Archive for the ‘Business Admin’ Category

Hiring Subcontractors: How to Keep Costs Low and Quality High

Tuesday, September 8th, 2009

I was recently asked by a journalist for my advice about how to hire a virtual assistant (VA). I started my business as a virtual assistant over 8 years ago and as an internet marketing consultant I’ve hired all kinds of subcontractors for a wide variety of tasks. Since I’ve been on both sides of the equation I hoped my answer makes life easier for both parties.

It sucks to overspend on a project and not get what you expected. It also sucks to have unhappy clients due to miscommunication. That’s why the #1 most important piece of advice I would give any one looking to hire a virtual assistant is to write down in as much detail as possible what you need them to do. You might think “Oh I just need them to do data entry” or “I just need them to update my website.” But once you starting writing down what you mean by data entry or website updates, you will be surprised at the variety of tasks involved.

Before you start looking for and interviewing possible candidates, you need to answer the following questions in as much detail as possible:

1. What exactly do you need this person to do?
The more detail the better. I explain why below.
2. How often will they do it?
Is this daily, weekly, monthly or as needed. You don’t want them assuming it’s a fulltime job if it’s not.
3. What skills are necessary to get the task done?
Don’t forget the soft skills like excellent communication or attention to detail.
4. What software programs are necessary to get the task done?
5. What is the pay range for these tasks?
What would you pay someone you have to teach versus expecting they can run with the task?
Do you want to start them at an intro rate with the ability to make more once they prove themselves?
6. Are you paying by the piece or by the hour?
I try to pay on a project basis as much as possible. That way I know what I’m spending and they know what they’re making. When project based pay is not possible, I give the person a range of how long I expect it will take with an understanding to check in at about the 30% point so we cal see how it’s going and re-evaluate the agreement.

Getting Clear on What You Need a Subcontractor to Do
A request I often hear from people is “I need someone to update my website.” That may sound clear but it actually covers a lot of ground. To decide who to hire, you need to have a clear picture of their skill level. You need to answer questions like:
 What pages will they update? Are they just copy pasting text or do they need to know HTML well enough to add images and format the page?
 Will they be adding products to a shopping cart?
 Will they adding blog posts? If so what systems do the need to know? WordPress or Blogger?
 Do they need to know how to use a online content management system or do they need to have Dreamweaver? (An expensive but often necessary program for updating websites.)

The answers to these questions will determine if you can hire someone at $20 an hour or you need someone who will likely charge you $60 an hour.

The Key To Keeping Costs Low and Quality High
Another important reason for answering these questions is that if you need a variety of tasks done, you might need more than one person. For example, if you need data entry, travel arrangements, copy editing and website updates, you probably need to hire three different people. Other wise you wind up paying too much for data entry or get poorly done copy editing and website updates.

Far too often business people try to hire one person to do it all. They interview a virtual assistant who assures them they can do it all while they’re thinking to themselves “I’ll figure it out.” You don’t want someone “figuring it out” on your dime (unless that’s part of the agreement). In the long run understanding what are logical skill sets and hiring accordingly will help you keep costs low and quality high.

If you’ve spent some time thinking about your answers to the questions above writing a job description doesn’t have to take more than about 20 minutes. If you’re looking for someone online, you’re going to need this info any way so just take the time and write it down!

Resources:
Writing Job Descriptions:
http://www.howtodothings.com/business/how-to-write-a-job-description
http://www.entrepreneur.com/humanresources/hiring/article56490.html
http://blogs.payscale.com/compensation/2009/03/how-to-write-a-job-description.html

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Cool Tool: Mechanical Turk

Wednesday, October 29th, 2008

I had coffee last week with a web designer here in Portland, OR I work with and he told me about an outsourcing website owned by Amazon called Mechanical Turk. Oh, man. My world has changed!

I do a lot of writing for websites and article marketing and there are two things I’ve long wished I could get cheap:
1. answers to specific questions
2. transcriptions of conversations with clients.

It pains me to admit that I’ve paid virtual assistants $30 to answer questions. And I went into sticker shock when I found out transcriptionists get $180 for an hour long phone call. It’s pretty tough to turn ideas into words when you’re paying those kinds of prices.

So when my website designer pal George, told me about how he’s been using Mechanical Turk to get answers to questions, I was intrigued. He even told me about Andy Baio author of Waxy.org who created an awesome blog post about how he used MTurk to get a transcription of a conversation done quickly and cheaply.

I first tested out MTurk on an answer I’d wasted half an hour trying to fiind for a web page I’m working on. I posted my HIT (MTurk’s name for a question) at about 8:00 PM. The next morning I had an answer with resources that sent me on my way happily writing again

I then tested out Andy’s method for using MTurk to transcribe a conversation I had with a client whose website I am writing. Knowing I was getting a transcription of the conversation was liberating. I could just focus on the conversation instead of having to worry about the notes I was taking. I found that I was asking better questions and getting better content for the website.

Although I’ve never used an audio editing software program before, it did take some time to figure out how to use the free audio editing program to edit the hour long conversation into 10 minute segments. It was a bit of a challenge but well worth the time investment.

Less than 12 hours later I had all 40 minutes transcribed and it cost me $20. Now I’m happily on my way writing again.

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High Impact Mentoring Has Many Applications

Monday, October 6th, 2008

I rarely blog about clients but this week I wanted to share a white paper written by a client, the Maverick Institute, about high impact mentoring. The white paper distinguishes “high impact mentoring” from “mentoring” in that high impact mentoring incorporates the concepts of lean learning, just-in-time knowledge transfer and easily managed chunks of information into a paradigm that often has a stodgy reputation.

This is a “no fat” white paper and on the first page it answers the question “Why should we care about high impact mentoring?” with the short answer “Because we can’t afford not to.” Then it goes on to enumerate the reasons why running lean and fast is important. While the reasons are compelling at any stage, they’re especially pertinent in the current economic climate.

I found the information very helpful because I am in the process of bringing sub-contractors on board and am trying to get them up to speed and up to standard as quickly as possible. I’ve developed my own way of doing things and need to make sure the people I employ understand what they’re doing, pay attention to detail and use critical thinking skills along the way. That can get very time consuming for me if I don’t do it efficiently.

The points discussed about high impact mentoring were helpful because it showed me what I was doing right (which I wondered about) and how I can improve my own processes. I recommend it for any business owner who is not only looking for good information on mentoring but hiring and training subcontractors or employees.

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