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Small Business Outsourcing using Online Freelance Marketplaces

7 September, 2011
8 min
Small Business Outsourcing Tips

While the UK is a fantastic place to live, it can be really bloody expensive!  It’s not just consumer products that exhibit inflated price tags but business services too.  I live in Jersey, an island built on money from the finance industry and the companies servicing the banks and trust companies rightly demand big bucks themselves.  Small businesses often receive sub-standard service as providers concentrate their efforts on larger clients.  This inequality was the premise for founding Blue Llama; a small business for small businesses!  …But enough of the sales spiel.

Freelance Marketplace Websites

Is there a way to circumvent the local expensive providers but still receive a good service?  Well, in my experience yes… and no.  Until recently the word outsourcing was mainly used by big companies but as the Internet has developed, new service marketplaces have arisen where small businesses can find individual freelancers in all sorts of fields from press release writing to phone answering via graphic design and of course web development.

These marketplaces, such as and oDesk, are like a hybrid of eBay and a dating website but for businesses!  You create a brief project scope, say for example to create a new logo for your company.  You categorise the project, the skills required and a rough of what you are willing to pay.  Once released into the ethos, various professionals (and some nonprofessionals) start bidding on your project touting their skills, experience and low, low prices.

Caution Required!

For the newbie, you might be forgiven for thinking that all your Christmases have come at once:

“Amit from Bangalore can create me a full e-commerce website, he’s worked for Saatchi & Saatchi and he’ll only charge $100!” 

Unfortunately you have to take many of the bids with a large pinch of salt and you will experience bad providers. However, once you fathom out how to separate the wheat from the chaff there are some serious gems out there.  If you think about it, it makes sense for skilled people in developing countries to sell their services directly to those in the developed world, by cutting out the middle man they can make more money than being employed locally.

My experiences have been mixed but with perseverance and the patience to develop an understanding of what works and what doesn’t, these sites can be hugely beneficial to businesses on a tight budget.  From the fifty plus projects I have undertaken, I’ve found that data entry, article writing and simple coding work tends to very successfully, where as less fruitful projects have involved graphic design and creation of complete websites from scratch.  One very successful project was to take 400 poor quality product images and enhance them in Photoshop and add white backgrounds.  A local photographer quoted £1600 and a two week turnaround, but they were completed in Mumbai within five days and a cost of $120.

Some Tips for using Freelance Websites

Here are a few things I’ve learnt along the way, that might be useful to those new at small business outsourcing:

1.  Break big projects into smaller components and outsource these individually or retain the bits that you can do most successfully yourself.

2.  Use reviews from the bidders past clients as a major part in selecting the winning bidder.  They can promise you the world but others will be more realistic of their capabilities.

3.  Never go for a provider with less than 10 reviews.  Sounds harsh to avoid the newbies but you don’t want to be the one to risk it.

4.  Once you find a great provider build a relationship with them.

5.  Test potential bidders with relevant questions specific to how they would undertake your project.

6.  Make sure the bidder can communicate well in English.  Seems obvious but with complex requirements you don’t want them to misunderstand you.

7.  Avoid generic (copy and paste) responses to your bids.  If they can’t put in the effort to bid properly then they are unlikely to do the project well either.

8.  Write a concise project description but back this up with a more detailed specification document that has adequate content for some one to quote on.

9.  Search for the top providers in the specialist area you require and invite them to bid on your project.

10.  Be realistic with your expectations.

11.  Start with a very small experimental project so you get to grips with how things work.

Need help?

There is a great deal to be gained from outsourcing some types of work to international professionals but it takes time and patience to learn the ropes and understand how to get results.  If you think you have something that could be effectively handled outside the UK but need help with finding the right individuals then get in contact with Blue Llama for some assistance in managing your outsourcing needs.

Small Business Outsourcing Websites: Freelancer.comElanceODeskGuruPeoplePerHour

Further reading: How to use the Top Outsourcing Websites  |  Expanding your staff with Outsourcing Websites

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Phil de Gruchy

Phil is the owner of Blue Llama, a digital agency in Jersey, Channel Islands. He has worked in digital for most of his career and has a wide knowledge of UX, web and app design and digital marketing.