Learn from years of experience if you’re looking to hire a virtual assistant at Odesk.com! I’ll lay out every step of the way so that you can get the best results.
Outsourcing to oDesk saves time, is cost efficient and often fun. But what are some disadvantages for employers at oDesk?
And what can you do so that they don’t even apply to you?
Disadvantages for oDesk employers during the hiring process
Sometimes, you encounter problems before even successfully having hired anybody. Doing the hiring process correctly will minimize any risks for you.
Dealing with uncooperative potential employees
You may want to pre-screen the applicants by giving them a test or by asking for credentials. Sometimes, all you will get are excuses.
This can drive you mad, because you have no time to listen to excuses.
Move on to the next applicant.
Typically, for any well-written job opening, you can get dozens of applicants in one day.
You are not forced to hire any one of them – it’s your money!
If no one is a match for your needs, simply close the job and re-open it a few days later. You’ll be surprised how easily you will find the perfect assistant for you.
Wading through too many contractors when hiring
Taking too much time with unfitting applicants in the hiring process is another disadvantage for employers at oDesk.
Pre-screening is everything. Set the bar high and expect the skills you need for your job.
Then, as a principle, only interview the providers that pass all your requirements. Only occasionally, interview interesting exceptions.
Needing to find out the person behind an agency
If an agency applies, you may never find out which person exactly is doing your work. It may be fine for data entry jobs, but not for personal assistant jobs.
Set the requirement that you are only looking for individuals, not agencies. Point this out in your job description. Weed out all agencies that apply, if you want to avoid them.
Adapting the budget to the final price/ Cost versus value
Now we are talking money. Your money.
You can do with it as you want. Never feel pressured in spending your hard-earned cash if you don’t want to.
On the other hand, don’t simply go for the cheapest provider, hoping it will save you money.
Good work has his price.
- Either money, by paying an expert higher rates,
- or your time (which is money), by training a newbie extensively to suit your needs.
Find the right balance between these two extremes.
Disadvantages for Employers at oDesk after hiring a provider
During your cooperation, things may not go as smooth as you thought. We’ll help you to optimize the “managing-your-freelancers” phase.
Losing time managing providers
One of the biggest disadvantages for Employers at oDesk is that they can lose a lot of time instructing their employees.
Personally, I love my time and am very stingy with it.
Setting up the communication right
One of the smaller disadvantages for Employers at oDesk: the oDesk message system is not well suited for day-to-day messaging.
Exchange emails ASAP – switch from the oDesk message system to email right away in the first message after hiring someone.
Time inefficient instructions via email
Emails are the most used medium for communication around the globe. Emails also take way too much time to read and to write.
Write a few emails at the beginning. Then, inform your employee that you prefer sending voicemail and video instructions. Give your employee all the information needed to deal with those files. Then, gradually write less and less, but speak and record more and more.
Ask your virtual assistant to confirm what he has understood in writing, especially the first few times.
There will be time differences when you outsource to the other end of the world. That’s expected and normal.
Don’t wait for instant replies to your messages. Expect them only – but also latest – after 24 hours.
Inform your employee that you expect quick replies.
People from the US and e.g. people from China will think very differently. Sometimes, there are big differences in cultural values.
Don’t get misunderstood over language barrier problems or differences in culture.
Be as objective as possible. Ask your employee to confirm your instructions in his own words the first few times.
Re-explain misunderstandings, but stay calm and gentle. Don’t scare your employee, he may simply leave.
(This happened to me once, totally unexpected after months of cooperation.)
Disadvantages after firing an employee
The only disadvantages for employers at oDesk that exist after you fire a provider is the battle with your conscience and if you get into lengthy discussions.
Let’s avoid that.
Bad conscience and pity party
Former employees might try to get you to pity them. Stay strong. If you have done everything right, the provider has had his chance to redeem his errors.
Make a fired provider feel like you have been just and fair. That will prevent 99% of the discussions.
