For the last few weeks I have been searching for a young entrepreneur who is absolutely crushing it and could show you how easy it is to be a successful startup if you put the hours in and have a good idea. I didn’t have to look too far when I remembered that my friend Adam Stone fitted the brief perfectly. Adam is a 20-year-old, high successful, entrepreneur who a lot of people know in the tech scene.
He started a phone unlocking company when he was 12 years old while he was living in Chicago and got handed down a Blackberry from his dad that needed a change in telco provider. The unlocking business is now highly successful and has more than 100,000 users. Adam learned the craft of outsourcing at this very young age because he outsourced all the operations of the business, customer support, and even the supplier relations.
I first met Adam at an investor’s lunch in Melbourne and was surprised to see someone so young with so many brilliant investors. Adam has one of the smartest business minds you will come across and see’s opportunities and then takes action immediately. Obviously I am not the only one that see’s his talent as he has recently moved from Melbourne to San Francisco and been accepted into the famous 500 Startups program run by Dave McClure. Once in San Fran, Adam used the powerful proximity effect of being in the right place, to put together a deal with WIX to feature in their app store through a chance meeting with them.
Adam’s latest project, Speedlancer, is the world’s fastest freelance marketplace with a 99% customer satisfaction. They deliver design, content and data entry tasks within 4 hours and connect users with the highest quality, pre-vetted freelancers. If after one revision a customer doesn’t have their work fulfilled in line with the description then they are entitled to a full refund, removing all the risk and inefficiency of outsourcing to freelancers.
Adam came up with the idea when he began outsourcing using sites like Fiver, Zirtual (Virtual Personal Assistants) oDesk and Freelancer due to not being a software coder or graphic designer himself. He found that getting little things done quickly was very difficult, and he could often be left waiting weeks for something very small. For small tasks, you don’t want to have to post the jobs, go through bids, interview people and have a choice of over 10,000 people to work with.
A lot of you are always asking what the secret is to start a business that creates a marketplace and how to get one started. In Adams case, he looks for where talented freelancers like to hang out online such as forums and blogs. The ones with a good track record are then invited to the marketplace. There is then a further two rounds of checking where more than 50% of applicants can be knocked out of the recruitment process. To stimulate the other side of the marketplace Adam validated his idea further by sending out cold emails (try Sendbloom, Tout App and Outreach.io for cold email software that helps you do this) to different segments of the market to see if they had a need for his service. He would get the business owners email addresses by using business listings and then contacting them using LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter. This allowed him to fail fast and find where the customers were that could afford to use his platform.
Below are the top 8 tips from the master of outsourcing, Adam Stone.
1. Start small with your outsourcing
You should be outsourcing everything within your startup. Start by offloading small, easy, common support queries and operations, and then as you build more trust with your outsourcing team, start giving them bigger tasks to complete for you. If you’re a founder of a startup that can’t code then, that will also be one of the very first things you outsource. Later on you can add to the list design and content. If all of this is working well for you, then one of the final tasks you could look to outsource is PayPal disputes. The things you shouldn’t look to outsource are growth and marketing although you should be looking to systemise these areas so that parts of it could be outsourced if need be. In terms of your accounting, it’s good to have that local to where your business is so you can go and see them, and be able to talk about the tax laws with someone that understands them in your area.
2. Build a team around someone and then systemise
Once you have your first successful freelancer, you can then move them away from simple customer support tasks and get them to build a team around them with people they trust and know how to work with. You can then unload more tasks to this person, and they can delegate amongst their team and focus on documenting all the processes required to complete each task. This is very important because you have to think of all your outsourced freelancers as replaceable.
Always start by writing the processes yourself and writing down as many steps as possible. Once this is done, give it to your project manager to start actioning for new requests of this type and get them to expand on your knowledge base for this task. Adding videos of the task being completed, Youtube videos of other people doing the same tasks, or screenshots is also very valuable and makes the learning process easier for new entrants to the team. Once all the knowledgebase is written you need to store it in a central location such as Dropbox or Googledocs.
Once this model is setup, the idea would be that you send all the tasks that need to be outsourced to this one person and then they delegate it out to their team and manage it. The benefit for you is you now only have to manage one person for multiple parts of the business – Adam describes it like having “One Uber Manager.” This process of setting up a structure and having processes around your business makes your startup a lot more valuable, much more scalable and allows you to hire on a whim.
3. Streamline communication between your freelancers and customers
All the support should be managed by an email address that matches your domain, so the end customer doesn’t know they are talking to someone who isn’t directly employed by you. The support tickets can be managed through something like Help Scout allowing simplicity for your freelancers when dealing with issues. If you are an early stage startup you should oversee every ticket at the start until you are confident that your team are handling them in the correct manner (the customer is everything remember).
To reduce your risk when communicating with your customers, it’s best to start with your freelancers drafting all responses and then you physically sending the emails. In each of these cases you would send the freelancer the edits you made, get them to document it, and then they would gradually learn how to deal with each type of problem, without risking customer satisfaction. You can start to send out canned responses to your customers if you are getting a lot of the same queries and slightly tweaking each one to keep it personal.
