Today I assigned a couple of tasks to my new VA team in India, and heard back from the state-side VA. I'm kind of excited to see the results of this first assignment, a little apprehensive about what happens if the results feel like they're not worth it.
One thing I'm realizing is that passing a task onto a VA requires a tight coupling to feel effective. For one, before I assign the task, I need to be committed to it. Then, when it comes back I need to be committed to doing something with the results. If I let the distance between me and the task drive in a bit of apathy about the result and I lose enthusiasm for acting on it once the task is complete, then it will have been a waste of money and somebody's time.
An associate read my initial post on outsourcing, and had some interesting thoughts to share:
"My biggest hurdles in outsourcing is finding the right person to work with and defining the tasks that I would feel comfortable having someone else take care of. Those tasks often reveal themselves through experience. Like you, I'm a do-it-yourselfer and usually try things once. I remodeled our bathroom and realized the savings in money wasn't worth the cost in time and happiness. So when it came time to finish our basement, I outsourced it to a proper contractor and found it was well worth it. Same goes with taxes and hiring a CPA. On the reverse side, I enjoy sending emails to my wife far too much to delegate that to a PA in India.
One area I would love to outsource, would be the initial base installation of Drupal, hosting environment, repository setup and post-launch client support of sites. Any thoughts on that? Have you used any services or tools that would help with this?"
It sounds like we've had some of the same experiences. I also remodeled our bathroom and have had the sense that it's not something I want to do twice. I've also been very happy with hiring a CPA to outsource the particular method of emotional torture that is the most memorable result of filling out complex tax forms. I did like the idea of using a VA / PA for sending personal e-mail on occasion for the novelty factor, but it probably would be supplementary rather than a replacement.
In regards to outsourcing the base installation of Drupal, probably the best service I've seen for this is WebEnabled. At WE, you can spin up an instance of various versions and distributions of Drupal, and save your site at any point to use as your own personal distribution later. One issue with this is that you still need to keep modules and Drupal core updated. One additional plus is that WebEnabled has built-in SVN support, and when you spin up a new instance, it pulls it into a new repository automatically.
The other solution is to automate as much of the process as you can yourself, and come up with a good, repeatable workflow. One method is using a multi-site so it's much easier to maintain core and module updates across multiple sites. I know some folks have had success using Aegir to deploy new sites, but I haven't had the chance to play with that yet. Using a combination of install profiles and Features can reduce the amount of work in the initial setup as well.
As far as post-launch support goes, I don't have much experience with outsourcing this. Finding good, skilled service providers seems tricky, and often a matter of working through multiple providers until you find one that is a good fit. When I hear of people having good success with outsourcing skilled web development work, it's for simpler cookie-cutter sites. I personally didn't have a lot of success with it, but I also didn't try for very long.