As for the last 1%…
If you leave your oDesk provider after a fight, he might be tempted to leave you an unnecessary harsh feedback. That’s bad business ethics on part of the provider.
Prevent it by clearing all unclarities before you fire anybody, including letting him try to make up for any errors at least once.
Keep all critical discussions within the oDesk messaging system.
This way, you can try to get a bad feedback removed if you can prove you have been attacked wrongly.
Why it is still worth it to outsource to oDesk
Even if there are disadvantages for employers at oDesk, the *advantages of outsourcing by far outweigh them. It’s just business. An employer has to learn to strategically make the right decisions for his business.
Fortunately, we provide the best training and information for all sorts of outsourcing services, right from hands-on experience.
Writing a job description well serves two purposes:
- Getting the right person for the job
- Losing you, the employer, as little time as possible.
Write a job description that filters out the best applicants
It sounds mean, but I tell you from experience: the hiring process is much more time-efficient if you focus on pre-screening the dozens of applicants.
You don’t want to use too much time in the hiring process, neither.
- Ask questions that limit some bad apples to apply
- Make the “Sunshine” test.
What is the “Sunshine” test?
At the end of your job description, write something along the lines of:
To show that you have read the job description in its entirety, please start your application letter with the word “Sunshine”.
All applications that do not follow this instruction will be rejected.”
My virtual assistant tried a harder test.
- By the way: yes, you can outsource the hiring process completely.
- In oDesk, there is a manager feature allowing you to give your virtual assistant the necessary rights to hire and fire new providers.
He asked the applicants to write the correct spelling of “rednevous” at the start of their cover letters.
To my surprise, most applicants to a simple project failed this and did not write “rendezvous” correctly. Perhaps it was too hard.
Specify your budget or any must-have skills when writing a job description
Tell applicants up front: I won’t pay more than XYZ $.
However, think about the ethical aspects of outsourcing.
You get what you pay for. Still, if you want to negotiate, specifying your budget in your job description helps.
Screen for skill sets
Make it clear if you need a specific set of skills.
Screen for attitude
- people that don’t ask too many additional questions,
- sometimes motivated idea givers
Ask about the character of the applicants and choose the right person for you.
Ask for technical equipment when writing your job description
You can explain that a provider needs to be able to have a Skype conversation. This easily filters out those providers that are missing the technical equipment, like a headset.
(I have had numerous occasions where provider lied about having a headset and later told me it was broken, etc.)
Don’t keep your job opening open for too long
It’s best to close the job offer after maximum 2 days – having hired someone, or no one.
What if you have found no one?
Just re-open another day, hoping for more applicants.
Give the applicants a chance to make themselves stand out
Have a little fun with your job description. Ask for a joke, a rhyme or something witty as the introduction.
Impress upon the applicants that they must shine with their personality when they apply for your job.
That’s the best way to read between the lines of copy-pasted and reused cover letters.
Don’t ask too much of the applicants – don’t waste their time
Clearly describe what is waiting for them at your project. It’s best if you are writing a job description that saves both you and the applicants as much time as possible.
You can have a pdf attachment prepared with detailed instructions, pictures and graphs for any applicant to read.
You can also have another, different “Sunshine” test in the attachment, pre-screening the providers who have read both the job description and the attachment!
Tell them for how much time they will be hired
For an employee, it’s important to schedule their time and projects.
- Be honest about how long the cooperation will last.
- Let them know upfront if it’s an ongoing job or a task-bound project.
Train your personal assistants thoroughly: it will pay back to you tenfold. On the other hand, also make sure that your virtual assistant training efforts are applied effectively.
Working with one VS multiple virtual assistants
I tried working with a team of providers on Odesk. This was stressful, as each and everyone needed and deserved clear instructions from me.
Outsourcing turned into a full time job – I would have gotten things done in the same time that I outsourced it.
Not so good!
Now, I decided to train dedicated, highly motivated staff for me. Focusing on the virtual assistant training for one provider at a time took less time and yielded more results.
