No matter what business you run, there comes a time when you have to hire someone to do something for you, when you can no longer do everything yourself.
Most business owners think this first step involves hiring a full-fledged employee, but that isn’t usually the first step most businesses take. For most businesses, including mine, the first step is outsourcing.
By outsourcing, I don’t mean sending work out of the country, although some entrepreneurs do that. What I mean by outsourcing in this context is sending work outside of your organization.
In my business, I’ve outsourced graphic design, image creation, programming, and administrative support. Not every experience has been a positive one.
In fact, my last outsourcing effort was a complete failure. I hired a virtual assistant on the recommendation of a client. To try her out, I assigned her a short, 2 hour task. The first week, she was too busy to get to my job, but she kept me informed. The second week, I didn’t hear from her at all. At the end of the third week, she offered to do the work for free, which sounds like a winning solution, but she never actually did the work (well, beyond the first 10 minutes of it, at any rate).
Although this experience didn’t work out, it hasn’t turned me off to outsourcing.
Not every decision you make is going to be a successful one. That’s part of life as well as part of business. If mistakes never happened, no one would ever be fired from a job. But mistakes do happen, and sometimes the person isn’t a right fit for the job. In that case, it’s best to just let them go and resume your search for the right candidate.
How do you find the right person for your business?
There are a number of ways to locate qualified help for your business:
Direct recommendations from people you know personally remains one of the most trusted ways to find quality support staff. With a recommendation, you can reasonably assume that the service that your friend received would be a good predictor of the service that you will receive. I’d give you one caution here, however: all circumstances are different. Your friend may have enjoyed working with this person, but you, and your business, are different. You may not have the same experience, even when the service is identical. It’s important to make sure anyone you hire is a good match for your business, regardless of what other people say about them.
Using social media to locate quality help is like asking your friends and family to ask the people they know, and those people asking those they know, and so on, and so on. The result is that you can access a wide network of qualified and recommended individuals outside of your circle. I’ve had good luck connecting with support staff for my business — as well as connecting with prospective clients — via Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. Don’t be afraid to post your specific request to your social network. You may be only one degree of separation from the perfect candidate.
Searching online is a great way to locate potential partners for your business. Freelancers who have, and maintain, good, quality websites are more likely to provide you with up-to-date advice than are those who either don’t have a website, or whose website is out of date. Websites also can showcase testimonials from previous clients, which can help you to determine if this might be a good fit for you. However, the same caution applies here as in direct recommendations: make sure the person is a good fit for your business.
Upwork (created from the merger of Elance and Odesk) is a website designed to hook up freelancers with businesses who need their help. You can browse profiles of freelancers, see examples of their work, and read reviews from those who have hired them. You can also post your job and ask for bids from available freelancers. I’ve had great luck finding programmers and folks with very specific skill sets this way. Posting your job is free. You only pay if your job is completed to your satisfaction.
What to look for
You can’t guarantee every hiring decision you make will be a good one, but you can limit the pitfalls of a bad decision by looking for candidates who:
Provide some sort of guarantee. Freelancers and consultants who believe in their work will stand behind it. Some will offer a complete money-back guarantee, but don’t be afraid to hire someone who doesn’t. A good satisfaction guarantee – doing the job until you are completely satisfied – is just as good.
Sign contracts. Many freelancers and consultants will provide you a contract to sign for their services. This contract makes sure you are both on the same page regarding the work to be done and prevents misunderstandings later. If your freelancer doesn’t provide you with a contract, ask if he will sign one you provide. Most reputable people will sign a contract that is to both parties benefit. If he won’t, go elsewhere.
Ask for payment as services are delivered. You should never have to pre-pay for large projects; payment should be tied to delivery. This ensures that everyone is motivated to stay on track to meet the expected deadlines. And, in the event that something does go wrong, you aren’t out your whole investment for the project.
Make you feel supported. At the end of the day, you have to trust that the work is going to get done. If the person that you’ve hired leaves you feeling any doubt that you’ve made the right decision, it’s best to address that at the outset. Either have a conversation with him/her or simply let them go and move on (depending on your relationship). In my experience, those doubts and lingering misgivings are accurate predictors of trouble to come, so act early to prevent more trouble later.
It might take you a bit of trial and error to find the right support people to help you grow your business. Don’t let that discourage you. The right people are out there and it might take a bit of work to find them, but having that support will help you take your business further than you could ever do it alone.