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!

Process

OK, our process is not this bad, but you get the point!

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.

Training

Don’t forget to train as many people at once as possible. This will build team comradery and make things easier on you!

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:

  1. Describe – Describe with some detail the ultimate goal of the project, the purpose, and the roles of others that are involved in the process.
  2. Explain – Explain the specific tasks you’r expecting from the agent you’re working with and exactly how the task is to be performed.
  3. Show – Show the agent how to do it yourself first.  This will give the agent the best look at exactly how the work should be done and give them the opportunity to model you when it’s their turn.
  4. Practice/Observe – Let the agent work through the process now with you reviewing their work and helping them out along the way.  This allows you to quickly catch any mistakes and get them back on track.  If it’s going horribly wrong, revert to step 3 again and ask them what to do next before you perform each step.  (Note: This step is CRITICAL.  Many people stop at step 3 and don’t check back in for days/weeks/months.  If they’re performing the process badly, you’ll learn a rough lesson here.  Don’t worry….we’ve made this mistake before as well!)
  5. Feedback – Provide overall feeback on the work that they’ve done, tying it back to step 1 and 2 and how it applies in the overall picture of the project.
  6. Repeat – Have them repeat the process on their own and review when their work is completed.  As they get better at the process you can cut this back to reviewing once daily, then weekly, etc.

Division of Labor

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:

Team Leaders

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.

Reporting and Tracking

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.

Here’s an example of a report from our outsourcing business. The actual work done is not so relevant, please focus more on the numbers and use of the data.

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.



Make a living buying and selling websites
Sign up now to get our best tips, strategies, and case studies

Discussion

Leave a comment
  1. Jeff says:

    Excellent post! Thanks for all the great information. It’s very helpful. ~Jeff

  2. Alex says:

    thank you guys for documenting the process. it seems straightforward however many managers scared when hey hear “outsourcing”

    • JustinWCooke says:

      You’re right, Alex…outsourcing can seem like a “bad word” at times, heh. This is more aimed to the individual that’s looking to work and manage outsourcers overseas though, i think.

  3. Dean says:

    Nice post!

    Can you please tell me if it was very difficult to find the write person for website creation? And how much do you pay them? Hourly? Per site? And do you basically have 3-4 templates or style of look for each website depending on the niche? In other words, if it’s a product niche then does he simply choose template X or make it look like website Y?

    • Hey Dean glad you liked the post.

      The site creation and maintenance people were not hard to find, because it is a fairly straight forward process on our end. They merely need to setup WordPress (we have a script to help with this), add the domain to our hosting account, and connect everything to the DB. The last two steps are actually a lot easier than they sound and do not require someone who is very technical.

      We only use one theme right now — CTR Theme. In the past we have used ProSense-Blue.

      We own an outsourcing company (that’s our “day job”) and therefore have put everyone on the payroll on an hourly basis. Pay rate is typical for this area of the world, I’m sure you can find similar deals on oDesk.

  4. Dean says:

    Me again! :) That is really impressive how you guys can crank out 40 sites a week!

    Could you please tell me how your staff does their keyword research? I know this could be a separate post, if you haven’t already done so, but could you in a nutshell tell me how you come up with 40 keywords each week? Ie what programs do they use such as longtail pro, semrush, secockpit or other? What are your basic filtering parameters? Do you focus on mainly one type of niche, ie product ones etc?

    I’m trying to develop a process but seem to have a challenging time coming up with good keywords, let alone trying to come up with 40 keywords per week!

  5. aldovargas says:

    You are currectly on Industrial Mode!

  6. Javier says:

    Nice post Joe. I like your approach and organization, in particular the worker’s specialization method ala Mc Donald’s system.

    According to the spreadsheet, do you hire your workers per hour and not full time?

    If hiring full time, I’m wondering what do you do with agents that complete the tasks in less time that expected. Let’s imagine I have a full time employee that is in charge of setting up the sites. Setting up 40 WordPress sites takes way less than a full month working 8 hours per day. In this case, do you also assign activities from other areas to your employee, such as kw research? Or is not advisable for this model to mix different types of tasks?

