Should You Hire a Virtual Assistant Through a VA Company, a Marketplace or Go Direct?

Taking on the task of hiring a Virtual Assistant can be incredibly daunting! Literally millions of people of all levels of skills and walks of life are ready to offer their help. Ratings and reference systems help filter out the supply of workforce in some way, but still, far too many to chose from.  And who can guarantee that VA you’ve chosen had not played  the system somehow or won’t outsourced their job to someone else?  You have no clue – they are virtual!

virtual-agentsFor this reason, you might choose to hire a Virtual Assistant through an existing VA service. This can be attractive because, ideally, they have already pre-screened their VAs and will provide them with the infrastructure they need to get the job done, such as a PC, internet connection, etc.  But there are also some pitfalls to going this route that you need to be aware of.

Before hiring a Virtual Assistant through a VA company, you should consider the a few important factors:

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5 Traps of So Called Cost Effective SEO

5-traps-of-cost-effective-seoIf being found on the web is essential for you or your business, you are probably no stranger to Search Engine Optimization (SEO). SEO, an extremely complex and comprehensive set of activities, has become a major component of marketing strategies for most companies today, and a source of revenue for countless (offshore) SEO providers.

For most businesses SEO is not their core activity and that makes SEO a good prospect for outsourcing. Also many aspects of SEO are somewhat mechanical and labor intensive, so it’s no surprise that many companies elect to outsource SEO. With a large number of SEO providers out there the cost of it is alluringly low.

However, cheap outsourced SEO is not the brightest idea you can try; chances are you will “get what you paid for”, and often even less. Paying just a few hundreds of dollars per month for someone to handle your SEO efforts is likely to be a complete waste of money. As the common saying tells, if something sounds too good to be true, then it most probably is. Here are 5 potential traps to think about whenever you are assaulted with promises of boosting your Google rank overnight: Continue reading

13 Tips for Managing Your Team in Ukraine

office-in-UkraineOne of the most challenging aspects of management offshore development teams is dealing with a large host of cultural differences. Fighting or ignoring the differences is likely to cause serious issues.

Expecting an offshore team to change their culture to fit yours is naïve if not insane.  The key to success is learning the culture of your offshore team, finding the ways to work around the differences and even embracing and capitalizing on them.

While differences between Ukrainian and American cultures are relatively subtle they are still sufficiently profound and are worth learning. The good news is that just a handful of techniques will get you going. Here are a few most important considerations:

  1. Ukrainians and Russians. Understand that ex-soviet Union is extremely ethnically and culturally diverse. While you might not be able to tell the difference between Ukrainians and Russians, the differences exist, and given recent political tensions you need to be very careful with generalizations, labels, and blanket statements.
  2. Team vs. Individual. I find Ukrainians to be less individualistic than Americans. When motivating your offshore team you need to pay equal attention to praising the team as well as the specific individuals. Do not put your top performers in too much of limelight though, as they are more humble than proverbial Americans and excessive “popularity” of an individual can trigger negative team dynamics.
  3. One-on-one connection. Your Ukrainian employees need to know that you are a real person and are truly interested in their individual progress. Regular one-on-one chats will motivate your team members and increase the overall efficiency of the team.
  4. Respect of authority. Ukrainians have more appreciation for organizational structure and higher respect for authority than people in the states. A clear line of authority must be present through out your offshore organization.  Make sure to clearly specify reporting relationships and relative seniority.  It is also very important to identify communication and escalation channels.  At the same time feel free to drop the formalities in your day-to-day communications. Abiding by the rules and following formal protocols aren’t innate traits for Ukrainians.
  5. Friendship. Personal relationships and friendship are very important for Ukrainians, and have deeper meaning than for most Americans. Building relationships with your team members will pay huge dividends in productivity, retention and reliability of the team. Consider investing in team swaps and team bonding exercises, the longer and closer you work with your team, the tighter the bonds, the better the outcomes.
  6. Bad News Delivery. Do not expect bad news to reach you immediately. Your offshore team is likely to take matters in their own hands and try to resolve issues before they notify you. That is not typically related to confrontation avoidance or desire to please you as a customer. More often it’s a result of pride and “us vs. them” mentality.
  7. Language. Learning Ukrainian would be a great step towards building a great relationship with your team, but I would not necessarily recommended it, unless it’s your life mission the ROI is just not there. You may want to learn a few phrases; the goodwill return on this investment will be huge.
  8. English. The number of English speaking Ukrainians is growing at decent pace, yet their ability to practice spoken language is severely hindered. Communicate in writing.
  9. Conflicts. Ukrainians can be rather temperamental and outspoken. Don’t expect them to hold back and sugarcoat the issues. Most of the time you are better off letting the tempers cool off before you can dig in and expect to get a reasonable and logical response.
  10. Uncertainty. Ukrainians are less adapt to dealing with uncertainty than most Americans. Consider that in every aspect of your communication with the team and individuals. For example, career path, raises and promotions should be treated in a well-structured and predictable manner.
  11. Long term planning. Ukrainians are far more long term oriented than their American counterparts. That comes across loud in clear in their readiness to invest in education, career decisions, and employment preferences. I do have to admit that events of the last couple decades, overall uncertainty and instability put a huge dent into this cultural trait. Take-money-and-run and carpe diem attitudes are far more prevalent nowadays.
  12. Holiday. Ukrainians are a very festive nation, and their traditional celebrations are beautiful and definitely something you should witness for yourself. And Ukrainians take their holidays seriously, so you need to be aware of the national holiday calendar as work efficiency of your team will decrease dramatically during the times of celebrations, and often a couple days afterwards.
  13. Time off. 10 days of PTO on annual basis? You gotta be kidin’. Not even remotely close. Think 3 times as much and that doesn’t include sick days and holidays. So plan accordingly.

