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.”
If you would like to know more about freelancing and outsourcing, then visit Speedlancer to try it for yourself and feel free to share your own stories below.
How to Create a Winning Startup Culture
Some time back, in my infographic on 51 Business Mistakes that most Entrepreneurs Make, I had outlined that one of the biggest mistakes is that you do not give any thought as to what you consider would be a great startup culture. And, without good policies or HR to keep things in check, the startup begins to develop a toxic business culture. (more…)
51 Mistakes That Can Sabotage Your Dream Startup
So you’ve got an idea. You know it will work. And, it means the world to you.
You are an entrepreneur and you think you can rock the world with this one idea that matters to you the most. And, you set out to form the idea into a startup that you are going to nurture and develop into a blooming business in the upcoming years.
However, I don’t want to throw water over your dreams but, I do need to bring this “optimist” you into the hard and cold reality…….. the reality which says that 90% of all startups fail.
Of course, this can bring a great deal of uncertainty into your life and you got to be prepared to deal with it. You are also going to face a ton of challenges in your life which will force you to grow as an entrepreneur. But, the important thing is that you stick with it.
Of course, as Charlie Munger (Warren Buffett’s friend) once said, “All I Want to Know is Where I’m Going to Die So I’ll Never Go There”. No entrepreneurs want their startups to fail after putting in days and weeks of effort into it.
So, a lot of research has been put forward into knowing what does actually sabotage a startup?
Fortune reported that the single biggest reason startups fail was because they do not identify what the market wants before setting up their startup.
However, it isn’t as simple as that. An entrepreneur needs to perform a comprehensive business plan before he sets out with his business idea. Also, you have to know whether your business idea actually suits you or not. If it doesn’t then, you either you need to fine-tune yourself with your business idea or you need to change the business plan so that it suits you.
And, it is only after that, should you venture upon your startup.
Now, is that all? Of course not. The problem most entrepreneurs face when they first begin their entrepreneurial journey is that they don’t know what they don’t know.
That’s where they tend to make a series of mistakes that may cause great harm to their startup.
That’s why I scoured for successful entrepreneurs to provide me with information on what they think were the most common mistakes that startups do. Plus, I also got tips on how to avoid these mistakes.
You can check out the original article here: 70 Mistakes Startups Make And Tips On How You Can Avoid Them
Now, it’s your turn to do some work. Let me know what you thought of these mistakes and tips that entrepreneurs commit. Do you know of any other mistakes that entrepreneurs do? Comment below!
8 Key Factors That Discourage Investors From Putting Money Into Your Startup
Today’s ideas are tomorrow’s winning businesses. Ideas executed brilliantly and with proper investment bring your business success. That is how the world of business got the likes of Apple, Google, McDonald’s, Amazon and so on.
But why in spite of the brilliant and promising ideas at the core of their business, many startups fail to attract investors? Why do investors hesitate to put their money into some startups? Well, investors have reasons and only by deciphering these reasons we could get hold of some deterrent factors that hold them back.
Let us explain some of the vital factors that prevent investors from putting their money in the startups below:
1. Inefficiency or Absence of Leadership Qualities
Inefficiency is the most significant deterrent factor for pulling the success of most startups. This can also be referred to as the lack of leadership qualities. Investors always want to make sure that they don’t lose their money through a company that has an extraordinary business model but no efficient and skilled business leader to make it successful. When fetching investment from investors, you need to offer a clear prospect and detailed plan of how you are going to achieve the goals.
2. Lack of Trustworthiness
An investor puts his money on a venture purely on the basis of the credibility and trustworthiness of the business. This is why besides having a sound business plan with clear objectives, you need to establish the integrity in terms of the security of the investor’s money and how the fund is going to be invested to give results as per business plan.
If an investor has a feeling that the startup may not have enough customers to fulfil its financial liabilities or if it finds that the business is hiding some information, it may further push the trust of the investors down. Total transparency and establishing the faith of the business brand are crucial for finding investors in favor.
3. Lacking Experience in Business Management
You have a great business idea backed up by a sound business plan and solid trustworthiness based on your background, but you have zero experience in managing a business. This is a serious reason for an investor to deny making any investment in your business. An investor cannot put his money just to allow you trying and learning your management skills the harder and riskier way. Uncertainty is the single biggest turn-off factor for any investor and lack of managerial experience is synonymous to that.
4. Business Model is Not Sound Enough
You have a business idea, some efficient, competent and experienced professionals as leaders, the great stamp of trust and pretty much everything that make a company look promising. But what about your business strategy and business model? Are they sound enough to take on the market competition and challenges for business growth? Well, this is what investors are most interested in.
In most cases, a business model is what makes an investor think twice and even take a backward step from investing in a startup. After all, your business model and strategy will decide how your business and products will be able to withstand competition and become victorious.
5. Taking Investors for Granted
This is a big mistake on the part of many startups. Just by becoming confident in the potential and the soundness of the business model and prospect, a business can consider getting investors on board requires just a little effort and time. But in reality, getting investors on board is the toughest thing a business can think of.
This is why without proper and meticulous preparation, it would be foolish to approach investors for your business. Most investors receive hundreds of such emails and a similar number of approaches through other means and they coldly just let them pass. This is why you need to send them very detailed proposals backed by strong recommendations and referrals.
6. Targeting the Wrong Investor
Every business has a target customer base, right? Not all customers are interested in every product in the market. Similarly, not all investors are interested in your business. Investors based on their prior experience and industry exposure, put their money in businesses that they know like their own palm of their hand.
So, targeting an investor who has no interest in your business will only drain your energy and bring you unnecessary frustration. When you are seeking investors for your software startup, don’t approach someone investing in real estate business.
