Outsourcing my life, day 1: Opening up my mind to the idea, identifying tasks, and posting a job on Elance

I received a comment on one of my posts which reminded me about one of the concepts in The 4 Hour Workweek that I didn't really internalize: the idea of outsourcing. Tim Ferris talks about this in Chapter 8, offering some anecdotes and suggestions on tasks that might be good candidates for outsourcing.

Overcoming fear

I've had a sense for a while that I land in the DIY camp more often than the Outsourcing one. The assumption that these two camps as mutually exclusive says a lot to me now that I'm re-evaluating my outlook. 

The feedback I get from the work I do is important. When I actually fulfill a task myself, I get a sense of how difficult the task was, get thoughts on how to improve my workflow, and with experience start to develop patterns that have the potential of making almost anything I do enjoyable. If I delegate a task to someone else, I have a sense that I'm robbing myself of this experience and the skills that come with it. What I'm learning instead is how to manage other people, and this doesn't interest me nearly as much as learning more about managing myself.

I also have a feeling that one of the most difficult and time-consuming parts of many tasks is identifying if the task is actually important enough to be done at all. So often I start building something and only after plugging in a sizable chunk time figure out that it's not necessary. But, the only way I come to that conclusion is by starting to work on it and setting my mind to the task. I wouldn't get in this mindset if the task was delegated, and because there wouldn't be as much on my plate, I wouldn't have the same pressure to find a way to remove the unnecessary from my life and automate as much as I can.

I've had a couple of experiences outsourcing my work - mostly design work - and the results have been less than stellar. So, the combination of the DIY attitude combines with a lack of success to form a fairly strong resistance to leaping in and experimenting with outsourcing.

But I want to change that. If I don't outsource I want to know it's not out of fear, and that these reasons I have to not do it are genuine and not an example of forming arguments to support an emotional reaction. So, I'm going to give it a shot.

What's likable about outsourcing?

Let me summarize briefly how the 4HWW articulates the benefits of outsourcing:

  • The ability to practice remote management skills without incurring the high cost of an employee in the states
  • Having a parter - someone who can take on stuff when you don't feel like it, give encouragement, and be there for you when you need them
  • The sense of power that comes from sitting in the boss' chair
  • The ability to focus on what you find most important or interesting and delegate the rest

There are examples of outsourcing all kinds of things, from very personal tasks like sending an e-mail to one's wife to full-on business proposals.

Step 1: What can I outsource?

After reading the chapter again, one take-away was that I might not know exactly how I could employ outsourcing until I start doing it. That it's like pretty much anything, the more you play with it, the more you realize what it's real purpose and potential is.

An idea that's iterated and re-iterated in the 4HWW is the idea that if a task is not well defined and important, no one should do it, and that delegation and automation multiplies any existing inefficiencies. So, it's important that the tasks you delegate are ones that you're committed do doing, and that you've at least taken the time to define what they actually are.

Coming up with ideas out of the blue that meet these criteria was a little tricky, but there are a few things that came up for me:

  • Transcribing the training videos on Build a Module.com for searchable textual content.
  • Finding out the relationship between the sale price and appraised value of homes in Boise, Idaho (we're considering buying a home there)
  • Where can I syndicate articles from my blog to improve readership and get posts like these to people who would be most interested in them?
  • Where can I get floss business cards for my company (I love those things, get some from my dentist at every cleaning)
  • Sending random encouraging e-mails to myself to see if it has any effect on bolstering enthusiasm.
  • Finding places in the Drupal.org handbook for some of my tutorial posts.

These are all things that are going to take a back seat for a while if I have to plug in the time to do them, but I know I want to do them at some point. So, they seem like good candidates for outsourcing.

Step 2: Finding a virtual assistant (VA)

The next step was to find a virtual assistant for me to start outsourcing tasks to. So, I posted a job on Elance.com, paid $15 for a premium listing, and in a couple hours I had four bids from $5 to $8 an hour, three of which seem like they have potential.