Well, that baker’s dozed does it. Not by any means the full list but a good 80/20 approach that should keep you going. Do you think that I am missing anything important? Disagree with my observations? Please do let me know, I love to know your thoughts and opinions and am happy to share them with the readers. Please comment or email me krym2000-po@yahoo.com.

Let a VA Plan Your Next Vacation

travel

For years I have been outsourcing technology tasks to offshore companies all over the world.   But it was only recently that I truly embraced the idea of out-tasking and started using Virtual Assistants. And now I am finding myself getting increasingly attached to using VAs to “outsource my life”.  I plan to write more about it and look at various aspects of using virtual assistants for mundane, laborious, and annoying tasks that may clatter your day and take your mind off important aspects of your personal and professional life.

Few things in life are better than going on a truly great vacation. You can spend time with those you love, in a beautiful and exciting place, as you and your family take a break from the many demands placed on us in our every day lives.   Of course we are talking about perfect vacation, not the one which ends up costing you too much, or the one which turns out so exhausting due to mishaps and issues that you need another vacation afterwards.  The key to avoiding that is good planning and it’s amazing how much time and efforts it takes to plan a vacation.

There are many different travel sites that promise to book you the best hotel for the best price, but how can you be sure if it really is the best deal available? And then you need to check out TripAdvisor, find the right tickets, and arrange for a taxi… And what if you want to drive around Europe for a couple weeks and stop in 10+ cities?  Where are all those locally owned travel agencies with beautiful brochures and smiling advisors!?  Oh, yeah – just another casualty of the Internet age.

This is where hiring a VA can help you tremendously.  Your VA can plan your vacation and given the focus and hopefully experience they can do it fast and possibly better than you would…

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Why Successful Businesses Outsource Content Creation

tax preparation serviceTwenty years ago I don’t think anyone could have really imagined everything that would be required today in order to have success in business. It is no longer just about providing great service or product and a solid sales team supported by traditional marketing. Any business today needs an online presence that goes far beyond a simple website.

You now need social media accounts, a blog, a broad range of SEO and SMO activities and artifacts, and so much more. Just learning it all can take up a tremendous amount of time, let alone, trying to actually find the time to put it all into practice. Blogging alone can easily keep a writer busy full time. And content that you need to produce is not just limited to blog posts.

Articles and various content elements used in SEO, website content, e-books, whitepapers, sales letters, auto-responders, …really just about anything your marketing team needs requires a lot of content. And not just a lot of content, but a lot of different types of content, that might require a diverse set of skills, tons of attention, and can cost you a lot of money…

That is where content outsourcing comes in: Continue reading

Offshore Developer Rates, a Few More Words

If there is one question in the outsourcing industry that never goes away it would be the question of rates.  So I thought i should share with you a cute infographic from Staff.com – Salaries of Web Developers in India, the Philippines, USA and Around the World that I run across when doing a research for one of my clients.

