The top 5 types of tasks to outsource

Outsourcing can be good or bad. It all depends if you gained new work because of it or if you lost your job because of it. However, my opinion on the topic is that its really something cool for the entrepreneur. The reason is simply that it allows you to tap onto a diversified set of talent without having you hire people (translate that as maintain payroll, benefits and costs!!!). The use of intelligent outsourcing allows you to get the best talent in the world and help you focus on whats really your business.

Here are some ways that I think outsourcing can really help you:

1. Help desk support
Need someone to answer the basic questions while you work on marketing and promoting your product and services? Look for a firm providing you with help desk support. You can get 24 hour support or support for just a few hours every day. Email based support or online chat support. The choice is yours to make depending on how much you are willing to dish out.

2. Data entry
Do you need to enter old paper based records into your brand new software system? Definitely don’t do it yourself(unless the info is highly personal). Hire a firm/team to do the job for you. You can not only help to get the data in electronic format but also get someone to do basic review if you provide the right guidelines.

3. Online marketing
Even if you are good at it – don’t spend all your time doing it yourself. With all the new techniques and rules coming up all the time it’s really a full time job for someone. So go ahead and outsource it. Make a budget and hire someone to provide measurable results on that budget.

4. Market research/analysis
Outsourcing research is a great way to help free up the busy entrepreneurs mind for the more important tasks. Remember that as a small business owner you are already spending quite a lot of your time wearing different hats and organizing your business. However, always ensure that this task is carried out by someone with whom you can connect. Talk/discuss online with the person who will be undertaking the assignment. Does the person see what you are trying to do? Is your goal clear and have you communicated it clearly?

5. Event scheduling
Do you want to spend the whole of your time arranging up your meetings and setting up appointments? Probably not! Get someone to do it for you. Use all the different online tools for easy collaboration with the service provider to ensure hassle free communication.

These are really the top 5 types of tasks that i believe a small business owner must look consider for outsourcing. Outsourcing these tasks should help you free up your day so that you can take your business to the next level.

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Online networking for beginners

Social media sites are now everywhere and while the large ones(digg, facebook, myspace, ibibo) have huge fan following there are those that cater to niche groups of people. The key to utilizing social media websites for your benefit is to interact in these sites. Many people tend to ignore these websites in their online marketing/branding strategy and could not be more wrong. Social websites are today developing much like online forums and online interaction points and can be a key to improving your business visibility. Some mistakes that people make are:

1. I don’t sell online. So why bother about social media?
This is a wildly inaccurate belief with many people. You can be a carpenter or be selling table lamps. There is surely a website that either caters to your niche or has a sub-category that fits your business. With many people now starting to use the internet as a starting point of their search for a product or services it only makes sense to have an online website or a blog that is visible to those who may be searching just for you!

2. I need to be a technical wiz right?
Nothing could be further from the truth. Social media sites are developed for easy access for all. If you can use a computer and browse the internet then submitting your site link to social media sites and interacting there is hardly a difficult proposition.

3. Submit a link to the site and then wait
Wrong! Social sites are what their name suggests them to be – social. Its not an ad site where you place a link and then go to sleep. Its a place where you share your opinions, join like minded groups, give comments on other posts and so on. A number of people will only get to know about you (and incidentally about your products and services) when they see your name in the people who have commented on their posts. If your comments are “juicy” then people will look up your profile, the stories that you share and ofcourse your website, blog, services and products.

4. Hey I don’t have time
While entirely true for a lot of people, the power of the internet has made it much easier to work around this problem. Social media sites will require time to do the registrations, click on all the confirmation links and then remembering the passwords, the links you have submitted etc. However, you can easily hire an online internet helper to help you out with the task. Thanks to offshore outsourcing to places like India, Pakistan, China and Philippines this is today much easier and cheaper to do than ever before.

Social networking is here to stay. Its best to participate and benefit from it. So take the plunge and work on it for a while. Don’t consider it work. Enjoy it 🙂

Getting the right people for the job

One of my favorite topics of discussion with my fellow colleagues and entrepreneurs is always about hiring the best employees. Like everyone else I have spent many hours pouring over CV’s and filtering out candidates for interviews. I have developed tips and discarded/modified those self made tips and then developed more tips to improve the process. Some good tips that I suggest are:

1. Basic needs fulfillment
See if the candidate meets the basic criteria. Maybe you want someone who will need to speak Spanish and the CV does not state any knowledge of the job (ofcourse I presume that you did post this detail in your job announcement). Or maybe you want a person with 5 years experience and the CV is for a fresh graduate. Filter these out immediately.

2. CV layout
This is something that is more subjective in nature and it can only be learnt over a period of time. A well formatted CV with proper headings and professionally written contents is a pleasure to go through. It shows that the person has spent some time applying working on the CV, is well organized and knows how to state facts about him/her self in a concise manner.

3. Talk on the phone
Some consider a phone call to request the person’s availability for an interview as being enough. Why not use the opportunity to first talk to the person? Place a call and ask the person if you could tak for a few minutes. Spend time to inquire about the passions of the person, past experience in the type of work that the person has applied for and anything else that comes to your mind. This is certainly not a measure to judge a person as you will only be hearing the voice and not seeing the facial expressions/body language of the person. However, this may give you some prior insight about the person’s ability to handle an unplanned talk/situation. The technique is especially great when looking for sales or customer service personnel.

4. Meet face to face. Discuss, discuss, discuss
The personal interview is my favorite part of the whole process. By now the most obvious inappropriate candidates have been filtered. The most like scenario is that you will be meeting people who have a basic knowledge about the intended work assignment that they have applied for, have a passion for the particular field and are happy to talk about their ideas and concepts. The initial phone talk will have melted the ice somewhat and you can talk about the “real stuff” rather than the simple niceties. Don’t hesitate to talk as long as you and the candidate feel comfortable. Ideally you will have left enough space between one interview and the next to account for a longer than planned interview. If time runs out and you still need to discuss then there is certainly no harm in scheduling another meeting/phone conference.

Although the above four steps are good enough for a fair evaluation these are by no means the final verdict. Throw in an aptitude test if you feel that is necessary, software development firms will want to test for programming and PC manufacturers will want to know about the hardware.

Project monitoring. Can you afford to live without it?

One of the biggest hassles for any small entrepreneur is the planning and monitoring of projects. Small business owners do not have the option of having multiple people just for the task of project management and are generally wearing too many hats themselves. The relegation of project management as a side activity can possibly have disastrous effects for a business that may only have a handful of clients. The solution lies in ways to build the project planning and monitoring tasks into the work system. It is not necessary to utilize state of the art technology to do the job (although that would ofcourse be a big help). A job card for every vehicle at a garage is as good a project planning and monitoring system as a fancy software solution.

The key is to ensure:
1. Tasks are listed in order that they are to be executed.
2. Approximate time is listed with each task. For routine tasks this should be a known value but for new tasks any good estimate is ok.
3. People are made aware of the tasks that they are to perform.
4. Cancel out tasks that are done.

This is ofcourse the most bare bones project monitoring system and leaves a lot to be answered and future posts will try to focus on ways that this important activity.