It's my 6th day outsourcing, and I've assigned a few tasks and gotten responses. Here's a summary of the results:
Task 1: "Spend 30 minutes to an hour brainstorming any other ideas for increasing the number of readers to my blog"
This task was a good one because it brings up a good question: Is it worth outsourcing question that you can find decent answers for with a quick Google search?
After 2 days, I was sent a report that includes 26 ideas with headings and short paragraphs. No sources were sited, so I did a search on a few sentences from the report to see if I could find them. The result was a compilation of 2 articles that show up near the top of Google for a search for Ways to increase blog readership. I actually ended up liking the article at the top a little better, an article not referenced in the report.
To complete this same task myself took me a couple minutes, and I found results that were better suited to where I am.
Would it have been worth it to clarify the task, and give some background about who I am, about what I know already? What would I say? What bits of knowledge that would give someone else the ability to predict what kind of information I would have appreciated for this particular task? I'm not sure I know. My guess is that attempting to articulate it would have taken longer than completing the task myself.
Task 2: Trip ideas to Canada
My wife and I want to hone our Canadian accents but we don't really know Canada, and my wife's extensive searches online weren't turning up any compelling results. I decided that maybe having someone else narrow down some choices could help. So, I sent this to my VA:
I need to plan a trip with my wife in mid-August, leaving a Friday morning and returning a Monday evening. We would like to go somewhere in Canada, but have a limited budget. We'd like to find a few options of places that aren't too expensive to travel to, but that are nice, ideally on the coast. Can you come up with 4 or 5 ideas for places that meet this criteria with the least expensive cost of a plane trip from Boise, Idaho? When you send me details, please send links to the airfairs online as well as any information you gathered about the locations.
I got a report back 12 hours later (not bad) with a list of 7 different places in Canada, with screenshots of possible Orbitz flight itineraries for each one. Tickets were understandably a little high (up to $600 per person), but what got me was that several of the destinations were 400km from the nearest airport. How can this person be so disconnected from the task that they don't recognize that two 8 hour plane trips plus two 8 hour drives aren't practical for a 4 day vacation?
Was my fault that I was not specific enough? Or that I haven't established enough of a relationship yet with these folks to have them care enough about the tasks that they apply a certain level of reasoning to them?
Or, is an 8 year old kid in some VA sweatshop performing these tasks?
Now, this company got great reviews on Elance, with lots of feedback, so I know that they're capable of good stuff. It's just a matter of figuring out how to get that good stuff.
The state-side VA
I hired a state-side VA, but she is on a family vacation until Friday. It makes me realize that if I become dependent on a VA, I would need backup if I went with a single person.
Summary of emotional state
So far, this hasn't been a superb experience, but I also know that I'm still learning the ropes. I recognize that part of this might be that I just am not coming up with the right kind of task. But, they're tasks that were intended to build my confidence in the process so that I could leap in with more important stuff.
Another issue is that I wonder if my current life structure is possibly not suited for outsourcing. I've simplified what I do down to a handful of areas that are all things that I want to be doing. What I do for work I want to do myself. At home, the only things I would want to outsource are the dishes, laundry and mowing, all tricky tasks for a VA. Research seems like the only thing that comes to mind, and so far it looks like Google will give me better, more varied answers. I have a finely tuned set of tools for managing information and reminders, so I don't need someone to keep me abreast of what's coming down the pikes.
Now that I'm looking at it from this angle, my life is actually really simple. Almost anything that's on my list of things to do are things that I actually want to do because of the experience. That, or it's home repair and maintenance. If I was running a multi-person company, if I was doing extensive research on some subject, if I had a flood of e-mails to deal with, I could see the value of a VA. But what can I outsource right now and get a positive net gain?
One thought is that by knowing I have a VA waiting in the wings, maybe I will be more willing to take on things that would normally add complexity to my life, things that would be perfect for a VA.
I'm going to hang in there for a while and give myself time to really internalize the idea of relying on a VA. If the tasks are little banal, I think that's okay because I'm practicing and the hope is that eventually I would learn how to offload more significant tasks.