How to Outsource Development Work as a Solopreneur
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One of my early mentors would always say to focus on what you are good at, let others do the rest. As a solopreneur, this often means to outsource development.
I've been outsourcing work for years. I've wasted a lot of money on poor deliverables, but I've also built products and had content written that was far better than I could ever do myself.
Over the years, I've gotten better, faster, and cheaper results. I've created a guide to help you outsource your work.
The first question I typically get and often need to remind myself is exactly what type of work should be outsourced?
Outsource Development or Content?
As much as possible, I like to make this question a math problem. Suppose a task will take me 10 hours to complete. But someone else is willing to do it for $25. It's a simple answer.
Unfortunately, it's not that simple. Say if those 10 hours are my favorite part of the day, I'll gladly tackle those tasks. But instead, I'll outsource the task that only takes an hour, but I hate doing and ruins the rest of my day.
The best way to make the decision is to create a grid:
Input your daily tasks into the grid. The more you enjoy doing something, and you are good, the further the bullet point should go to the upper right.
The items that are plotted on the bottom left under dislike and not good at of the chart. Those are your items you are going to want to outsource.
For most solopreneurs outsourcing development work is a common decision.
Please don't get hung up on the time it takes to complete the tasks or costs. As the more you drill down, you'll be able to see precisely the opportunity costs for outsourcing your work.
Choosing your freelancer
After you decide what you want to outsource, you need to identify who to outsource the work to.
The biggest question most run into is whether or not you hire local or go global.
For me, I hire the best person for the job. It doesn't matter where they are from or the timezone they are in. If they can do the job I'm looking for within budget, they go to the top of the list.
If hiring local is essential to you, then hire locally.
Depending on your task you are looking for, sometimes it does make sense to hire based on geography.
Think of it like this. If you wanted to be a professional hockey player, you would want to go to Canada. If you wanted to be in the stock market, you would go to New York if you are in the fashion industry, Paris.
With the ability to communicate across borders and instantaneously with tools like Skype, location is far less of a factor than it used to be.
Where to find an outsource developer?
Tools like Fiverr and Upwork are great to post one task (check out Toptal vs Upwork). The newest trend in outsourcing is unlimited services.
Companies like DesignPickle offer unlimited graphic design, or WPTangerine offers unlimited WordPress development.
I have heard of a few people that will bypass these types of services and hire directly. If you are looking for ease of use, I would highly recommend using one of the services above, as not only do they offer a way to connect with freelancers, but they handle everything from payments in foreign currencies to disputes if one would ever arise.
Get multiple bids and options
Many times these freelancers become long-term partners and friends. You never want to pick the first one that comes along.
Whenever I have a project that will cost more than a couple hundred dollars, I will reach out to multiple companies and get bids from each one.
When hiring an unlimited WordPress development company, I reached out to 4 different companies.
I asked them all three questions to determine if they were fit. Ultimately I choose WPTangerine based on price, responsiveness, and they completely understood what I needed.
It's not always about price. It's about creating a team you can work well with, which brings me to my next point. You must communicate expectations, even before the project.
How to set expectations with an outsourced development team
Imagine you and your friends decide to take a trip to the Bahamas' for the holidays. You are tasked with booking a trip for the group.
Easy enough, right?
With all the different resources available, you simply need to book a flight and hotel room.
The problem is you never set expectations.
You imagined a modest 3-star hotel a few miles from the beach. Your friends pictured a 5 star beachfront resort. Or maybe one of your friends assumed it was a weekend trip, while you planned a 10-day adventure.
You did exactly what was asked of you. So what happened?
Expectations were never set.
This happens all to often in outsourced development work. Always set expectations. No details are too little. Overcommunicate always.
Putting trust in your outsourced team
Suppose you used our grid system above. You hired for a task you dislike and are not good at. If you hired appropriately, you likely have hired someone that is good at and enjoys the tasks assigned.
They should be your ying to yang.
