.  Join him and 1,000+ vetted 7- and 8-figure store owners inside the eCommerceFuel Community.

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NickAugust 17, 2014

I gotta say Andrew, the content on this website and in your Insider’s Guide is life saving. I wish I found you before I discovered “make money online” affiliate marketing. You would have saved me truck loads of cash. There is a lot of confusion and garbage out there. Keep up the amazing content!

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Andrew YouderianAugust 18, 2014

Thanks Nick! Glad it’s serving you well, and really appreciate you reading. 😉

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ManpreetAugust 19, 2014

Hey Andrew,

Great Stuff. It helps me a lot and save my presious time. Good points to find best outsourcers.


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Andrew YouderianAugust 19, 2014

Thanks Manpreet!

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Dale AychmanAugust 19, 2014

Very insightful article Andrew! Thanks so much for sharing Katrina’s insights and experiences. We’ve hired remote contractors for a few one-off projects with mixed results. I like her recommendation to start with a small task of 2-3 hours to gauge their ability before handing over the entire project. This one nugget o’ gold would have saved us considerable headaches!

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Andrew YouderianAugust 19, 2014

Thanks Dale! Yeah, Katrina really knows her stuff. We’ve also been utilizing this techniques with testing new contract workers recently and it’s worked well.

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Katrina McKinnonAugust 19, 2014

Hello everyone. Katrina here.

Let me know if you have any specific questions or problems. I might be able to give you a shortcut to the solution. Just ask your questions in here.

In particular, I can recommend specific freelancers for you who I work with.

I can also take a look at your job descriptions and let you know what kind of response you can expect to get, and how to tweak it.

So, just let me know if you have any questions! Fire away.

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NataliyaAugust 20, 2014

Hey Andrew – Great article! When you just start working with new people and give them test tasks, what are the best or commonly accepted practices to manage their access to different online accounts – would you just give them temp passwords or would you use software like LastPass or something similar? I’d appreciate your wisdom on this!

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KatrinaAugust 20, 2014

We use Passpack and will either create a temporary access (with lower level permissions) password or just share the usual Admin passwords with the freelancer.

Because the passwords are automatically generated they can be easily changed when the freelancer is finished.

And keep in mind that most freelancers will have access to dozens of stores and websites. You’re just giving them access to one more. It’s usually not as big a deal to share the passwords as you might think.

However, we do create backups before a new person touches a store. Just in case!

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Richard RobbinsSeptember 4, 2014

I just recently had to fire someone I hired on oDesk after I caught her claiming that she did a bunch of work (adding product attributes) that I already did.

I’ve almost given up on outsourcing because of a few bad experiences, but maybe I’ll give it a try again and use some of these tips. While being frustrated with what I’ve experienced so far, I know that it isn’t reasonable to expect to be able to grow if I’m doing ALL the grunt work.

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Katrina McKinnonSeptember 19, 2014

Here are some quick tips for finding ‘truthful’ freelancers on oDesk:

1) Look at the Recent Applications section in the right side of their profile. It is a ‘hidden’ field. They will be applying for jobs that they are confident they can complete. So, don’t hire someone as a Content Writer if they are applying for Data Entry jobs.

2) Look for repeat work from the same employers in their work history. You’ll find the best freelancers will have long-term contracts with the same employer, or you’ll notice the same project name being listed multiple times in their work profile. This all points to a freelancer who can keep their employer happy.

3) Search for their name in Google. You’ll find them on other freelancer sites. You’ll find their blogs, twitter accounts and more. You can learn from their footprint. For example, I hire programmers who are active on Github or other software community sites. It shows they’re willing to get involved and are active.

4) Give them a very short trial job and set it on an hourly rate. You then get to see the Work Diary. This is a tool built into oDesk that takes a snapshot of their screen every few minutes. You’ll be able to ‘follow along’ on the task, and you’ll know if they’re stuffing around or concentrating on your job.

5) Most important, be very very clear with your instructions. Write more detail in your job briefs than you think you need. And then use the same process again for another freelancer.

We’ve got a bunch of how-to guides over at SmallRevolution.com if you want to get the exact techniques.

Hope that helps.

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FredOctober 15, 2014

Thanks Andrew. This is very helpful. Do you know of anyone that provides a total SEO/Social solution for ecommerce stores? Specifically, I want someone (or an agency) to create unique articles, post them to my site’s blog (with links to other pages), post them to my site’s social media accounts, and generate white hat backlinks? Thanks, Fred.

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Jim PatrickOctober 18, 2014

Well said! I would add that they should have their own thoughts about SEO. If they have the experience and the know-how, they would be able to explain to you what is most important to them when writing a piece and using key words.

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JoeOctober 21, 2014

Independent activities are good for the time. In the end, it is time to hire someone to help, and some things outsourced 🙂

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Bryan - Wall StickersOctober 23, 2014

Hi Andrew,

Supper stocked about this post.

I am trying to hire and SEO person for my eCommerce site, using a list of my competitors links. Any thoughts or advice you can give on this subject? What should I look for while outsourcing this kind of material?


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How Not to Botch Your Website Migration | eCommerceFuelJanuary 19, 2015

[…] If you answer yes to either of these, you’ll probably want to tackle the project.  Otherwise, delegate it to a team member or a contractor you can hire.  You can find tips for finding top-notch outsourcers here. […]

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