November 16, 2011
So you’ve put together a solid micro niche site creation plan that’s repeatable, teachable, and (hopefully) scalable. Perhaps you’ve even hired a few virtual assistants, but you’re thinking “Now what?”
Organizing and running an outsourced team can be difficult, especially if you don’t have an effective strategy going into your project. I’ve laid out some of the major points you need to be successful below. It’s worked for us not only for the AdSenseFlippers niche site project, but on other outsourced projects as well — especially those from our clients.
If you’ve never worked with or hired a Virtual Assistant before, consider VirtualStaffFinder. They take all the hassle out of trying to find and qualify a few talented agents to interview and work with and will save you quite a bit of time. We OWN an outsourcing company here, but thought it might be useful to use their expertise to find an experienced keyword researcher and, ultimately hired the second person recommended!
It’s ideal to know or have done at least parts of the process yourself before trying to outsource it to other agents. When that’s not possible, it’s good to have an overall supervisor who is very familiar with how things operate. We give this advice to customers of our outsourcing business, and it holds true that the most successful projects tend to be those where the owner or manager have direct familiarity with things. When people come with an just an idea and say “hey, can I outsource that?” it almost never works. Also, be sure to have your process documented, either though recorded screencasts (Camtasia is great but something simple like Screencast-O-Matic works too) or step by step instructions with screen shots.
I am a big believer in the manufacturing approach to most outsourced processes. Break stuff down into it’s component steps and have workers focus on doing one thing and one thing well. This makes the process easy to scale, manage, and teach.
For example we have documented the WordPress setup process in a series of Word documents with screen shots. It’s a living document and goes through changes, like when we add or remove certain plugins. This document is so important for the 2 next steps as it gives me something to refer to and be consistent.
I’d also like to note that while some of the more monotonous aspects of your process can be outsourced, the ultimate direction and success must always lie with you. Handing over a project and asking outsourcer to “make it work” rarely does. Outsourcing cannot ever replace the founder’s vision and direction.
Building on the point that you need to be familiar with your own process, teaching it to others becomes very easy. Every process is a bit custom, especially when it comes to SEO, so that’s why it ‘s so important to do these things yourself a few times especially in the beginning. Your experience plus documentation should make bringing new team members up to speed fairly straight forward.
One of the best ways to offer training is to give the new agent an idea of the overall project (The 10,000 foot view), what they are building (A manager’s perspective) and then focus on their individual part (Their individual task). This will help them make a bit more sense of it all when it comes to the overall project.
We love the “train the trainer” approach once your team is large enough. We’ll get more into team leaders later, but these are the types of folks who should not only be able to drive a project but teach their hands on experience to someone who will eventually work for them.
A great example of training in the niche site environment is link building. It’s important new agents get a sense why they are building these links before we send them off on such a repetitive task. Good, centralized (using DropBox), documentation allows our virtual assistants to having something to refer to as well, a sort of handbook on the subject that may change. Even if we tinker with the process, we can simply change the handbook and now everyone’s notes are updated.
Our Training Process:
There are two ways to divide your labor, macro and micro. In macro terms, dividing your process up into large chunks will help in finding the right leaders and making training easier. For instance, our process is divided up into keyword research, site setup, content creation and link building.
On a micro level each piece should be broken up into it’s component parts into small tasks that can be quickly completed and reported on. Using the editors that work for us as an example, their jobs are made up of ordering content based keywords provided, editing returned content for grammar/spelling and checking for originality, then preparing the content to be published by the site maintenance team.
Of course each one of these steps needs to be broken down further, explained, and planned out well. With content creation it breaks down like this:
Once a process is scaled, team leaders become a key element in the success of any outsourcing project. They are your sergeants in the platoon, training new recruits, completing objectives, and reporting back to you the results. How do you pick a good team leader? Look for someone who is comfortable with the tasks in their division, but they don’t have to necessarily be the best or fastest. Other characteristics like communication and reliability are actually more important.
If you start everyone off with the same training, it will soon become very obvious who should be the team leader. Those who have trouble keeping up, handing in reports on time, or simply don’t have the passion to drive a team should not be selected. This may mean that you will need to run some groups directly, especially to start off, until you find someone. In the beginning, I ran the site setup and maintenance team for few months before I thought we had an agent who could be trusted enough to run the team directly. Justin headed up our link building virtual assistants dolling out tasks and being sure they updated their daily reports.
It was grueling, but paid off because we understood not only the process better, but what it took to run it. It allowed us to make refinements in the tasks our agents were conducting to create better sites that get ranked faster and make more money.
If division of labor and team leaders are the heart and soul of an outsourced project, reporting and tracking is the hard-ass coach. From the sidelines it allows you to see how things are going and if inefficiencies are creeping in, causing your once bullet proof process to bloat and costing you a lot more as things scale.
Reporting works best on a rolled up basis. So agents should report the amount of their day to day tasks completed and time worked. Team leaders should evaluate this and send you weekly and monthly summaries that you can use to create bell curve type averages. This will allow you and your management team to isolate under performing agents that perhaps need more training or over performing agents that could use a promotion.
Now…with just a spreadsheet those numbers are pretty easy to fudge, make a mistake on, etc. We use excellent software for tracking the exact hours worked by our agents with HiveDesk. We’ve been with them since beta and have helped them develop this into an extremely useful tool for tracking hours, taking random screenshots, etc. You can then verify the spreadsheet they fill out for rolled-up reports against their hours on HiveDesk to make sure everything matches up.
Goals and Followup
Reports allow you to set goals very effectively because, long term, you have the correct data to predict where your teams should be and what they can get done. For instance right now, Justin and I know that our team can easily do 40 sites per week, but perhaps we could sneak out 45 or even 50 with the same staff. The combination of reporting and goals can give you a distinct advantage in getting more done with less. (They’re currently doing much less than that, as we’ve assigned some of them to other projects, but this is what they’re at when at “full production”)
Followup meetings with team leaders should be done at least once a month in addition to reports. There is something you just can’t get from reports — how your team “feels” about the work. If your team is virtual, make it a point to have a Skype conference call with video when possible. It’s nice to put a face to the names once in awhile and the non-verbal feedback is useful.
Lastly, how about you? What are you doing to organize your virtual assistants and do you have any tips to share?
Editor’s note: I just watched a great video from the guys over at Nobel Samurai on finding and hiring outsourcers. Something you need to look into before organizing your team, because the hiring process is also very important.