The world is a small place. I arrived in the Czech Republic three hours ago, and on the other side of customs there was a McDonalds. I caught a bus right near the Courtyard Marriott Hotel. And I passed a Shell gas station on my way into the city.
I’m on the other side of the planet, yet so much feels familiar. Ten or 15 years ago, only global brands or eccentric nomads had this kind of worldwide reach. Today, it’s so commonplace that where you live matters a lot less than what you can produce.
Smart companies and small business owners are leveraging specialists in multiple time zones. My bookkeeper is in the Pacific Northwest. My CPA is in Washington state. The guy that runs my website lives in California. I have virtual assistants in New York, a content marketer in Boston, and designers in the Philippines. My brand was made in Bangladesh, my recruiter lives in Florida, and my development team is a three hour train ride away in Ostrava, Czech Republic.
It’s quite the workforce to manage from my home base in Phoenix, but it’s easier than you think to hire and manage talent from around the world.
Here’s how to start.
Get Used to Delegating Tasks
If you’ve never outsourced anything before, you probably need some practice. The easiest way to start is with a virtual assistant service. I use FancyHands and GoButler, and I also used Zirtual under previous ownership. For little to nothing per month, you can get a crash course in delegation.
I’ve learned how important clear communication is, especially with language barriers. A few years ago I hired a team in Ukraine to make a website for me, and a simple translation issue added weeks of re-coding to the timeline.
When you send a request to a virtual assistant, they’ll often ask clarifying questions, or do things flat-out wrong. Through trial and error you’ll get really good at explaining things. For instance, “make me a reservation for dinner” might turn into “make me a reservation at an Italian restaurant within 5 minutes walking distance from the train station that has at least a 4-star rating, around 7pm”. You need to be specific to get the results you want, or else you won’t.
Build Trusted Relationships
Early on in my first business, I got ripped off wiring $600 to Pakistan for Lacoste polo shirts. I had them in every color because I loved the fit, and wanted some “without the alligator” for my business. So I sought out a factory on Alibaba that could produce the same shirts for me. Naively, I assumed Pakistan was a textile hub for Lacoste, and there went my money. Clearly, I didn’t have a trusted relationship.
The best way to find outsourced labor is through other people. Like a local referral, an overseas referral is worth its weight in gold. I was referred to my developers by a past client, who had several years of experience with them that translated into instant trust.
If you don’t have anyone in your circles outsourcing, check out Clarity.fm. You can search for experts in any field, set up a call, and ask them who they use for XYZ. Bet on reliable resources, and avoid getting scammed by an unchecked source.
Next to referrals, the best environment to build your outsourced global team is through a marketplace. Marketplaces such as Upwork (formerly Odesk), act as an intermediary layer between you and the person to help make sure the transaction goes smoothly.
For example, I used 99designs for a recent branding project. The process starts with you describing the job that you need done. Provide detailed examples and descriptions (see “Learn to Delegate” above). Then, dozens of people will submit designs (or proposals) for your consideration. 99Designs requires you to commit to your budget in advance, whereas other services, like Crew, let the individuals pitch you with their price.
Your money is typically held by the marketplace in escrow, and then released once the person delivers the project to your satisfaction. I’ve used Voices.com several times to hire recording artists for voicemail systems using this same process.
The downside to a marketplace is that continuing a relationship with the talent you find outside the marketplace is usually not allowed. Also, due to the marketplace fees, you will likely pay a bit more than the deal you could otherwise get. But, marketplaces are fantastic for limited engagements, or for building your virtual management skills.
Budget for a Subscription
There are certain areas of my business that I have a regular need for, but I don’t need a full-time or even part-time dedicated person. For these, enter “productized service” companies. Similar to Saas (software as a service), this type of engagement is a regular, budget-able subscription expense for your business. Normally they are month-to-month services, but you get a better deal if you commit to a year in full.
For my day-to-day graphic design needs, like the image on this blog, I use Design Pickle. They offer unlimited revisions and next day turnaround for a flat price, which is a great resource to have on hand for all the random design needs that pop up. I’m a longtime Bench subscriber for bookkeeping -- they allocate a key bookkeeper to be my point person, and support them with a team of data-hungry reconciliation masters.
Make a Virtual Hire
So you’ve found the perfect person, and now you want to bring them aboard. First, you should consult a lawyer, CPA or HR professional about the local, state and federal tax implications and laws regarding employees or contractors in other locations. But once you’re set up correctly, hiring full time people around the world has a lot of benefits.
First, you can offer coverage to your customers around the clock. Having employees on the other side of the world is the equivalent of adding an overnight shift at your office, and your customers will appreciate the fast response time.
Next, nothing beats the feeling of waking up to progress. My favorite emails of the day come from my developers around 7 or 8am, explaining everything they completed while I was sleeping.
With most time zones, you can overlap a piece of the day for a team meeting, so that everyone stays connected.
As long as you can keep them busy, happy, and competitively paid, the main challenge with full time virtual hires is finding them. So, I’m working with a virtual recruiter in Florida that specializes in posting jobs, vetting talent, and delivering pre-qualified prospects for me to interview.
Communicate Regularly and Effectively With Your Team
How do you stay in touch with people when they work around the world? These days, the same way you stay in touch with employees in your office. If you’re using a system like Trello or Asana for project management, adding virtual employees is a cinch. I use Slack with all of my teams, and check in a few times per day to answer questions and stay updated.
For screen sharing, I love Join.me, and for video meetings, Appear.in. But if I had a central office I’d be investing in Highfive. They sell an awesome little device that turns any TV into an HD video conferencing station.
Business Travel is Back
When I was young, my dad was on the road most weeknights. He had a corporate job, and traveling around the world was an expectation of doing business. With the rise of online meeting technology, business travel seemed irresponsible, and corporations pulled back on spending. Today, business travel is the luxury of the entrepreneur. By building and managing a global team, you have a legitimate reason to travel internationally. And the more you travel, the more you see, the more you experience, the more you can make connections, solve problems, and create an impact.
The best advice I can give someone is to invest in some kind of external support. Without the team and services that I’ve assembled, I wouldn’t be able to accomplish half of what I do.
Time to catch my train.
Chris Ronzio helps entrepreneurs organize chaos and get things done. For a limited time, download a free copy of his latest ebook, 100 Productivity Hacks to Improve Your Business, here.