4. Interviewing your freelancers
Give them a knowledge base you have written, give them common support queries and then give them the opportunity to answer them as a kind of test. Whichever freelancer answers the questions the best then moves on to round two where you interview them over Skype. Ask them if they have done the role you are asking them to do before. For example, if they had done customer service before but haven’t dealt with the phone unlocking industry before, that’s not an issue. Pick one skillset that you are really looking for and then teach them the rest. Look for the ability to learn, willingness to learn and general experience throughout the interview. The goal of this process is to find a freelancer that has an interest in what you’re doing and wants a long-term relationship. There are plenty of freelancers in the software development industry that operate under a “Dev Sweat Shop Model,” where they are just in it for the money and not the long term, which you absolutely must avoid.
If you are using a marketplace likeSpeedlancer to find freelancers, then Adam says you should allocate around a week to find the best person, although on his platform this need is removed because they do all the vetting for you.
5. Be aware of cultural differences in different countries
Cultural differences in each country affect the way your freelancers can operate. Certain countries will expect more money than others and it can be often hard to pinpoint whether the person you’re actually talking to is from, and whether the country they say their in is where they actually are. Reviews and honesty will help weed out these types of challenges.
Some freelancers will quickly say yes to things even if they can’t deliver on them and other times you will find a difference in how hard freelancers work. You may find that freelancers you deal with will not value long-term relationships and may just be after the quick sale, so you need to watch out for that as well.
6. Understand pricing structures
With freelancers, you can be charged by the hour or by the task. You need to be weary of this because Adam has had times where developers have quoted on a certain amount of time and then taken three times as long to complete the task. You don’t need to pay for the most expensive person, and it goes without saying that you shouldn’t ever pick the cheapest. If you have very little money to spend then you can find a freelancer that has zero feedback and tell them they have to do it really cheap. In this scenario, you would only pay them after the job is complete. The promise you make to them is that if they do a good job you will give them excellent feedback and more work in the future. While this strategy is someone riskier and can see you fail a few times before you get it right, it can be a great long-term way of doing things.
“The biggest mistake a startup can make is not outsourcing”
For small tasks, freelancers will usually charge a fixed price on most marketplace platforms likeSpeedlancer. For larger tasks, you will typically pay hourly or weekly, and you can pay the freelancers using PayPal to avoid fees. Maintenance and building features on a development project with freelancers will usually be billed hourly as well. When you’re figuring out how much you are going to pay them, everyone’s ethics will vary as to what’s fair. It’s always a good idea though, to pay them more than they can get elsewhere, so they stay loyal to you. If you want to WOW your freelancers then build in performance bonuses, so both you and them win as well as giving them five-star feedback.
“Spend more time on your marketing and getting sales, than trying to hustle down the price of your freelancers”
The other area of pricing that is hard to manage is when you are being charged by the hour. When you’re not physically next to the freelancer it is hard to know how long it really took to do a task. Some platforms have a time tracker and allow you to see their screen. Trust comes into play a lot here and everyone’s idea of big brother tactics to manage costs will differ. One of the reasons Adam made Speedlancer a 4-hour deadline on tasks was to stop procrastination. In an 8-hour workday the average person is only really working 4 hours. On some platforms it can take 15-30 mins to complete your task, yet it takes them days and even weeks to complete the smallest of tasks. Efficiency on a platform like Speedlancer is a great way to control the price in a fair manner.
7. Post a great job advertisement
It goes without saying that when you are creating your ad to put up on a marketplace like Speedlancer, you want to be specific. It’s important to remember though that if you’re too specific then you will usually pay more to have the task completed. With something like development, you don’t want to disclose everything up front to them. It’s better to disclose the sorts of things you’re looking for first.
8. Think about disclosure when outsourcing
Don’t worry about getting them to sign a Non Disclosure Agreement because if they are in another country and they break it, there is not a lot you can do about it. If you want to limit your liability on the customer support / operations side, you can limit permissions to your software and websites, and only allocate certain tickets to them that don’t require them to know secret information about your business. Never disclose any marketing channels to your freelancers unless you have really systemised the process and there is nothing proprietary for them to steal from you.
“The rule of thumb should be don’t disclose anything to them that you are not willing to disclose publically”
One way to combat the disclosure issue is you could, for example, look to have an outsourced developer complete 90% of your home page and then get an in-house developer to finish it off. By doing it this way, if the in-house developer tries to steal anything, you would at least have some sort of legal recourse.
For Adam, the one issue that he had with outsourcing was recently when one of his freelancers sold the code for his unlocking site. Surprisingly it didn’t have much effect on revenue because you need more than the code to replicate a business. You need the SEO, relationships, the rankings, etc
Adams favorite book is Tim Ferris’s “4-hour work week,” and his favorite quote is “The harder you try the luckier you get.”