Whether you run a business from the comfort of your own home office, or you have a ‘real’ office and operate with a team of outsourcers, subcontractors, home based or office based employees, chances are you will be working virtually with some of your team members.
Outsourcing to an experienced professional makes perfect business sense. It’s easy when you first start out to try and save every single penny by doing everything yourself. Then when the cash flow has improved, you might try outsourcing on the cheap, a project to a student, an everyday task to an admin service in India, a design task via an outsourcing bidding site such as Elance. Been there? Ever done it again? I thought not.
Trying to do everything yourself, or outsourcing to the cheapest option is false economy. In your business you need hire professional outsourcers who are experienced, skilled and proficient at the services they provide. Established businesses who thrive because they take a vested interest in producing high quality work for your business.
The point of outsourcing is not always to find someone to do the task better than you or even cheaper – it’s to offload the majority of your daily required work so that you can focus on the core portion of your business where you add unique value. Think of it as the 80/20 rule. If 80% of the results come from 20% of the effort, then spend all your time on that high yielding 20% and outsource the rest.
So how do you go about building a top notch virtual team?
- Invest in your outsourcing education. If you’ve never outsourced before, or you’re not sure what you can offload to someone else, experiment. Invest a small amount of cash in outsourcing something small. If you don’t have anything small, make something up. If it’s admin, get someone to put all your business cards into a spreadsheet or database, if you’re looking for design work, get someone to design a logo, if it’s proof reading, send over a short document with deliberate minor mistakes. You get the idea. The point is to see what works for you, and to get used to letting go.
- Look for professionals. Look for companies that have been around for a while and that have a proven track record. Is there a portfolio on their web site, are there genuine customer testimonials. Whilst start ups can be equally good, if the business is established, they are outsourcing partner all over again.
- Look for outstanding communicators. The secret to a successful virtual relationship is excellent communication. If the company is in a different time zone, or takes days to respond to your messages, you may have problems. If you’re outsourcing a test project, do they ask sensible questions for more clarity, or guess and get it wrong? Communication is key; make sure it’s prompt and effective.
- Be clear and concise in your delegation. Something you will learn from outsourcing your test projects is how to delegate effectively. If you don’t ask for exactly what you want, chances are you won’t get it.
- Good outsourcing companies will have a format for gathering this information, or will ask very specific questions in order to get all the detail they need. However, in the first instance be clear about the result you want to achieve giving as much detail as possible, any direction about how you want that to be achieved and give your project budget or time allowed, and your deadline.
- Manage your virtual team effectively. Once you decided who you want to work with on a regular basis, make sure there is a system in place to effectively manage your team. Staying in regular contact with your virtual team is vital, especially because you’ll rarely, if ever, see each other. It is important not only to be in contact when there’s a new project to pass on, but on a regular basis to keep them up to date with what’s going on in your business. This way they will be aware of up coming projects and your clearly defined goals for your business so that they can assist you more effectively.Decide on which means of communication work best for you and arrange how often and when you will communicate.
- Don’t forget to show gratitude. If you have found an outsourcing partner that is more interested in getting it right than just getting it done, you’ll want to hang on to them. These people will foresee obstacles and devise solutions before they even occur. When they do have challenges, they present them with potential solutions and a recommendation.When they do go that extra mile, don’t forget to thank them. It’s up to if you want to send flowers, cash bonuses or bottles of champagne, etc. Often a sincere thank you is all the appreciation they need.
One thing to be aware of – outsourcing is addictive. There’s something oddly satisfying about that lovely soothing feeling that comes when everything is just getting done, effectively and efficiently and without any effort from you.
About the Author:
Justine Curtis is the director of My Virtual Assistant Limited which is currently expanding across the UK with a team of virtual assistant licensees and founder of the UK Association of Virtual Assistants (UKAVA) which offers free resources and information to its subscribers. Justine is the author of Setting Yourself Up As A Virtual Assistant and passes on the benefits of her vast experience of the VA role to aspiring and progressive virtual PAs as a co-founder of the VA Success Group. Justine is also a co-founder of Academy for Online Business, a company devoted to helping self-employed professionals and entrepreneurs to build their own online business empires.