Part 2 – The Principles and Processes of Hiring Virtual Teams

Developing Your Personal “A-Team”

In section one we laid a lot of foundation. Now it’s time to start focusing on some specifics regarding your hiring processes. But first, I want to take minute to introduce you to the overall goal of hiring virtual teams. Why you are doing all this, what your team looks like after a few months of focus, and some general theories.

12 months from today, I want you to have developed an “A-team” of around 7 -10 contractors that you trust with your life (or your business). These are people that you’ve been through thick and thin with and you’ve enriched their lives in more ways than one.

You know their family members by name, important dates in their lives, their religious beliefs. You follow them on twitter, they follow you. You respect them, and they respect you. These are the kind of relationships you need in business. The below is from one of my trusted team members named Babar. He is in Islamabad, Pakistan and I am in Indianapolis, IN.

birthday

Now moving from the “culture” side of your team to the “strategy side” I want to give you some high level items to keep in mind. These are opinions, but these are the principles I have found to work for me.

  • I believe the best and most efficient way to build your business is to get contractors and not full time employees. This is because you generally pay for what you get and there is more accountability built in. I also find it to be much less stressful. You can scale it up and scale it down.
  • You want to have one or two trusted people in every function of your business. They need to be trained and ready to hop into your systems whenever you want. This allows you to cover when someone leaves or simply goes on vacation. It also allows you to shoot a quick email out to one of your people for example if you need an info-graphic produced.
  • I am a big proponent of “part-time” work. It’s good for everyone and allows your team to be extremely flexible. An example would be having people in different parts of the world answering support questions. Give me a team of one support rep in the US for 4 hours a day, and one support rep in the Philippines for 4 hours a day over a single person any day of the week. So much more flexible.

This is an ongoing process… and you have to really work at building your team. But once you have your team, and if you are following these high-level principles above, you should end up with a team that has the following qualities.

  • Flexible
  • Fast
  • Full of “A-Players”
  • Diverse in skill sets

Of course it depends on your business model, but here’s what my team looks like currently

  • Two individual writers and two large writing teams
    • Blog posts
    • Social media
    • One copywriter
      • This is a much different skill set than research based writing
  • Four Video producers
    • One for long form instructional video
    • Three for web based videos
  • Three marketers
    • PPC
    • Email marketing
    • SEO
  • Two graphic designers
    • Infographics, logos, layouts
    • Web design and CSS
  • Five programmers
    • PHP
    • Ruby on Rails
    • Perl
    • MySQL
  • Three utility players
    • These are my “jack of all trades” people. They can pick up just about any task that doesn’t require hard core programming or design. This section is listed last, but really I rely on them more than anyone else in the org.
  • Four support agents

It’s very important to test a potential employee / contractor out before getting them too involved in your business or becoming too reliant on them. You should give them a good 3-4 week test to fully understand their personality and work ethic before really starting to “plan” your business around them.

You can of course have them working on projects that move your business forward, but just make sure that they are not a “integral” part of these projects until they have been fully tested.

This is because in the world of outsourcing there is a good chance they will not fit the bill no matter how well they interview or pass the first few steps of your process. This is important when deciding on a partner as well. Never decide on a partner before working with them for at least a few months.

This is the worst thing that you can do, as they are the person that you will rely on most. It can cause all kinds of issues when one partner is willing to work more than the other, one partner has more projects than the other, etc…We’ll get into more specifics on the tactical ways to do this in the coming chapters.

Posting a Job

Posting a job on the freelancing sites is a pretty simple process, but there are a few rules to follow when posting on freelancing sites. First off, don’t post the specs to your entire project because there are people that just scan elance, odesk, etc.. on a daily basis looking for projects to steal.

Instead, focus on posting a general description of what you want to build with your required coding languages. Specific descriptions are very important because they do three things.

First, they keep some of the under-qualified contractors from applying because they show right away that you are someone who knows what they are doing and not easily scammed or taken advantage of.

Second, they force you to think through the project in advance. There are tons of requirements that come out during this phase usually.

Third, they allow the applicants to give you a more accurate bid.

A sample post that I would make on Elance

“We are developing a custom real estate website that will focus on lead generation and SEO. Applicants will need to be able to plug into the IDX framework. The API documentation for IDX is here – <<<<link to IDX>>>

The design for the site has been completed and can be found here – <<<link to image that shows the design>>

Requirements:

  • PHPminor design knowlodge
  • mySQLwordpress plugin customization

Plusses:

experience with IDX or related real estate listing site

Please include relevant experience with your application. Those that do not include experience will not be considered.”

Now that job listing is nothing special, but it is specific. They can pull from it that IDX is a large requirement, and in the interview I’ll want to know about their experience with it and at the very least, I would want to hear that they looked at the API documentation and they are confident with the programming.

