As an entrepreneur there’s no doubt you’ve heard of or used various forms of outsourcing to help scale your business, but the word “outsourcing” is usually met with internal cynicism and even the perception from others that you’re cutting corners. But now with the “social fabric” of the internet strengthening and the intensity of interconnectivity between users rapidly rising, the opportunity for smart entrepreneurs to take advantage of outsourcing to beat their bigger rivals has never been more clear.
We can now take advantage of an almost unlimited pool of human resources by establishing smart processes that will allow your small company’s lean workforce and robust intellectual property beat your bigger rivals who are stuck with a legacy of “fat staff” and “lazy processes”.
Whilst “traditional” virtual outsourcing platforms (like oDesk-eLance and Freelancer) continue to evolve and improve each day, alternative outsourcing platforms have started to emerge like my company Airtasker (facilitating real world, location based outsourcing), Kaggle (allowing businesses to outsource high tech problem solving), Crowdflower (high volume micro task outsourcing) or Gigwalk (super niche, verticalised outsourcing – in this case retail store inspections).
With such a plethora of outsourcing options readily available to small business owners, it can take a little bit of upfront work to get started.
Here are a few tips to get you started:
1. Don’t think from the ground up (think from the sky down)
This might sound a little unintuitive but what I mean is – start with the big picture, then work backwards within resource limitations. You can really do amazing things with an unlimited army of workers.
2. Implement a thorough online interview process
Ask as many questions as possible and treat it the same as hiring via any other channel (use the same caution when dealing with them too). But also don’t assume that outsourcing = unintelligent labour. It takes a great deal of entrepreneurial spirit and effort to acquire jobs through an outsourcing platform – and you’ll find that this shows in the quality of the candidates.
3. Select the right type of outsourcing for the job
The various service outsourcing marketplaces are useful for different task requirements and have various pricing attached. For example, we find that oDesk is great for repeatable, task-based virtual work (like data entry) whilst Freelancer is better for finding highly skilled workers for one-off projects.
4. “Processify” systems before scaling
We’re not sure if “processify” is actually a word but you know what we mean. Take advantage of the fact that outsourcing gives you access to as little or as much human resourcing as you need to perfect a process with just one worker to iron out the kinks – then think about scaling rapidly. Be patient and get it right as little flaws will only get bigger, faster and more obvious as you scale.
Some Smart Examples We’ve Seen
i) Use human power to test website features before building
Technical development is expensive and time consuming so a way to get an edge on your bigger competitors is to get smart solutions “out to market” faster than they can.
One way of optimising where you spend your development time is to create simple user interfaces which are supported by human logic / systems. For example one smart Airtasker user created a “mobile phone bill comparison” system which allowed customers to enter their mobile phone usage and then receive a comparison between their current bill and the proposed mobile plan.
Rather than actually building automated logic to calculate the bill, they simply built the user-facing form to enter the details, then an Airtasker would manually compare the bills and give back an answer. The feature turned out to be such a success that the company then actually built the automated logic. Using this manual system was a great way to test if the feature would be useful before allocating these expensive resources.
ii) Quickly find a random set of target market individuals to test your new products
Entrepreneurs are passionate individuals who are often swept up in the excitement of their own ideas. This is a great attribute to get an idea off the ground but third party validation is really important to ensure that you get a product marketing fit. You can use outsourcing platforms to quickly find a random sample of individuals who can try your product and give you feedback or test your system without going through expensive user testing agencies.
iii) Collect photos and information from the real world and put it into a database
Real time data and information is critical to getting an edge on your bigger rivals – especially when you’ve just started a business and don’t have many real customers yet. Data is often hard to collect – especially if it’s not already stored in a spreadsheet or database.
For example, one of our Airtasker customers needed to gather information on all of the takeaway restaurant menus in Australia – an extremely difficult task given that small restaurants don’t always display this on their websites and there is a wide geographic spread of customers across Australia. This company used Airtasker to deploy a team of people all across the country to collect menus, take photos for them and then upload them to a Dropbox. A low cost oDesk worker would then transcribe the menu information from a photo into a Google spreadsheet.
iv) Implement fast street promotions or phone sales support campaigns
Human powered marketing campaigns can be expensive if you’re hiring people from promotional agencies or contracting outsourced phone service centres. These agencies also require a long engagement period and expensive commitment periods. On this basis we’re now seeing more and more businesses using Airtasker to contract promotional staff to do jobs like handing out promotional leaflets, assisting at trade conferences or even testing the success of customer calling campaigns.
Ultimately to beat your bigger and better resourced competition, you’ll need to leverage your intellectual property across systems that can scale big at low cost.
Contracting outsourced on-demand labour to act fast and be nimble is not something that most incumbents have discovered – take advantage of it.