Outsourcing my life, day 3: Assigning tasks

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.


Yes thats true. Many of our clients started with us with very small amount of drupal job and then gradually got confidence on outsourcing more and more..

Thanks for the ideas on outsourcing the more mundane Drupal tasks.

I've been working on documenting and improving my own workflow. The first time I timed myself, it took me 2.5 hours to get my standard Drupal installation setup and synced via SVN on my local, development and staging servers. That was just the basic install plus the contrib modules and sub-themes I always start with. I now have this cut down to just over an hour, but with the tools you suggested and others that I have yet to utilize ( drush *cough ) I can shave that down further.

One thing that I'm focusing on, is creating step-by-step instructions for myself. I don't know if you've read "The E-Myth" but it talks a lot about this. This will eventually become a script that I can hand off to a trusted VA or intern to take over parts of my workflow. I think having a solid script would really help manage expectations and outcomes- while eliminating the need to micro-manage.

It's great to hear that you've shaved off over half the setup time, that seems like a great start.

I have read the E-myth, and was really inspired by it at the time. I've explored automating my own work and scripting it from time to time, but what I want to do currently doesn't fit as well into a repeatable pattern. Much of what I do can almost be defined by the lack of repetition. Each job I have I approach in new ways, and I take on things that will challenge me. In order to leverage the the idea of systematizing and franchising, I would need to find a pattern that works to meet particular goals (most likely financial), and just get that pattern to the point where it works without me.

That said, I've been starting to think that maybe there's certain aspects of what I do that can be systematized in a different way, and that they might be more outlook and technique oriented than product or service based. I'm thinking this kind of material would be better for a publication augmented with some kind with training. But this is still an area I'm exploring.

Thanks for your thoughts, John, and let me know if you end up finding success with the scripting effort.