Notice that the design and the programming are two different projects. This will save a lot of money in the end. Also notice that there is not a lot of fluff here about the company, and how great we are, and how much fun we are going to have on the project. It cuts right to the chase and lays out the requirements, and tells them what I expect in the next phase (to get back with me regarding their experience).

Weeding Through

virtual team selectionAnyone that has posted a job on Elance, odesk, freelancer, etc…understands how many applicants come with each job listing that you put out. Depending on the type of job you list and the keywords you use, you could expect to get anywhere from 5 to 200 applicants (large range I know).

It’s to the point now where I can post a job that may get 70 applicants and I can weed through these applicants in a matter of minutes. Here’s my process:

Wait at least 24 hours. This is so you can weed through all applicants at once, instead of multiple sittings.

Know your budget. You don’t have to clearly state the budget in the job description (I prefer to be as vague as possible here), but you should have a good idea if you are looking to spend $2 an hour, $20 an hour or $200 an hour. There’s that large of a range, seriously… So anyone above or below (below is just as important as above) simply decline. Don’t even look at their application.

Filter by Geography. This one is a little bit tougher and it’s up to your personal preference. It’s up to you, but I usually use this as a filter. Example, is that if I am looking for an editor for this book, I’m looking for someone in the U.K., U.S., or Australia… Period.

Once, you have finished cutting applications by the above criteria, then you start actually reading the cover letters or application.

Read the cover letters. Now at this point, you’ve probably narrowed the applications by at least 75%. Start reading the cover letters, and if they address you as “Dear Buyer”, or if you can tell they are just spitting out these cover letters in mass, then just decline them. I won’t hire someone unless they’ve done two things in the cover letter. First, they need to have followed directions and discussed their exact experience with me. Second, they need to have looked at my project and addressed it. I’m not dealing with someone that just throws out the same application to every potential employer. Not the type of care and determination that I need in my organization. And no, they don’t get a second chance. Decline.

Send the remaining applicants a message and get the ball rolling. Once you send the message, you are looking for response time, communication skills, willingness to discuss the project, etc… I’m looking for someone to give first, and then receive. This means that I am expecting some time up front, and I want them to invest in helping me plan the project via messages. In general I send them a message, saying “Hey Name, Nice to meet you. My name is Dave, and I will be leading the project. Your app looks great, thanks for sending. Would you mind describing what your very high level plan of execution would be for this project?” – Now, if you send that you are going to be separating the winners from the losers really fast.

Assigning Test Tasks

So you’ve got your job posted, now it’s time to hire some contractors and make some progress… Finally! Most entrepreneurs have a long list of things that they just haven’t had time to do in the past. This is where you’re going to put it to use.

Remember that logo that you’ve been meaning to do, the article you’ve been meaning to write, or the million other things that are in your “plans”? Ok, go get it, we’re going to knock some of that out right now.

If you are hiring for a design project, then obviously your test task needs to be design related and if you are hiring a writer you should grab a task that is writing related. But it doesn’t need to be for the same site. It doesn’t even need to be for the same organization.

What you’re looking to do here is to find an item on your to-do list and give it to the outsourcer. And here’s the thing… give them very limited guidance here because you’re testing for more than their skills.

  • Their ability to ask the right questions
  • Their ability to solve problems
  • Their communication skills
  • Their skill set
  • Their speed

What is the first job description supposed to look like

In the first job description, you want to be very specific as we covered earlier, but here you want to be rather vague because it will help you get to know the personality of the person better. Remember, the whole point of this is to find someone that you are going to place on your A-team.

I am very up front with individuals when it comes to the test task. I tell them exactly what’s going on. I send them a message that says this, “I would like to bring you on board for a simple test task. I want to give you a few hours of work to see the quality of your work.

Trust me, if this goes well, I have a lot of work in this area. I just want to make sure that we are going to work together well first. This will be a paid test, are you ok with that?” In general, everyone is fine with that and you’ll have an item knocked off your to-do list in a few hours.

But how much management did they require? Are their skills up to par? Were they a pleasure to work with? Is this someone that is going to lower your stress levels?

These are the questions that you are going to ask yourself as you work with this person. If you get a product that you don’t like, then this is not your contractor. Remember that you are hiring two or three contractors. So you’re going to have choices.

If this all seems like a lot of work… it is… This is where you’re putting in your time. You are investing your time up front in order to find someone that will help you for years to come. It’s a relationship you are developing.

Fire Fast

Even if a contractor passes all of the above “tests”, there is a good chance that they still won’t make it to your A-team. The reason is usually because they just flake out for some reason before they get there. I’ve had several people get very close, and then you start to get emails about how they are sick, or they have a baby, or similar. Usually it’s some kind of a personal reason. There are a few other reasons why you’d need to let someone go.

