As a small business owner, you can often find that little niggly jobs take up more time than they should, or that certain skill sets are beyond your reach, such as setting up a website or designing an eye catching logo. Increasingly companies both large and small are turning to outsourcing to take care of areas such as social media management, diary management, website tweaks and all manner of projects.
But, if you own a small business with limited financial resources, large agencies may be well outside of your budget, and won't necessarily deliver the return on investment (or time) that you are hoping for, and that's where freelance websites, such as PeoplePerHour, or Upwork have really grown in prominence.
With people offering to do work from as low as £6 per hour it can seem an ideal way to source someone to take care of those jobs that you either don't want to, or cannot do yourself, but, what is it really like outsourcing to a freelancer? Will the quality of the work be good enough? What are the risks?
The Small Biz Expert spoke to some business owners to find out, and address the typical concerns of anyone looking to hire freelancers online.
Working with overseas freelancers
With rising wages for knowledge and technical workers in the UK, Central Europe and the USA, it can seem like a 'no-brainer' to turn to areas where these skills are in supply for a much cheaper price. But are issues such as the language and time barriers something that you can manage?
Athina Bluff of Topology London, a virtual design and interior company, prefers to use UK suppliers. She says 'I started off using people overseas as it’s cheaper, but soon realised that the language barrier when you’re trying to explain some jobs is a real hindrance in getting the job done efficiently and quickly. I’ve now just started sticking to people in the UK and it makes things a lot easier.'
However, it may very well depend on the type of work you require.
For example Jack Oughton, who runs copywriting agency Demysticism.co states, 'I use suppliers overseas as my needs are purely technical (namely site development and a little design work). This is the kind of work that doesn't require native English, consequentially can work out to be cheaper.'
Louisa, founder of Trendlistr, online marketplace for curated vintage clothing and accessories agrees, 'I have had several good experiences with People Per Hour. The system is very secure and the review system means that few 'incompetent' freelancers slip through the net. The developers I hired (and I worked with several) were generally all skilled with an understanding of what needed to be done in spite of certain language barriers'
However, if you are looking for say, product descriptions, or a well written blog piece, you may want to use someone who speaks English as their first language - colloquialisms do not translate well!
Also, take into account time differences - when and how often are you going to need to speak to your supplier. Are you happy briefing over Skype or are you more interested in seeing 'the whites of their eyes'?
You get what you pay for!
You know the old saying, 'If something seems too good to be true then it probably is?' That definitely still applies when hiring freelancers!
As Athina's experience shows 'I hired someone from India to load some products on my website for cheap and, despite my instructions, they uploaded them all wrong. I went a whole day having lots of products, prices and information incorrectly listed on my site which was quite stressful as, despite having paid money for his service to upload them (to save me time), I had to rectify all the errors myself which took quite some time. Never again!'
Louisa says 'I used people who were overseas, but with fair wages. There were developers on the website who were charging less than minimum wage for their time, and this didn't sit well with me, so I paid what I would call a fair but still very reasonable rate of 30 USD per hour. The system is very secure and the review system means that few 'incompetent' freelancers slip through the net. The developers I hired (and I worked with several) were generally all skilled with an understanding of what needed to be done in spite of certain language barriers'
Using freelancers is all about the brief!
Jack Oughton says, 'Like anything in life, give a clear, well defined brief with what you want the freelancer to do and when you want it done. A lot of issues come from ambiguity in the brief. As a guy who has received various value briefs myself, I try to put myself into the head of who I am sending it to. I guess as a communications professional, if I can’t communicate very clearly I am not doing my job very well!'
Louisa agrees 'The bad experiences I had were more down to my own knowledge gaps than theirs. Because hiring overseas means that there are certain communication issues at times (for example, the aforementioned language barrier), my lack of technical understanding quickly caught up with me. I would recommend for anyone considering using a site like People Per Hour or Upwork that they have a clear technical spec created for them in advance of hiring freelancers, to ensure that what is expected of both parties is clear from the offset.'
As Jack says 'If you’ve ever done any project management, or are used to briefing and commissioning people, it’s not too different from that really - you just have to use the site’s interface to do it, instead of your mail client. I guess you could brief people by phonemail but all the project milestones (i.e points at which things are deliverable and that you release funds) are usually handled by the freelance site.'
Would business owners reccomend using freelance sites?
It seems that, with a little caution, and a proper brief, the overwhelming answer is yes!
When asked if she would use People per Hour again, Athina enthuses 'Yes! I use people per hour a lot - probably a few times a month. I like the fact that I can have a quick fix on my website done within the hour for a tenner - it’s really handy. I always ensure the person gives me instructions to on how to rectify the issue in the future as well. It's definitely worth a try if you're a small business owner!'
Louisa is just as keen, 'I would use People Per Hour again and I would even trust its freelancers with the inner workings of my website. I would emphasise that anyone looking to use this type of site solidifies their technical knowledge first, so that they are better able to make use of the hours paid for and communicate in a way that is clear, efficient and ideal for all parties to understand. Make the most use of people's portfolios and make sure they have a few examples of work that they can show you to demonstrate their ability. Finally, resist the urge to pay the rock bottom prices for coders overseas - as I soon found out, paying a mid range cost gave me extremely talented freelancers at a rate that couldn't be beaten in my home country, but with a solid portfolio of past work and strong English language skills that saved me a lot of hassle in the long run!'
So, in summary, should you use freelancers to assist you with your business and it's needs. It seems that, if you do your homework, expect to pay a fair price, and are prepared to put work into your brief, the overwhelming feedback is YES!
With thanks to our contributors (and small biz heroes!)
Don't forget before you look to a freelance site - why not get in touch! I'm UK based and can offer advice on a range of subjects to get your business up and running! I can even give you help with briefing overseas freelancers!