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What to Expect in 2015 – Revealing Trends in Outsourcing

Business Man with Crystal BallHow is outsourcing going to change in 2015? Outsourcing industry is a large ship that won’t turn on a dime, yet various forces have been reshaping the industry for quite some time and results are becoming more obvious every day. Certain trends ought to be followed as the landscape changes to accommodate new demands from individual consumers and businesses alike.

The strongest forces that shape the outsourcing industry include technology advancements such as raise of AI, cloud technologies and advanced robotics and automation. Another group of trend setters is related to political changes in the world, increasing standards of living among IT population of common supplies of labor in that sector – India, China and Eastern Europe.

Re-shoring, rural sourcing and near-shoring will grow

Regional providers are taking the stage, as the re-shoring trend is emerging strongly. While global outsourcing still maintains its position, local and nascent players will increase their reputation and take larger chunk of the market utilizing near-shore advantage in addition to cost effectiveness and productivity.

More tools, processes and systems will move to the cloud

More intelligent apps, software and agents will be implemented in the cloud, to make everyone’s job easier. Clients and providers will meet on this common ground in 2015. Labor will be seen more and more as a service, following in the footsteps of this trend. Cloud offering of services akin to Amazon’s Mechanical Turk is going to pick up pace as well. Continue reading

How to Stay on Top of a VAs Work Without Micromanaging

MicromanagerEveryone who uses VAs on somewhat consistent basis  has been burned at some point, and I am no different. In fact, a few years ago I had hired a VA to work on SEO. Initially her work was good but at some point it became spotty, and eventually, downright bad. As it turned out, she had “outsourced” her job to her 9-year-old son. Apparently she thought kindergarten was enough of an education to tackle the job. While this story might seem shocking, it is not unique, and after you have been burned once or twice, it can be easy to fall into a trap of micromanaging.

While staying closely on the top of your VA’s work might seem necessary, in the end of a day you just want to ensure that you are getting what you pay for, it is quickly become bad for both your working relationship and your overall bottom line.

Do you think you aren’t guilty of micromanaging?  Ask yourself a few questions:

  • Do you often find yourself frustrated because your VA didn’t do exactly what you told them?
  • Do you spend a lot of time making corrections and cleaning up your VAs deliverables?
  • Do you notice that nothing that your VA does is good enough?
  • Do you need to know exactly where your VA is and what they’re working on?
  • Do you need frequent and detailed updates?
  • Does it always take your VA longer to do the task then it should or would’ve been if you’d done it yourself.?
  • Do you spend a lot of time reconciling timesheets and deliverables?
  • Do you prefer to be cc’d on all emails?
  • Do you think that getting a VA was a bad idea?

If you answered “Yes” to 3 or more questions in this list, chances are you are micro-managing your VA. If you said “Yes” more than 5 times, then I need to tell you that you, my friend, are a micro-manager without a doubt and you will lose some really great employees if you don’t stop. Alas, while this is great advice, it is not easy for many of us to instantly stop micromanaging. So just take it easy and start letting go one piece at the time. Continue reading

Five Proven Ways to Bridge the Cultural Gap When Outsourcing to China

bridging-the-gap

Outsourcing, particularly offshore outsourcing, can be quite taxing due to communication and cultural challenges; this is particular evident for countries like China, which are culturally very different from the Western world. If the cultural differences are not tackled properly, they can cause irreparable losses of both, time and finance; as tension and communication breakdowns due to cultural conditions make it near to impossible to reap the benefits of outsourcing.

Our entire lives are governed by culture and it is the primary factor that determines all the choices we make as well as the preferences we opt for; yet it essentially remains invisible to us. It is only when we actually move into a new place or find ourselves dealing with someone from a “far away land” that we are struck by the magnitude of the impact that it has on our daily lives.

There are many profound differences between the Western and Chinese cultures that can impact communications, teamwork, and motivation of your employees. Here are a few of the most pronounced differences:

  • People in China put far more emphasis on team collaboration and performance than on individual contribution. People are generally more humble and frown upon on self-promotion which is very common and often necessary in the USA.
  • Chinese society is far more formal and hierarchical than in the USA. Hierarchy and clear delineation of duties are not only respected – they are required for productive collaboration. While in the Western countries we see informal style practically required for successful collaboration.
  • Vast majority of people in China value maintaining harmonious relationships over accomplishing tasks, and a typical Western remark such as “nothing personal” would not be understood.
  • Avoiding public confrontation is built in into the Chinese culture and maintaining “face” plays extreme importance in communications. Cut to the chase, “in-your face” truth so common among Americans will gain no support in China.
  • Chinese look differently at rules and regulations than most Americans. The Chinese people place more faith in personal relationships than in written rules and procedures.