Dishonesty – Just because someone is sick is obviously not a reason to fire them, but if you start to feel that they are sick for a convenience factor on their end, it’s generally time to pull the plug. Full transparency is required. If you get the sense that they are not being honest with you, you don’t need to put up with you. Remember, we are talking about an “A-team” here. A players don’t lie, they don’t have a reason to.

Lack of focus – If you start to see someone’s work slip because maybe they are taking other work, spread too thin, or something else has changed in their life, it’s ok to move on. If you have a solid backup plan, and multiple contractors trained to do the work you require, it will be ok. Go ahead and move on… Because if this happens once, it’s probably going to happen again, and again.

You made a bad decision – No one is perfect and sometimes you flat out make a bad decision. Don’t get down on yourself, and don’t try to “figure it out”. Instead chalk it up to a simple bad decision and move on.

The point here is that it’s ok to move on. If you’ve got a backup, the work will continue to get done, and you are free to find a new contractor. Expect nothing but the best. You are not running a charity, you are running a business. Your goal is to develop the best team possible. It’s not a big deal to let someone go and find a replacement. It happens every day.

The worst thing that you can do is to let things drag on because by letting them drag on you are putting your projects at risk and slowing them down. The faster you let the problem contractor go the better. There’s never been a single time that I have regretted this after the fact.

Hiring Virtual Teams Based on Constraints

Here’s a quick exercise: For two days, write down everything you do for your company. Whether it’s checking emails, phone calls, working the books, marketing, selling, or writing code…write it down. If you don’t want to write them down, you can get Hubstaff to do this for you automatically. Record every half an hour in a journal using general terms. Here’s an example below.

8:00 – 8:30 – Started off the day by answering emails and clearing my inbox and organizing calendar

8:30 – 9:00 – Commented on Basecamp tasks for my developers and asking questions on progress

9:00 – 9:30 – Met with sales team

Do this for two days straight and at the end of those two days, evaluate it. It’s very telling to go through this process. You will learn so much about how your time is spent.

Matching up the results

Now match up how you actually spend your time versus what your core competency is. We’ll go more into strengths in the next chapter but in general you need to identify the few items that you are very good at and/or enjoy doing for your business. The items that you dislike or are not good at, you should look to hire them out.

So look at your list of items that you did for that 48 hour timeframe. What can you do in order to make this list more congruent with your skills? Can you offload some of this work that doesn’t match your core? Do you see that you are doing low dollar per hour activities? Are you doing things that you actually aren’t good at? If you were going to hire an employee to take this work off your plate so that you could focus on your core competency, what skills would they need?

That’s the most important question right there, so I’ll repeat it… If you were going to hire an employee to take this work off your plate so that you could focus on your core competency, what skills would they need? This should become your job description, or at least part of it.

Just take the first step. Put that job description out on Craigslist or elance. See what comes back. Later I’ll get into evaluating your people and making the right hires, but for now just design that job description and get it out there.

Pay in Arrears

The general accepted format for paying a contractor is in arrears. This means that you as the business will pay AFTER the work is done. I’ve been swindled for over $10,000 before. The thing is that these thieves are VERY smart. They will talk a big game, talk about how busy they are and how the job is so easy they’ll have it done in no time. Here’s a list of scenarios that I have personally been through.

Asking for a retainer – The contractor will usually ask for a few thousand dollars as a fully refundable deposit for security. what that really means in many cases, is that I’m going to cash your check, and then I’ll just take my time getting back to you.

Pre-payment – I was having some golf articles written back in 2005. The contractor said that he needed pre-payment or else he wouldn’t write the articles. He had so much other work going on that he just can’t do it without pre-payment. I pre-paid in my naive state at 25 years old. I paid him $2,000 and he never wrote the articles. I followed up 5-6 times. He said he fell and hit his head while jogging and couldn’t write because he couldn’t look at the computer screen.

Good contractors have absolutely no problem with being paid in arrears. It’s the industry standard. I should say here that it DOES go both ways. I’m sure there are a ton of companies who just do mean things to their contractors (like get a bunch of work and don’t pay). I am assuming that you are not one of those people. Pay your debts because karma is real…

But this book is not about that side of the coin. If you really like a specific contractor and they are demanding that payment is up front, then you need to use escrow.com or something similar. I am not kidding in the least.

There are some bad people out there, that are just looking to steal your money, extort, scam, whatever you want to call it. Protect yourself or you will be taken sooner or later. I’ve personally been taken for over 40k. I’ve learned my lesson at this point. Pay only after the work has been completed.

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