In my last post about outsourcing, which you can read here, I talked about setting up realistic expectations, paying fairly and staying in close contact with your contractors.
The hard work doesn’t stop when you agree on a price and start work though. Working with somebody else can be a big shift, especially if you haven’t managed a team before, and your response to it can vary according to the sort of person you are.
Avoiding Project Drift
My own tendency is to be very trusting. I hire someone to do a job and I assume they will do it, and properly. Obviously this has the potential to go wrong. Other people over-manage and can’t let go enough to actually let their contractor do her job!
Clearly you have to find a middle ground – you need to have trust in the person you hired to do her job (if you don’t, why did you hire her?) but you also need to stay 100% on top of the project, with regular communication and clear milestones. A weekly video call is a good way of keeping up a relationship with a remote contractor, for instance. Even if you are really shy about this sort of thing, you are paying over good money to this person, and you need to make sure that expectations are being met on both sides, otherwise the project will drift.
Defining Your Brief And Recognising Change
You might be reading this because you want to work with a VA, a web designer or a book keeper – and the needs of these different people are of course very different. But one thing they all want from you is consistency.
Projects evolve. That’s natural. Problems only arise when the project evolves in your head but you don’t communicate this clearly to your contractor efficiently and clearly, and work together to redefine your brief. If you have added to their workload, recognise this. If they have been doing work that is now obsolete because the project has changed, recognise this (you still have to pay them!).
What I am saying here in several different ways is that communication and honesty are the twin foundations of any contractor relationship.
The Practicalities – Where To Find Great Contractors
Hopefully I have emphasised enough how important it is to keep channels of communication open with your contractor! Now let’s talk about some of the practicalities of finding them in the first place.
Different kinds of contractors hang out in different places. For “hard” skills such as accountancy and back end development, I use UpWork. It’s a very “professional” platform to use – it’s not aimed at casual hirers, but there are some really talented contractors on there and it’s worth keeping in mind.
For PR and writing, I love People Per Hour.
When it comes to graphic design – workbooks etc., you can’t beat Fiverr.
One of the advantages of using platforms like these is that it keeps your admin to a relative minimum – billing is all done through the platform, and you there is no fiddling around with invoicing, PayPal or international bank transfers. You’re also (relatively) protected by the platform’s rules – if you make a deposit of $100 for a service, and the service is not delivered, then you get an automatic refund. This is more difficult to handle if you have started working with someone directly and they let you down.
Alternatively, there is word of mouth via Facebook. Many of you reading this will be in various Facebook groups that relate to your business. You will probably find that many other people in your groups have had great (or not so great) experiences with contractors and can make personal recommendations. Why not ask around?
If you are working with a contractor directly, then you will either agree to an hourly rate, a monthly retainer or a flat fee, depending on the kind of project it is. If it’s an hourly rate, you can ask the contractor to use an online time tracker. Some time trackers have screenshotting software built in, so you can see how the contractor has been using her time. While time tracking is fine, whether or not you use screen shots to back it up is up to you, but it depends on the kind of relationship and trust you have.
You should have a good idea of how long it takes to carry out the tasks you are hiring for, or the contractor should be able to explain it clearly to you, and you should be able to tell whether the contractor is taking a reasonable length of time to produce work of the expected standard without screen shots. If you think that you are being unfairly overcharged, or being billed for days/hours not worked, find another contractor, although if the area is unfamiliar to you (app development, for instance) and your contractor has great feedback and testimonials, you need to be realistic about how long things take.
If you are using a platform such as Fiverr, then all of your payments will be handled within the platform, and you will be able to download and review invoices from the platform for your accountant. You will probably connect your Paypal or credit card to the platform so that payments are seamless.
If you are working with them directly, you can use Paypal for most transactions and countries (including China), and bank transfers for people in your own country if you prefer (your contractor probably *will* prefer, because of Paypal fees). Remember that almost nobody outside the US uses checks/cheques, and one drawn on your US bank *cannot* be lodged in a foreign bank.
Your contractor might have a system of their own in place and may even accept subscriptions or credit card payments via Stripe, especially if they have a lot of clients.