What I Learnt from Spending over $20,000 on oDesk in 2012

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Here are some tips I wish I had when I first got started on Outsourcing:

1. Hire on a Project Basis First

Before you hire someone to work full time for you, hire them to do small and specific jobs first. This can be a $10 job, or even a $50 job. Why? This will show you how the person communicates, whether they deliver on time, how competent they are, and if it’s not going to work out, it’s easy to end the relationship. Generally the more complicated the project, the more I tasks I give on this first job.

You can hire someone for a $10 job, then give another task on the same contract at $20 and then once you’ve made up your mind, make the full offer.

I made the mistake before of hiring immediately on an hourly basis, spent a few thousand before I realised that the developer wasn’t giving me what I wanted and didn’t get the same quality of work that I was expecting. I ended up having to hire someone else to get the job done properly. Don’t make the same mistake.

2. Hire More than One Person

In addition to giving small jobs, you should choose at least 2 or 3 people to give those jobs out to and pick the one that’s best. This is guaranteed to bring you better results. Where applicable, I try to hire by project rather than by the hour. The great benefit of this is that the project will not end up costing 5x more than I had planned (yes, that happened!). Although hiring on project basis can mean that some people will take shortcuts to get the job done quicker and with less work. You can mitigate this somewhat if you hire a good and reliable contractor by trying out more than one person.

3. Use Small Projects before Big Projects

If you are going to have a $1000+ project, don’t advertise for that particular project straight away. Repeat Step 1 — hire for small projects first before a big project (or an ongoing hourly role). You can advertise the fact that the “right” person will get the role for the big project. This will save you a lot of time and money in the long run.

4. What Do You Want. Really.

I’ve actually seen people advertise with literally one or two words… I was never that lazy but when I first started I was certainly guilty of lacking in specifics. Writing specifications for a job/project is definitely a skill. It takes practice of going through the whole advertising, interviewing, hiring, communicating, working, result process before you start honing this skill.

Nevertheless, when you’re first getting started, before you write your ad on oDesk or vworker or whatever, figure out clearly in your mind what it is that you want. I know it’s tempting just to go along with a vague idea in your head and just type the damn ad to get it out of the way. But if you try to get a clear idea of what it is that you want, it will enable you to at least try and transfer that picture to the person reading it. This will mean good descriptions, mock-ups, links to ideas, pictures — you name it. Remember — the applicants can’t read your mind (really!)

The more specific you are, the better. When you hire 3 people, you’ll start to see people who actually pay attention to the details and others that keep asking stupid questions that was stated clearly in the job ad.

I usually put “write blah blah in your job ad or it won’t be reviewed”. Generally, 70% of the applicants don’t write the “blah blah”. That’s a good way of filtering out for round one.

5. Pricing your Job

If you’re on a tight budget, then obviously you’re going to have to price your projects lower. This typically means less applicants and less quality. Though what I found interesting is that if you have great feedback and you’ve spent a substantial sum of money, people on oDesk will take projects at lower cost in the hope of securing something stable long term with you.

If you’re a tight ass, then you should look at the big picture — if you’re going to invest in X, you may as well have it done well. Someone who’s high quality will generally be able to complete tasks in less time and produce better quality.

6. Don’t “Invite” Applicants

After you post the job, you get the option to invite applicants to interview. I’ve tried this a few times and it’s usually led to a very costly outcome (and average quality). It’s more difficult to negotiate a good rate when you “invite” quite simply because you asked them to take a look at your job specs and see if they want to apply. That firmly puts the ball in their court. Perhaps you saw a killer candidate who’s got something very unique to offer in which case it can make sense. Otherwise, let the applicants come to you.

Happy Hiring!

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