You must trust them, but never blindly trust.
For example, let's say you need to decide which WordPress plugin to use for a task. Don't just take the outsourced teams word for it, have them create a pros and cons list of using the proposed plugins.
By asking questions, you educate yourself and are now well informed about the decisions going on in your company.
You would never walk into a barbershop and put all your trust in the barber you just met. Yes, they are the expert in the field, but you would want to ask questions. You don't need to know every detail, but when they say cut the hair shorter. You would probably want to know how short they were thinking.
Should you give security credentials to outsourced teams?
Should you give full admin access to your new developer? You've worked for years on your project or maybe there is some sensitive data on your servers. Are you just going to hand that over to a stranger?
The answer is yes, and no. You'll want to provide enough access to do the job without constraints. Without constraints is the key.
I once worked for a company that hired an outsource development team to make WordPress updates. The company refused to give FTP access to this freelancer as company policy was only employees had access. A rational and fair procedure, but the work assigned required FTP access.
The developer was talented and found a workaround, but the result was a poorly done project that took 10 times the amount of time it should have. The ironic part, this workaround caused more security vulnerabilities than if they would have just provided FTP access in the first place.
If security is a concern for you, using an established outsourced development firm like WPTangerine is probably best. They already have internal security practices to protect you and work with large companies with similar concerns.
It's completely normal to feel uncomfortable handing over login credentials, and there are, of course, a handful of bad apples. But for the most part, I've only found outsourced developers to provide better security measures than I do myself.
Patience is key
After signing up for WPTangerine, I was super excited to offload a handful of tasks I was dreading. I immediately sent my assigned project manager a list of tasks.
Looking back, I knew this wasn't the right move. Luckily this wasn't WPTangerine's first rodeo, and they reminded me that some initial infrastructure would go a long way.
It took a couple of days, but they set up a few items for usernames, passwords, security measures. They provided instructions on the best ways to go about communicating project tasks.
Again it all comes back to setting expectations. A couple of days of setting up infrastructure and properly communicating expectations will save you more time and headaches in the long run.
How to get the most out of your unlimited development service
Services like WPtangerine only tackle one task at a time. You'll need a way to keep all your items on track as well as prioritize your most important tasks.
At Niche Pursuits, we use a Kanban board style of project management. We use Trello, but there are hundreds of options. Since Trello is free and integrates with just about anything it's a great tool.
Also, suppose your company outgrows Trello and needs a more sophisticated project management system Atlassian, Jira's founders, own Trello. Jira is the project management tool used by almost all major corporations, so you can easily upgrade if needed.
Learning to work with a new outsource development team
My first job out of school, my boss told me, “There are no such things as bad employees, just bad managers.”
I can't remember the exact context, but he was likely referencing something I messed up on, and he had to train me on the proper way to do it.
The first couple of tasks with WPTangerine were not perfect the first time. I had to send a few requests back.
In my early days of outsourcing, I would have quickly assumed it was their team's fault. But as I looked closer at the project. They did exactly as I told them. They weren't bad freelancers. I was a bad manager.
When sending tasks, use a template, especially if they are recurring.
Here is a super simple basic project plan you can use.
Remember, just because you think it may be common sense for small things such as to use a particular color or font. Your outsourced team will not be able to read your mind. Include as many details as possible.
Treat freelancers and outsourced team members as employees.
Provide feedback, but make sure there is positive feedback in there as well.
If every communication you have with the freelancer is telling them, they did something wrong. They are not going to enjoy working with you.
It sounds like common sense, but sometimes those little things get missed when you communicate over email with someone in a different time zone.
When they are engaged, passionate about your project, you often get more than you asked. Freelancers will go out of their way to make you happy.
Outsourcing is a skill that is similar to management. Which requires a unique set of communication skills that differ when working with someone you may have never met before.
The more you do it, the easier it will become and truly makes being a solopreneurs so much easier as you have others to help you in your journey.
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