7. Non-Realistic Proposal for Funds
Investors normally come with huge experience of your industry and so they have a clear idea about the fund requirements for your business startup. Moreover, they already have invested in other ventures or have gone through many proposals. Naturally, they have every bit of estimate already in their mind. So, any proposal claiming a lofty and unrealistic amount will only face rejection.
This is why it would be wise to become meticulous about your estimation of the required fund and calculation of various cost factors. Have meticulous details about every facet of investment backed up by breakup of the costs. Only when you can convince them with correct estimation, investors can take interest in discussing the matter further.
8. Make Sure Your Product Solves a Customer Problem
Will any investor put money in building a simple calendar app now? No, simply because such an app idea has no value for the end users now. Will an investor put money in a product that has already been outdated and has no use? No, no investor has to even go through such a proposal for dismissing them.
Well, to fetch investment, your product must be thoroughly customer-centric. It not only has to solve a problem but has to deliver some competitive value in comparison to similar products in the market.
Obviously, finding an investor for a new business is not an easy task, considering the huge competition that businesses need to deal with. But, if your business idea is unique and you fill all those requirements correctly as mentioned above, finding investors may not be as tough as it sounds.
5 Must Have Branding Tools for Your Startup
Your brand is more than just the colors on your website. And for startups, it’s important to create a strong and memorable brand from the beginning if you want to stand out from the competition, scale your company, and find your ideal customers faster.
Here are 5 simple tools that will help your company avoid branding mistakes, take charge of your visual identity, and set a solid foundation for future growth:
1. Graphic Design Software
The word “design” doesn’t have to be overwhelming. Before deciding on your startup’s logo, colors, designs, and overall tone, consider working with a brand strategist who can translate the core ingredients of your startup into a visual identity that speaks to your target market.
Brand strategists have expertise in the psychology of colors, shapes, textures, and words, and they will work with you to make sure that your branding appeals to your target audience. Once you have those basics of your brand established, there are several tools that can help your company refresh and maintain your visual identity.
The absolute best graphic design tool for non-designers is Canva. While the free version has a lot of functionality, the paid plans offer more customization such as the ability to import your exact brand fonts and colors.
But if your company handles all of your design in-house, you will need something more advanced than Canva. In that situation, I would recommend Adobe Creative Cloud to startups who work on their designs in-house, as it includes top-notch design software like Photoshop, Illustrator, Lightroom, InDesign, and more.
“Branding is what people say about you when you are not in the room – Jeff Bezos
2. Visuals & Creative Imagery
Have you ever wondered where your competitors get those beautiful branded photographs that end up on their website? While it’s possible that they worked with a photographer, it’s also likely that much of their imagery comes from stock photos.
Here are my recommendations on the exact places to purchase stock imagery to improve your company’s branding:
- Creative Market – A treasure trove of quality visual imagery where you can buy anything from stock photos, to branding mockups, to social media templates (Facebook cover photo, anyone?), to custom fonts… the options are nearly endless.
- Adobe Stock – Beloved by designers, and the platform offers tiered pricing plans based on your image needs and download quantity.
- Pixels – If you’re on a tight budget and just need to grab an image or two for a blog post, you may be able to find what you need on Pixels – which is great because all of the photos and videos on Pixels are free!
3. Social Media Scheduler
You’re a leader. You’re an entrepreneur. Your staff, board, funders, and admirers depend on you to make big decisions, lead the ship, and plot the vision towards your company’s future. You don’t have time to stare at a blank screen every day wondering what to post on Facebook.
By using a social media scheduling tool, you can sit down for a few hours, schedule batches of content, and schedule the dates and times when it will post to your accounts over the next couple of months. Then, once the content is posted, you only need to worry about responding to comments and engaging with your customers. 21st century efficiency at its finest.
Popular social media schedulers include Buffer and Hootsuite, both of which include free and paid plans. Not sure what exactly to post? Check out these social media ideas from influential businesses. And if the idea of writing and planning months of content still overwhelms you, our next tool will help you stay organized and on-brand.
4. Editorial Calendar
When it comes to your content, it’s time to step it up a notch and start thinking like a media outlet. Every piece of content that you put out as a company, whether it’s an e-mail blast, blog post, social media post, podcast, or video, needs to be aligned with your brand.
Each major magazine maintains an editorial calendar which outlines the overarching theme for each of the upcoming 12+ months. By establishing a monthly content theme in advance, they create a framework to generate and organize their ideas.
Consider creating an internal editorial calendar that will guide your startup’s content over the next 6-12 months. The software tool you use to maintain your editorial calendar isn’t that important — I like to use Trello, but you can also create a simple numbered list in Google Docs or Microsoft Excel. You may be surprised at how quickly the creative juices flow once you have an editorial calendar in place.
“Design is the silent ambassador of your brand.” – Paul Rand
5. In-Person Networking
Offline efforts count towards your branding too! And if you run your entire startup from behind your laptop screen, you miss out on ample opportunities to build your business offline and gain local referral partners.
If you’re new to in-person networking, start by visiting Meetup.com or Eventbrite.com where you can browse for events in your area. Think outside the box when it comes to selecting events to attend. For example: If you’re a chiropractor, it makes sense to attend local holistic health meetups. But you could also attend a travel event and meet digital nomads who don’t yet realize that a chiropractor can help them recover after long plane rides.
Remember that you’re not at the networking event to make instant sales, you’re looking for referral partners and connections. Don’t be the person who tries to shove your sales pitch down everyone’s throat upon meeting them.
As you can see, there are many simple online and offline resources that can help you spruce up your branding, reach new customers, and pique the interest of your target market. If you take branding one step at a time and start with the tools above, you will be well on your way to creating a brand that your customers will cherish and remember.
Have you used any of these branding tools before? Are there any additional tools that have helped your startup’s branding shine? Share your thoughts below!
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