By Bryan Orr

We have used outsourced / contract help for web development, marketing, design and a few other things in our business since about 2010. There have been some great projects and some that I wish I could do over. Here are my top six tips for making smarter small business outsourcing decisions.

1. Use One Platform

There are many good platforms and services that allow you to easily create job descriptions and hire contract help. I don’t endorse any service in particular, but I do use just because it is the largest platform ensuring that we have the largest  pool of potential workers. Once you choose a platform that works for you I would suggest sticking with it, otherwise you run the risk of getting pulled in too many directions trying to manage different interfaces. At one point I was using Elance, Odesk, Guru and Fiverr all at once… too much. Now I’m all on Upwork (after the Odesk / Elance merger) and it is much smoother.

2. Take Time for Clarity

What exactly — like step by step — do you want this person to do? What skills do they need? And how will they report time and submit work for review? Get a clear description in your mind, then put it on paper, and even better, record a screen capture (Jing is a great software for this) or explainer video of the type of thing you are looking for. Nothing is better than examples if you want a website built; when there is another site(s) you like, compile the links with a list of what you like and don’t like about them. This will automatically help applicants sort themselves out if they don’t do quality work, and will interest quality focused people if they see a description that has some clarity.

3. Look for Specialists

Outsourcing works much better if you hire specialists instead of those with general skills. If you have 20 things on your plate you would like to outsource, you are better off breaking them up into specialty groups and hiring four freelancers at 10 hours per week than hiring one at 40 hours per week and expecting them to be a Jack of All Trades. When you hire for specific skills the workers will feel more confident and have more clarity about what you require and expect.

4. Don’t be a Cheapskate

Many people are attracted to outsourcing to save money by leveraging cheap, offshore labor. Beware. Sure, sometimes you may find someone qualified and great from another country to help out, that’s good, but don’t allow a low hourly rate to entice you to hire someone under qualified, it will only lead to long term heartache. If an hourly rate looks too good to be true, it probably is. Many freelancers leverage multiple accounts and work for and bill multiple clients simultaneously; in essence, making double or triple the rate they are charging by diluting their time. The only way to avoid this is to hire qualified help at a reasonable rate and check their work regularly.

5. Test for Detail

When I write a job description I will include text right in the middle of the description that says something akin to:  When responding to this job, please start your cover letter with the phrase: “I am well qualified for this job because…..”. If they are an attentive, detail oriented applicant they will catch it, if not, I usually move on.

Another trick we use is asking them to describe the services offered by our company by only providing them the company name. This not only displays their resourcefulness in research, but also their ability to contextualize and summarize basic information.

6. Be Careful

There are many legal pitfalls you can run into when hiring contract workers. Make sure to have them sign a subcontractor agreement that clarifies that they are working as a subcontractor and not as an employee. A nondisclosure, intellectual property and arbitration agreement  may also make sense. Consult a qualified attorney before making any major decisions and always follow IRS and Department of Labor regulations.

Using outside help can be a big relief… or a big headache depending on how you do it and the preparation you take beforehand.