How to Get the Most Value Out of a Virtual Workforce

oDesk Freelancers
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oDesk Freelancers

oDesk Freelancers (Photo credit: thumbbook)

When you decide to launch an online business from home, keep in mind that many of your competitors will be young, well-funded and very Internet savvy, according to two recent articles in Forbes.  You can't do anything about your age and can't immediately do anything about your financial resources, but you can outsmart competitors with your knowledge of the evolving Internet marketplaces.

Some 11.8 million Millennials -- people age 18-30 -- in the United States have annual incomes of more than $100,000, according to the Ipsos Mendelsohn Affluent Survey reported.  Some 34 percent of Millennials grew up wealthy, according to an article by Larissa Faw in the Oct. 2 issue of Forbes.

Virtual Workers

And a good number of those Millennials -- 41 percent -- have the same idea as you:  they've started a business or expect to do so, according to a 2011 study by the research network Affluence Collaborative.  The rate of entrepreneurship among Millennials is 10 percent higher than that of the general population, according to Gary Stuart, the CEO of oDesk and guest writer for Forbes. .

These young entrepreneurs are good at making money from Internet businesses at least, in part, because they spend very little in traditional business areas such as employing office workers.  They keep their start-up costs low by hiring virtual workers.  And they will continue to maintain virtual workforces even as their businesses grow.  Stuart says that 57 percent of Millennials plan to double their spending on online workers in 2013.

This is one area in which you can compete against any online entrepreneur.  Online marketplaces such as oDesk, Guru and Elance make it possible for you to quickly and inexpensively find contract workers to help you with just about everything to get your Internet business started and running smoothly.

You (sort of) Get What You Pay For

Using virtual workers makes it possible for you to control the cost of talent -- you pay freelancers for work performed, not for idle time wasted chatting around the office water cooler -- and you can terminate relationships with contractors at any time.

On the other hand, it's harder to control delivery time and quality.

Here are three tips on how to get the most out of virtual workers to ensure that you get top value for the money you spend.

1.  Understand the marketplace.

oDesk has the largest and most diverse pool of virtual workers.  It offers unmatched potential for hiring cheap labor -- some candidates will work for less than $1 an hour.  Guru has a much smaller pool of generally more experienced workers, some of whom charge more than $100 per hour.  Elance falls between the two both in terms of expertise and price.

Don't be overly eager or overly resistant to retaining low-cost labor.  Check out the candidate's credentials, track record and reviews as if you were paying top dollar.  If you can find someone to send out your emails for a penny per message instead of $1, you've found a great bargain assuming you have a system in place for verifying that work gets done.

But, if you need someone to write sales copy for an app you're selling to doctors or lawyers, consider quality before price.  The cheapest content could prove expensive if it annoys or confuses your target market.

2.  Ask a Lot of Questions

If bids for your proposed project vary wildly, find out why.  Let's say you want to hire someone to increase your Facebook fan base.  If someone bids $10 per 1,000 fans and someone else bids 10 times that much, take this as a warning sign.  The cheap bidder may have a huge social network that makes it possible for him to underbid other freelancers.  Or he may use spam tactics that will prompt Facebook to impose sanctions against your company.

3.  Manage Your Project

If you want your work completed in a month, don't wait until the 28th day to check on your contractor's progress. Keep in regular contact and, even better,  create milestones that keep your contractor on target.

If a milestone arrangement doesn't give you enough peace of mind, hire a contractor on an hourly basis from a virtual workforce company that has a system in place to make certain that a worker is doing work for you -- and only you -- during the time allotted for your project.  At oDesk, for example, freelancers sign into a system that takes screenshots of their activity and limits the time spent on a project to those you stipulate each day.

Creating an online team helps you keep start-up costs low and gives you flexibility in managing your labor budget.  Do your homework and keep in contact with freelance workers so that your virtual workforce doesn't turn into a real headache.

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