    • You’re right very much like McDonald’s system.

      We hire full time, but pay hourly. We try not to over hire and therefore have more work to do than an agent could complete in any given day/week/month. We have tried paying per piece, but here in the Philippines it leads to resentment and inefficiency.

      However, if they only work 6 hours a day, they only get paid for 6 hours.

  7. Love it and this is very similar to what I do and my own experiences.. except I haven’t systemised keyword research (am in the process of making that process)

  8. Some great info here, thanks. This is a very good “reality check” for those folks in the MMO world who keep hearing all the BS about “just hire an outsource person from the Philippines and it’s all on autopilot after that.”
    f
    Well, it is NOT on autopilot, and if you are not a competent supervisor to begin with, the extra challenges o supervising folks 7.000 miles away who don’t share the same values is going to be very, very frustrating.

    You also have to have a very clear idea just what you want to outsource. Recently a fellow American wrote me and expressed anger as to how an outsourcing project turned out with someone from Cebu, Philippines.

    What did you ask for in the first place was my question.

    The response kind of floored me.

    I hired this fellow to find me an online business I could start so I could come live in the Philippines.

    Um, hello, in the first place no one else can really tell you what business you ought to be in and, most importantly, there are entrepreneurs and there are hourly workers. People happy with working “by the hour” are already demonstratably not interested in striking out on their own and often can’t even conceive of it, let alone set you up in a turnkey business.

    • JustinWCooke says:

      Dave,

      So funny you bring this up. While your story about the guy and his interest in finding a VA to whip a profitable business out of thin air sounds preposterous, it only takes a quick search on oDesk or eLance to find many, many other stories like that.

      For example, I saw a guy on oDesk looking for someone offshore to build him a successfully monetized AdSense website that makes $200 or more per month of passive income. For that, he was offering $200 post-pay, once the site was completed and proven! lol Who are these people?

  9. Dean says:

    RE: How do you prevent malicious code from wiping out all your sites?

    Just curious how you control from all your sites from being contaminated from malicious code. For example, your VA’s local computer unbeknownst to him gets a virus and
    contaminates his WordPress theme. He then uploads that to your server where all
    your other sites reside, and now all your sites get hit by the virus.

    I have had my who account hit by malicious code and took out the few sites that I had. Was a real pain to fix. Had to nuke my site and start over. Can imagine if I had 40 adsense sites producing nice income then suddenly get taken down.

    • JustinWCooke says:

      Hey Dean,

      This is really a better question for Joe to answer than I, but since he’s out right now I’ll tell you what I know. :-)

      I know that Joe ensures the computers used by our site creation agents are kept clean. All of our sites are on shared hosting and we have quite a few hosting accounts at this point, siloing our sites to hopefully prevent massive issues.

      The follow up question would then probably be, “Wouldn’t shared hosting leave you open to everyone ELSE on the server that might allow viruses?” I really couldn’t answer that…but Joe has mentioned it and it’s one of the reasons we split them up across quite a few shared hosting accounts.

    • The real secret is a fresh install on every site that i know is clean and goes directly from DropBox to the server. Don’t use cloning software, just add the plugins to the WP zip file and unzip everything on the server.

      As Justin said, siloing is another security feature we use, or splitting the sites up on multiple servers.

      Lastly keep the number of theme and plugins to a minimum and don’t use anything not approved and available at WordPress.org.

      If you follow these points, it would be extremely rare to have an infected site.

  10. Best free information I’ve seen on the subject!

  11. Kent Chow says:

    Joseph, great details here. I did some fiverr and outsourcing the article writing with ghost-writers. I think the key is to provide “detailed” requirement and great feedbacks.

    I hope I could make some cash and hire a full time VA one-day. This guide becomes very handy. Thanks!

  12. You have done a good job by sharing this post with us.Keep it up.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

Have a site to sell?

Sell Your Site