Each of these differences can easily derail otherwise successful engagement, combination of them is truly terrific. The good news is that you can address this challenge in a structured manner, bridge cultural gaps, and minimize the risks of inevitable tensions that develop due to cultural differences.

Here are five proven ways to bridge the cultural gap when outsourcing to China.

  • Language. In order to truly access the Chinese culture and to thrive with them, the first step is to learn their language. Unfortunately, learning Mandarin or Cantonese is likely to look like an insurmountable challenge for most native English speakers living the USA or Western Europe. A short cut here is to hire a few key on-site team members who are already bilingual. I also recommend learning at least ~50 of most common Chinese words and expressions. The good will generated by this effort could be hardly overstated.
  • Cross-culture Education. Both your offshore and onshore teams can benefit greatly from learning the culture of the other shore team. I recommend hiring professional training or outsourcing advisory team specializing on cross-culture education.   A one or two day event will go a long way to cover the gap.
  • Team Swaps. Swapping team members, a program similar to foreign exchange student, is a great practice. Team members that are going to the other shore should go through a cultural training boot camp prior to departure.
  • Capitalizing on differences.Don’t force what’s unnatural and against the grain in terms of culture, don’t try to change your team members’ cultural foundations, beliefs or habits. Changing people is a futile venture in general. Instead recognize the differences and capitalize on them. For example, the Chinese predilection to hierarchy and team collaboration can help you build stronger teams.
  • Compensation and Motivation.Design compensation, motivation and recognition systems in a way they take cultural aspects into consideration. Simple adjustments such as “team of the month” instead of “employee of the month” can make a huge difference.

By no means is that an exhaustive list of tools that can help you to build better relationships with your partners in China. Would you like to go deeper into this topic? Do you have your own ideas you’d like to share? Please comment or email me at krym2000-po@yahoo.com.

Five Ways to Screw Up Your Content Outsourcing

regret-nohingAs our world becomes increasingly virtual, and therefore more connected, more and more companies are considering content outsourcing for a variety of tasks. This can be a truly great decision for any company, but there are also plenty of ways to screw it up.

For example, a client of mine decided to outsource his company’s blog. He hired a few providers on eLance and moved forward without establishing expectations for quality and even without defining when the work should be delivered. It turned into a complete nightmare after months went by with very few acceptable blog posts. Eventually my friend had to find a new writer. That put his company months behind schedule to meet their viewership goals. In fact, they ended up losing many of their existing followers due to the slowdown in content publishing.

Nothing like that ever happened to you? Maybe something similar? Well, here are five ways you can be guaranteed to screw up your content outsourcing:

Don’t take the time to identify what you really need. Before even beginning the process of outsourcing, you need to identify what it is that you need. Use S.M.A.R.T. approach to identify objectives and criteria for success. If you don’t know exactly what you are looking for, it will be impossible to find the perfect person/company for the job.

Don’t do your due diligence. Take the time to research the provider. Ask for examples of their past work. Have them provide references. And spend the time necessary to find out if they really have the skills and knowledge required to do the job well.

Don’t set up clear expectations. Before your new provider ever begins working for you, you need to set up clear expectations. Your S.M.A.R.T. objectives will coma handy at this point. Have specific tasks and milestones for when the work needs to be completed or sent in for review. Miscommunication of expectations can easily kill what could have turned out to be a fantastic relationship.

Don’t get guarantees. Have a contract with your provider that clearly establishes what is expected and that offers guarantees of the quality of work that should be delivered. This helps protect both of you.

Don’t get buy in from everyone. Unless you are a sole proprietor, you likely have at least a few other decision makers that need to be consulted before making a decision regarding outsourcing. In order for outsourcing to be successful you have to receive buy in from all of the people that have a major stake in the outcome.

What do you do to ensure your content outsourcing success? What have been your failures? Or successes? Please share your personal stories and suggestions in the comments below or send me an email at krym2000-po@yahoo.com.