I recently listened to a podcast episode from Internet Business Mastery. [Internet Marketing is not my business model, but as a busy entrepreneur I do appreciate all their tips on how to maximize your time so you can get more done with less effort.]
This particular episode had to do with outsourcing and coincidentally I was just about to start researching how this VA (Virtual Assistant) concept works. So after this podcast I decided it seemed easy enough, so I dug in.
There are many places you can find VAs, many more than the ones I found in my research, but I went with oDesk.com because I found my developers there, am relatively happy with their site, and am familiar with the interface.
There are tens of thousands of VAs on the oDesk site. I narrowed my search by using keywords for the type of work I was looking for (market research, content writing, statistical analysis, databases, etc.). I narrowed it down further by selecting only those with “Excellent” English skills (self-assessed), 4 star or above ratings, tests taken, and a rate of $10 per hour or less. The vast majority of these people are young women from the Philippines, but there were a few men, and a smattering from India and the US.
If, like me, you have had visions of paying $2.00 an hour for a top notch assistant, you can forget it. It doesn’t really happen like that.
Then I carefully read each person’s profile, work history, reviews, and work samples if they had them. I chose the ones I liked by adding them to a”favorites” list and when I had about a dozen, I wrote up the job description and sent out what oDesk calls an Invitation to Interview.
I got responses from a few right away. Then the hurricane hit the Philippines and I got nothing for several days. As they recovered from the storm, I got a few more (with apologies!) and then it pretty much fell off. Some never got back to me at all.
I found that in general, even the ones who claimed excellent English skills do not have excellent English skills, at least not in writing. I chose two that I felt had the best combination of relevant work, decent written English, and had good reviews from past customers.
I decided to split the work up between the two of them and gave them each half the hours and half the work. I had an expectation that one of them would be better than the other, but after two weeks I found the opposite to be true. (My hiring skills have never been spot-on, so I have learned not to completely trust my instincts in this area.)
I “un-hired” the one I felt was not cutting it, and I’ll keep the other and increase her hours to the full 10 hours per week. As I discover more and more things to give her I can increase her hours as needed. I also have two more that I liked, as runner-ups, that I could easily slot into the job if I want to try another VA out.
An interesting thing I’m finding out about using VAs is that you can hire them relatively quickly, test them out for a week or two, and if you’re not happy, replace them. You still got the work they did, the work is not specialized, so it’s not hard to retrain someone new, and eventually you’ll get someone you love and stick with them.
In addition, there are other, even cheaper, resources available (in the $3/hr range) that can be used to do tasks that require brains but not great English. Researching and compiling lists of clubs is one area that comes to mind. That will be the next job I outsource… as soon as I have time.
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