Over the next day or two I'll review any incoming bids and choose at least two to work with, one in the states and one outside of the states, then I'll give them a shot and start delegating. The idea here is that maybe it would be good to have a native English speaker for certain tasks, but it seems like you can get a better return overall by hiring out of the states.

Hopes and questions for the future

Now that I've committed to giving this a shot, I have some hopes that are bubbling to the surface. If this works out well, then I could expand my ability to get things done upwards of 50%. I can foresee that after a while, certain tasks will start to scream "outsource me!" and it could become a natural part of my workflow to delegate particular items. There's a whole slew of things I would never outsource because the experience seems to valuable to me, but I also know that I can learn a lot from other people doing something if they can tell me how they did it. Could having a virtual assistant be like having a personal trainer? Someone who can show you how they found something, where they looked, how they made certain decisions? And then you can take it from there, having a nice little boost towards your end goal? What would it feel like to have a partner on board who is on call, ready to plug into virtually anything you need help with?

But, I'm apprehensive as well. What should I expect from these folks? What happens if time after time I end up completing tasks I originally delegated because I'm not happy with the results? Will I be able to identify a task suitable for delegation from those that aren't? Will I be able to provide the right kind of encouragement to have my assistants appreciate doing the work? Can I be a boss without being a lame boss?

I guess I'm about to find out.

What happens next?

Read more about what happens in Day 2 of Outsourcing My Life, and Day 3 of Outsourcing My Life.



Comments

It is a tough line. Been trying to find the balance going from doing most things myself to trying to delegate.
And I agree doing the task yourself does always feel more complete.
Sometimes I wonder if the need for assistance can be avoided if the size of the bussiness flow can be managed/paced out better. Kinda not sure of there really is a need to grow a bussiness too large.

That's a good question. I've started to work on a theory that maybe there are two paths focused people can take. Those that decide to learn how to manage other people, and grow their ability to influence and make money that way, and those that choose to invest that same time in furthering their own skill sets, in getting faster and automating what they do in order to maximize their ability to output without managing other people.

The question I'm interested in answering is if those that choose to not bring in other people avoid it more out of the fear of not wanting to have that responsibility, out of the uncertainty of not knowing what you'd do with other folks or if you could serve them well in a leadership role, or some other reason. If I can successfully figure out how to bring outsourcing into my life, I'll be in a better position to answer that, at least for myself.

Thanks for the comment, and keep me posted if you have any more insights into where to draw that line between doing it yourself and delegating.

I have pretty much the same outlook on outsourcing, though probably a bit more negative, as I can't see myself actually trying it like you are. But I'm entirely willing to try it vicariously through you. Looking forward to hearing about your experience.

Hi Chris, this is Nicole from vWorker (formally known as Rentacoder). Like Elance, vWorker provides access to a wide variety of workers. I'm glad to see you've taken the plunge into the world of outsourcing.

As you probably already suspect, success at these types of sites also depends on the service that you choose. I'm not quite sure why you chose to use Elance, and I'd enjoy hearing that reason as I'm sure several of your other readers would like to as well.

A couple of things about outsourcing through Elance might be concerning to you however, and they include arbitration fees and delays.

1. If a worker doesn't deliver what they agreed to, Elance charges you $66-$133 to fight for a refund.

2. A worker intent on abusing the system can stall the start of arbitration on Elance for 21 business days and during this period your money is not available to you.

At vWorker, you'll find a comparison matrix which outlines what Elance can and cannot do for its clients. This matrix is at http://bit.ly/aorfGS. I can't stress enough how important it is to thoroughly research your options, and your blog post demonstrates the tremendous effort you've put into doing just that, so I give you great kudos on your journey thus far.

If you have any questions about this matrix, you can call in to talk to a facilitator, or send email through the site's feedback form.

-Nicole
vworker.com

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