How many assistants do you want to hire and train at the same time?
Here is the maximum that I was willing to work with after years of outsourcing experience – in addition to one primary virtual assistant:
- One specialist for one-day-a-week tasks in addition to my “main” virtual assistant
- Several short time helpers for on-off fixed price tasks that needed to be done in few days
Be prepared if your personal assistant quits
There is one big risk and downside to hiring one excellent provider and training him everything you know, though:
What if the cooperation ends?
- There are many reasons a freelancer would stop working with you.
- He could be unhappy with the payment.
- He could have other, more lucrative working agreements with other employers. He could have found a better paid, permanent offline job.
This is a risk you have to be aware of, as an employer. I propose one solution to this biggest risk:
Create a backup virtual assistant training plan!
- The VA shows how well he has understood his tasks. They say that you have not mastered anything before you cannot teach it to others.
- He creates the instructions for a possible successor for you. No need to worry about being left alone with all your work on the desk. (There will be a transition phase though, where less work will be done!)
Save this training plan and be prepared to send it to a possible successor.
Automated Virtual Assistant Training with an Autoresponder
Or, if you are successful with your online business, you can also distribute your training using an email autoresponder service to a whole team of virtual assistants. Automate the expansion of your enterprise, so to speak.
Whatever happens, I am really glad the cooperation works so smoothly for all this time till now.
Feedback is as important as training was
You taught your virtual assistant lots of skills that he will profit from in future assignments. Don’t forget that he used these skills to work for you, for many hours, at a competitive price.
The least you, as an employer must do, is put in some work to write a solid feedback for him.
When you are working with a provider who does a very good job, like mine does, make sure you leave him with more than a few words of thanks at the end.
My favorite outsourcing service discourages outsourcing cheap jobs out of fear of the employees underpricing each other. Specifically, posting jobs and hiring people for under $5 (for fixed price jobs) or 3$/hour is not possible anymore nowadays.
Bad method: Try not to get caught
You still can get your work done at a lower rate than 3$/hour by asking your providers to work more than what was agreed upon. You could do it and hope that you don’t get caught.
But if you repeat it often, it is possible that your account gets banned and then you will have to open a new account. For that, you will probably need another Visa or Master credit card. And if they find out that your real name is of the same guy that got banned, perhaps you cannot use Odesk ever again.
And since it has merged with Elance (as I discussed before their merger), then you lose access to the biggest outsourcing platform out there.
Outsourcing Cheap Jobs Done Right
The second possibility to do your work done in just $3 is to create an hourly job at the rate of $3 per hour and limit the work load per week to 1 hour. My virtual assistant himself has had a contract with a limit of 2 hrs/week with another employer.
If 1 hour/week limit is not available you can ask you provider:
“OK, I expect this job done in an hour. If you take longer, after 1 hours the work limit will be reached and I will assume that you are not successful and you I will provide you a bad feedback.”
In this case the provider will be motivated to do it in one hour. And it also is perfectly within Odesk’s terms of services.
If it is moral, is of course another question.
But if the task is really worth only $3, e.g. something really simple where you have to just
- click 5 links,
- download 5 links
- and send us the results,
then perhaps it’s OK.
You should think about the ethical aspects of outsourcing cheap jobs. I did the “bad method” of outsourcing cheap fixed jobs for 1$ at that time myself (that was possible a few years ago), without knowing that the TOS of Odesk had changed. I got my warning, but also was worried if what I did was immoral.
I asked my VA for his personal opinion on this matter.
Opinion from my Virtual Assistant:
Sometimes there are more elements more important than money. I think you are sort of not satisfied with yourself for hiring a person at $1 because this money is very nominal, but in my opinion the work we got from these providers did not take over an hour or so.
Now here I have another question: is it ethical that you get a lot of work done by a provider which demands 10 hours or so for just $5? In this case you are paying according to Odesk TOS, but is it really ethical to pay such amount for a fairly long quantity work?
