Outsourcing: the world is your recruitment agency

Entrepreneurs are using Upwork, TopTal and Peopleperhour to outsource vital tasks

Holly Cardew, founder of Pixc: Has 16 people working for her, all over the world, at any one time, and all are outsourced. Photograph: Megan O’Malley

Holly Cardew, founder of Pixc: Has 16 people working for her, all over the world, at any one time, and all are outsourced. Photograph: Megan O’Malley


Every cash-strapped innovator and entrepreneur aspires to having a personal assistant to guide them through the daily chores.

As a small business owner you have to be an accountant, advisor, manager, event planner and PR co-ordinator rolled into one. There can be a lot of tasks to do every day, such as book-keeping, sourcing social media content and answering customer queries, and these can be very time-consuming. There is a solution, though: outsourcing.

All these tasks can be outsourced. Need some brochures to be designed and printed for an event? What about a new logo design? You can outsource all them too.

Pixc founder Holly Cardew has outsourced jobs to more than 200 people in 12 different countries over the last few years. Cardew’s business provides e-commerce stores with on-demand product images editing services. The online photo editing service improves product images by touching them up and removing the background.

For the business, Cardew has outsourced web development, graphic design, media relations, customer care and content writing to people in Sri Lanka, Serbia, Russia, Australia, Bangladesh, the US, Ukraine and Philippines, among other countries. She has even started outsourcing recruitment and human resources, so she no longer needs to put in the work finding people for particular jobs.

“I had done no book-keeping for six months and taxes were due. I went on Upwork and said I need someone to work 8-10 hours per day for the next three days to do my accounts. It cost $300 but it was worth it,” she says.

“I still have the same book-keeper, based in the Philippines. I set up a Gmail account for them and just forward all my receipts to that.”

‘Conserve cash’

“I now have a HR person and I outsourced her. She manages all the other outsourced people for me . . . It can be hard to outsource at times as you want to conserve cash. You just have to think of the other things you could be doing with your time, and how you could make more money by doing them.”

Cardew says there are a number of different websites where people can hire contractors, freelancers or virtual assistants and outsource work. These include Upwork, TopTal, Peopleperhour, 99 Designs, Thumbtack, Freelancer, Elance, Zirtual and Fancy Hands. She believes Upwork has the best user experience and a great range of virtual assistants globally.

Speaking at Blackbox Connect – a prestigious Silicon Valley immersion programme for international start-up founders, from which Cardew is a graduate – she said business owners wanting to get tasks done can simply post a job on one of these sites, with a description of what’s involved.

Cardew says the best virtual assistants are usually busy at work, and thus don’t tend to apply for jobs. As a result, you have to go through candidates and invite them to apply for roles. She suggests inviting 10-15, and others will also apply.

She sets a test for virtual assistants. In her job description she tells applicants to put a smiley face in the first line of their response, or solve a simple math sum. This is to see if they actually took the time to read the entire job description, and weed out people who apply to everything they see.

“I then arrange a Skype call with them. I want to see if they show up on time – if they can’t show up on time, they might not be able to do jobs on time. During the Skype interview I always ask them what they do in their free time to see if they are entrepreneurial.”

Cardew says pay rates for virtual assistants are negotiable, and that they usually put their rate higher so they have room to negotiate. She says good virtual assistant can be hired in Eastern Europe and Asia for $4-$7 per hour. If you are looking for someone in the US, it will cost $10-$25 per hour. The payments are taken out of the business owner’s account each week and paid into the virtual assistant’s account.

Cardew has 16 people working for her, all over the world at any one time, and all are outsourced. She gets each of them to do a daily report, outlining in three sentences what they did that day, what they are going to do the next day, and any issues they had.

“With outsourcing you learn very quickly whether someone is good or not. If you hire someone in person, it could be a month before you discover they’re not a good fit for the company, and that can become very costly.”

She says it’s important to create a sense of community among all the outsourced workers. She sets up Facebook groups and Slack groups, which she puts all of them into. “At the end of the day you’re competing with everyone else looking to hire them. You don’t want to make them feel like another cog in the wheel. Ask them about their families, send them a card on their birthday, do things like that.”

Outsource your work: Some sites to try

Upwork: Hire freelancers by the hour for jobs including grant applications, general translation, search engine optimisation, email marketing, illustration and data entry.

TopTal: This site screens everyone so you don’t have to. It has the top 3 per cent of developers and designers.

99 Designs: The world’s largest online marketplace for graphic design, including logo design and web design. Users can quickly and easily get lots of designs.

Growth Geeks: On-demand marketing people – the site connects start-ups and businesses to freelance marketing professionals.

Peopleperhour: A platform focusing on freelancing for web projects, such as web development, design, content and promotion.