Advice on Virtual Outsourcing

Want to hire a virtual freelancer or start your own freelancing career? According to Forbes, the size of the global online work industry is expected to grow to $5B by 2018 and it’s expected that more and more corporate teams will include virtual team members.

Working in this model as both a marketing freelancer and a hiring client for my business as well as client projects has allowed me to learn a few things. This post provides some tips based on my experience which both clients and freelancers new to the world of virtual outsourcing may find helpful.

For Clients:

Whether you are a DIY startup needing short-term worker bees or a large business needing to fill critical gaps in your workforce, virtual freelancers can help. However, a perception that I sometimes read or hear is that there is a lack of “quality” freelancers out there. I think that’s partly because it’s a numbers game. For example, virtual freelance platforms such as oDesk, Elance, Guru, etc. showcase millions of freelancers from all over the world, many of whom are not full-time, committed or qualified. It can also be that people with these complaints are focused on finding the cheapest workers and were perhaps disappointed with the result. Therefore yes, it can be a challenge to find the best and brightest, particularly if you are dependent on nothing more than keywords and search engines to find folks.

My experience:

I have hired plenty of quality virtual freelancers for my projects, but finding them isn’t easy. I invest a lot of time up front to determine the scope of the assignment, the type of talent I need and the amount I want/need to invest. Also, I rate my projects on a scale of 1-5 on whether it’s critical to find the best or if I can get by with anyone who is available. I invest heavily in searching on freelancer platforms and pinging my network so that I can research a variety of people and build a short list of quality candidates ahead of time (rather than posting a job and seeing what comes in). This is important stuff and I want to get it right as it costs me much more time/money later if I’m not thoughtful about the process.

Today I have a steady pool of help, and my freelancer peeps rave about working with me. I stand out as someone who knows what she’s doing and is considerate of people’s talent, input and workload. I make it a partnership and therefore it’s a win/win. What a concept, right?

Tips if you want to hire a virtual freelancer: 

  1. Do as much as you can to figure out exactly what you need help with and what the scope of work will be. Be thoughtful about what you truly need and the qualifications you require—think about the outcome you’re expecting and back your thought process into that. If you throw a general job posting on every job board and freelance site, you will likely be overwhelmed and may miss the nuggets that have responded to you (because they are buried in the clutter).
  2. If you are unsure of the scope or the exact skills needed, do some research to try and figure them out. Set yourself up for success.
  3. If you’ve never looked for virtual talent before, test and learn before bogging yourself down in endless profiles and resumes.
  4. Talk to people in your network – they may know someone that fits the bill. I’ve referred several freelancers to people who wanted to know if I knew of anyone.
  5. Consider the investment you need to make to get a good return vs. how much it’s going to cost you. If you are only focused on getting a “cheap” resource, you may not get strong, dependable talent and the result you need (a lot depends on the job but you get the point).
  6. Be nice; be a grownup; treat others as you want to be treated. Not sure what it is about some people, but many treat outsourced help pretty poorly and/or they don’t take the time to do their part in the assignment. What goes around comes around. Keep that in mind.

For Freelancers: 

Whether you are a designer, writer, developer, project manager, marketing strategist or business analyst, there are thousands of jobs out there for virtual freelance work. And it’s tough. Period.

My experience:

It is very hard to stand out in the sea of virtual freelance profiles out there, and it’s especially hard to find work when you’re just starting. In addition, I had very specific goals when I decided to be a consultant and was committed to working on select projects and with select client profiles. In other words, my choice to be a consultant was planned and calculated, and my decisions were lifestyle-driven, so I had very specific goals about the type of work I wanted. That being said, when you’re starting out you probably need to assume a slow turn up, although much depends on your skill, the demand for it, and your network.

Tips for finding quality projects and clients:

  1. Know what you want, what you’re great at and how you can help people. Figure out who your target client is and map your messaging, resume and profile to that. Try to be strategic about the types of clients and projects you want to find you so that you are in the driver’s seat of your career and are attracting the type of business you want. Not easy I know, but it’s worth a try right?
  2. Work your network; brand and market yourself; find leads; build relationships. Freelance platforms are but one way to find projects and I don’t recommend depending on them as your sole source, particularly if you are just starting out.
  3. Allow for a startup period where you may not get any business and/or need to undercut the market temporarily to get work and a track record.
  4. Consider whether this is true in your mind: “The client is always right and sometimes ya gotta do whatcha gotta do.” In some cases yes, but there are a lot of people out there who want you to do something (or a lot) for nothing and/or don’t understand, much less respect, the skills and talent you bring to the table. Be confident in your skills and stick to your guns on what you want from your freelance career. It’s okay to make it about you.
  5. Similarly, work diligently to get projects that suit your goals (as well as the client’s). Granted your financial comfort will have much to do with your flexibility in turning projects down, but I urge you to try and build your pipeline based on what you want. Be confident, have faith—it may take longer to get steady work and you may be stressed financially (for awhile), but you’ll likely have a lot more fun and may have longer-term success. This approach is not for everyone but it’s something to consider.

There are many many variables that determine whether or not people will be successful in the virtual outsourcing world, so consider this a baseline and/or general food for thought. Hope it’s useful; good luck out there.

photo credit: Nicholas_T via photopin cc

This article originally appeared on Lydia’s Marketing Blog