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June, 2010

Outsourcing for Success: A Blueprint to Improve Operational Efficiency and Achieve Steady Business Growth

When we first introduced the subject of outsourcing to our newsletter readers last year, outsourcing had just begun to emerge as a viable value proposition for the owners of small businesses. Until then, outsourcing, or business process outsourcing as it was generally referred to, was a luxury which only the large corporations could afford with a few minor and scattered exceptions. In little over a year, market forces have made it possible for even the smallest of business startups to outsource their non-core functions to individuals who make a contribution to the growth of the organization by working remotely from a different country or even a different continent. Our feature this time takes a slightly different spin on the general notion of outsourcing or off shoring and tells you how you can successfully recruit individuals to join hands with your in-house work force and help you achieve success in a spirit of harmony and mutual understanding.

Virtual Employees or Virtual Assistants

Skilled and highly qualified employees who serve you from a distance, usually from a different country, are called virtual assistance, virtual employees, remote assistants or outsourced assistants. They can be recruited either full-time or part-time depending on your needs and your budget. They set their work schedules in part through an accommodation model in which they make themselves available to you live for a few hours a day. This adjustment is mandatory due to the time zone difference assuming your assistant resides in a country that is either several hours behind or ahead of your time zone.

Service Delivery Options and Choices

There is really no limit to the number of possible tasks and functions you can conveniently outsource to your virtual assistant. It all depends on the extent of work quantum and responsibility you are willing to delegate. Your choices are in no way restricted by the fact that you are an online service provider or entrepreneur looking to optimize your manpower investment and resources. It is best to formulate a list of tasks you are consciously willing to outsource and then identify the human talent to deliver the bacon. Here is a short list of things you can ask your virtual assistant to do for you while you continue to remain in full control and focus on running and promoting your online business or service:

  • Design and maintain your website
  • Upload new content on your website
  • Conduct e-mail marketing campaigns
  • Promote your website through Internet marketing
  • Interact with your customers through live chat
  • Conduct recruitment drives by interacting with job boards
  • Monitor the performance of other employees through internal reporting
  • Perform basic accounting, billing and payroll functions
  • Perform entry-level functions such as make hotel, air and car rental reservations
  • Respond to all your e-mail messages in a timely fashion or at least draft the responses for your review
  • Answer your 800 line when your in-house employees are gone for the day
  • Conduct research on the Internet and submit reports

Recruiting the Right Virtual Assistant with the Right Skills Set

There are a number of ways in which small business owners are recruiting virtual employees today. However, these are the ones we do not recommend since we have a much better option for you. Virtual assistants are generally recruited through freelancing boards such as Elance or ODesk and through well-established VA service bureaus also known as VA agencies. The problem? There are intermediaries involved who capture a piece of the action which in turn escalates your costs. Your best bet is to go directly to some of the leading job boards in the Philippines, India, Singapore or one of the CIS countries such as the Chek Republic and run an advertisement for a virtual assistant. Look for these job boards on Google. Monster, for instance runs extremely successful and high volume traffic job boards in more than a dozen countries. The country-specific links can be found at the bottom of their home page. We recommend that you clearly identify the skills set you seek. Instead of recruiting one full-time employee, consider engaging two part-time virtual assistants—preferably one technical and one non-technical. Your bases will be fully covered at less than half of what it would cost you to do so state side.

Core Competencies essential to Successful Outsourcing for Small Businesses

Your new found virtual assistant should be able to:

  • Speak read and write English flawlessly
  • Own a computer with full power backup and reliable Internet connectivity
  • Use the Microsoft Office Suite
  • Conduct research on Google
  • Talk to you on Skype
  • Remain entirely focused on your tasks while working for you

The Proverbial Bottom Line

$15 an hour should be able to get you a first-class top-rated virtual assistant with at least 3-5 years of relevant industry experience and the ability to perform for you in a responsible fashion as long as no commissions have to be paid to service bureaus. Payment gateways such as PayPal, Western Union, Money gram and others have now made it possible for you to pay your virtual employees with extreme ease. It goes without saying that there will be some initial teething trouble. However, once the processes are in place and the assembly line begins to roll, you are sure to wonder why you did not hire a VA half a decade ago!