Here I would also like to quote my personal example:
I worked for around 2 days (More than 15 hours) and downloaded and converted around 3200 excel files into another format. The job was fairly simple but it took at least 15 hours to get completed and I did all this for $5.
As I said earlier: something is more important than money. For me my first feedback was more important than $5 because I know that employers even don’t consider a person without having any feedback.
Still, I don’t have any grudges to that employer. In fact, I have a lot of respect for him because he provided me with the very first opportunity, the base of my freelancing career and I regard him a lot. If today he asks me to do the same job at the same rate, I would work for him on a priority.
Another general example to support this discussion: A fresh graduate who just completed his graduation and looking for a job usually gets up to 3 months of internship program even if he is not getting any stipend.
Why he is doing this?
Just to build his profile!
When you work with providers on oDesk, you’ll profit from it’s free and included Odesk Team Application. It has many uses:
- communication center
- productivity measuring tool
- central place for organizing multiple providers
If you plan on working or hiring with virtual assistants over oDesk, it’s use is mandatory. To help you with the decision, we’ll show you its main advantages and disadvantages.
- You can keep track on your provider’s work diary.
- It automatically generates various reports that can help you analyze the performance and dedication of your provider during a specific period or on a specific task.
- You can separate each of your tasks by entering separate “Memos” for all tasks.
- The oDesk Team Application records random screenshots of your provider’s computer while he is working.
- In addition, it also records the keyboard and mouse activity of your provider. Each time segment corresponds to 10 min worked time.
- If there is none to very little activity and no changes between two screenshots, you can dispute the time and not pay, if the provider should be slacking off.
- If you want to send audio files to oDesk for transcription, simply use the oDesk message interface.
This has never happened to me, by the way. The only thing that did happen was that the screenshots showed they were doing something else, like idle surfing.
You can remove payments for such time segments, too. And you should consider hiring someone more focused in the future.
- You can also use the Odesk Team Room just like a messaging tool and your team can also interact with each other via chat.
- Although Odesk has changed its TOS and team members now are not allowed to review the work diary of your team members (until you set them as an admin), the employer (who is automatically an admin) still has the opportunity to review past work diaries.
Other team members can only see the work diaries of those team members that are working live by clicking on the available screenshot on the Team Room.
- Sometimes you are having a confidential chat or writing a private email to your virtual assistant and you don’t want to disclose the matter to other team members. So here is a possibility that your conversation can be leaked.
- In those cases, make sure you communicate with them privately via email only to minimize this risk. If you want to be 100% safe, ask your provider to not log time with the Odesk team application while reading and answering the email. Allow him to log an appropriate amount of offline time instead.
- You can’t login to a team when you are off-line. For example, if one of your providers is assigned to a transcription job and his internet shuts down, he will not be able to work, although this is a type of task which could be done off-line.
- You cannot set your chat status as “Invisible”. If you are working on a pretty sensitive task that requires 100% of your attention, you can’t set you online chat status as “Invisible” and anybody can disturb you.
- In a case like this, make sure to inform your team members not to contact you for a given time frame.
- When you are online and logged in to any specific team, you still are open to everyone and everyone can have a chat with you.
- As an employer, you will not want that some of your providers chat to a member of another team about an issue that is non-related to the task at hand. You can only enforce discipline by actively and regularly checking the work diaries.
Although there are some shortcomings, the Odesk team application does a good job in reporting, organizing and connecting your virtual online team.
I have not found a better one-in-all-solution for this yet.
Thinking about hiring a provider?
Offline Alternative for tracking your virtual assistants’ work
If you hire a VA outside of this service and pay him directly, you might want to use alternative screen recording software. One software with which I had great results in tracking the productivity of a VA from the Philippines that often lost his internet connection is reviewed in the video below.
This service is an even better option if your focus lies in tracking the work of your VA that works offline or loses his internet connection often.