10 Ways to Make Outsourcing Suck Less

It’s no secret that outsourcing tasks can be a major pain. Most people that I suggest outsourcing to are either afraid of it or had bad experiences and don’t want anything to do with it. It doesn’t have to suck. Over the past 6 years, I’ve managed to refine my process for outsourcing work. The tips below should help anyone to make outsourcing less of a headache and more of a pleasure. The purpose of outsourcing is to free up your time for more important tasks. Make sure that happens.

Communicate Too Clearly

What you think should be perfectly clear may make absolutely no sense to other people. Figure out how to efficiently get what’s in your head into something that even a kid could understand. Use visuals. Take screenshots and use something like Skitch to make notes. Investing a little bit of time in planning and being clear will not only save you time on going back and forth with someone, it will save you money since they won’t end up doing the wrong work.

Don’t Be Afraid to Move On

More often than not, you’ll run into a freelancer that just isn’t cutting it. They may become slow or unresponsive. Their work may just not be up to par with what you need. Don’t waste time trying to make them better. It’s frustrating for them and it can be costly for you.

Assign The Same Task to Multiple Workers

If you need something done quickly and correctly, make sure you have a backup plan. Most of the time, if you’re outsourcing through a site like oDesk, it’s cheap enough to have a couple people on hand that can do the same type of work. If it’s important that you get something completed by a certain deadline, invest in having more than one person take a shot at doing the work. If you’re communicating clearly and you hand the task off to two different workers, you’ve just doubled your chance of having it done when you need it. This can also end up working as a good way of comparing the skills of multiple workers.

Use Canned Job Postings and Responses

I can’t stress this one enough. Most likely, you’re hiring for the same job or jobs most of the time. Write the job posting for each job ONCE and reuse it. In some cases, you can even just repost a job, depending on where you’re hiring. Don’t waste time trying to think up the perfect job description. Ultimately, it won’t matter. Most people on sites like oDesk and Freelancer.com don’t even read it anyway. Throw some kind of requirement into the posting (such as sending work samples) just to make sure they’re paying attention. That’ll help you weed out a large percentage of applicants.

When replying to applicants and doing an interview, use the same canned responses as much as possible. You’re likely going to be asking the same questions of everyone anyway (for example – schedule, current workload), so don’t waste time writing up a long, personalized letter. It’s not worth the hassle.

Be Nice

It’s amazing how many stories I’ve heard about people being rude to freelancers. Apparently people think that since the freelancer isn’t an employee, they can abuse them more. I’ve found that being overly nice to people that are used to being treated like crap can make a huge difference in the work that they do. These people are human…treat them that way.

Keep Tasks Small

Don’t overwhelm people with big, broad tasks. If something is going to take more than a day or two to complete, you should break it down into smaller pieces. That will keep people from straying too far from the goal and gives you the ability to adjust requirements as needed.

Use Version Control

If you have people writing code for you, use something like GitHub to manage changes. If you’re working with images, spreadsheets, or documents, Basecamp allows uploading and keeping all versions of a file within a single place.

Be a Cheapskate

With some kinds of tasks, such as research or basic administrative tasks, there isn’t going to be much difference in quality between someone who will work for $2/hour and someone who will work for $5/hour. Don’t fall for someone saying they’re worth more just because they can do a lot of different types of things. Most likely, they’re going to list everything they’ve ever done, even if it was only for an hour. You’re better off assigning the same task to 2 people working $2/hour than one person working for $5/hour.

Don’t Be a Cheapskate

I know…this is the opposite of the last one, but you also can’t be a cheapskate. When you’re dealing with skilled people, make sure you’re willing to pay enough to get quality. Developers that will work for $5/hour are almost always not worth the hassle. Remember that your time is typically worth a lot more than their time, so if you have to do a lot of hand holding, things get expensive. Be willing to hire people that will save you time.

Have a Little Patience

I suck at this one. Sometimes I don’t have the patience to deal with someone not understanding my crackhead ideas. That makes outsourcing stressful for everyone and starts to defeat the purpose of offloading tasks.


Chris Savage

Nice tips Brian!

Another one for the list is Amazon’s Mechanical Turk. I know that everyone says that Mechanical Turk is a bunch of crap, but for some research projects and information retrieval, their system can save a lot of time and $.

Brian LaFrance

Yeah…I’ve heard good things about Turk but haven’t used it myself. Keep meaning to do that 🙂

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