Over the past few six months, we've been making a few additions to our team at Get Invited, but we've been doing things a little differently.
In the past, we'd ventured down the traditional route of hiring full-time employees at our office in Belfast, but now we've decided to outsource a remote team based across Europe and the US.
I first came across this idea a few years ago while reading the Four Hour Work Week and how Tim Ferris successfully ran his $40k/mo business by outsourcing virtually everything.
It sounded a bit unconventional, which was the perfect motivation for me to try it.
Below are my thoughts on outsourcing a remote team, and how this compares to hiring local, full-time employees.
What is Outsourcing and Remote Working?
Outsourcing essentially means that you hire consultants to manage certain aspects of your business, removing the need to have employees do this.
You can outsource to a traditional agency or to freelance consultants. I find the latter works better because consultants are serving a smaller client base and are more focused on your business, as opposed to an agency who may be serving hundreds of clients.
Remote working then, is hiring consultants who work from anywhere in the world. They could be based in another city, or perhaps they travel around or maybe they work in the same city as you.
Should You Outsource?
It totally depends on your business model and your own preferences, Get Invited is an internet business that doesn't require anyone to be in a fixed location, so it works perfectly for us. This obviously won't be the case for everyone.
You also have to ask yourself if you're comfortable with someone you've never met, who lives on the other side of the world, working on your business.
My own personal opinion, is that you should outsource everything to people that can do it better than you, if you can, with one exception – you can't outsource core business functions.
We're a product-centric business, so we don't outsource any product development, but I'm probably in the rare position as a CEO that I can design products, and I have a CTO co-founder.
If your entire business is reliant on your software product, then you need someone who can drop everything at a moments notice to fix a problem. You don't want to be calling an outsourced programmer halfway across the world at 3am to ask them to fix a piece of code that keeps taking your server down.
It's also a good idea to try as many roles as you can yourself before outsourcing, so you have a basic idea of what you're looking for. For months, I was handling the marketing at Get Invited, I certainly wasn't great at it – but it was a good learning experience before we outsourced it to a team who know what they're doing.
Outsourcing V Employees
From experience of doing both, there are pros and cons to each approach.
When you hire a full-time team based in a fixed location, you've got people who are fully committed and on-demand to tackle any problems there and then.
You can also get to know people a lot better and it's easier to build culture when you're all working in the same room everyday.
The downside is the huge overheads and responsibility that comes with this. Our annual payroll was six figures; with outsourcing, our team costs significantly less.
For me personally, the responsibility of taking on staff is too stressful and I'm not good at managing people.
When you have people on your payroll, it's your job to make sure you can pay them every month and that's a lot of responsibility when you consider that people have rent/mortgages and children to feed.
With outsourcing, you don't really need to worry about this as the people you're hiring are running their own businesses with multiple clients and income sources, so if you can't afford to pay them one month, it's less of an issue to postpone the work (provided you tell them in advance so they can hold off on doing the work for you).
If you try and do this with someone on your payroll, you'll end up in court.
You also have to manage a team of employees, where as a team of outsourced workers tend to manage themselves.
You will have less flexibility around working hours with a fixed team too. Even though we tried to build a flexible culture with employees, everyone always ended up working similar hours, the upside was that we always had great banter in the office and work was lots of fun.
However, now my priorities in life have changed. I don't want to be in the same place, at the same time every day. I'm travelling all over the world, so remote workers give me the flexibility I need.
I don't even know what hours any of team actually work, they're all based in different countries and timezones, everyone just works whenever they want which is the most efficient form of working anyway, in my opinion.
Communication & Culture
The downside to outsourcing is of course the lack of face-to-face communication and relationship-building. I've never even met some of the people I now work with in person.
You don't have the same level of office banter but that doesn't mean it has to be a cold experience either.
Skype, Slack & Facebook are essential tools for regular communication and it's important that you make the effort to talk about things other than work/business so you can get to know the people you're working with as you would a traditional team member.
We've been really fortunate that all the people we're working with are really cool, interesting people and easy to get on with. I've had some very business-only relationships in the past and it can feel a little uncomfortable and sterile.
It's actually a bit easier when you're outsourcing because you don't have that strange employer-employee barrier between you.
When I was in Koh Samui in August, I had a Skype call with Niall, who manages Get Invited's finances. Niall has been doing something similar to me and moved to Portugal with his family to set up a location-independent business. The two of us were sitting on Skype in the tropical sunshine, sipping a beer and talking about business from opposite sides of the world, which for me, is a really cool way to run your "office".
Experience & Cross-Collaboration
If you hire people who specialise in a specific sector and have worked with a range of clients over the past 5+ years, you're going to be able to avail of a diverse range of knowledge and experience that a hired employee who has worked in one company for the past 5 years may not have.
There is also a huge potential for cross-collaboration between your business and some of the other businesses your team work for.
In our case, there's also some business referrals that take place amongst the team, or sometimes they hire us to do work for them, or we do work in exchange for work.
If you're hiring people in other cities, then this also gives you the power to tap into new networks and places where you may have no existing connections. Need to do some sales calls to the US? It's going to be much more effective to have someone who lives in the US, with a local accent to do these for you.
You're also able to cover multiple-time zones with a distributed team too so there is always someone available to respond to a tweet or answer a customer support email.
How Much Will It Cost?
As I mentioned above, putting a team on your payroll will be a massive overhead. You have to pay their salary, national insurance, pension, purchase hardware and software and not to mention all the legal and accounting costs involved in doing all of this.
Outsourcing will be significantly cheaper: you'll pay more per hour but you'll only be hiring people to do work when you need it. You don't need to worry about processing taxes, pensions, national insurance or paying for equipment as a consultant will manage all of that for themselves. You just pay a single invoice each month.
You can scale the work as you need it with variable cost too. If you want to do less one month and conserve some cash, no problem – want to add in a few more things the next month, throw a bit more cash at it. Easy peasy. You're not locked into a fixed monthly high cost.
We use one retainer on 3 month contract for core services and we renew on a rolling basis, everything else is pretty much on-demand as we need it.
How to Hire Remote Workers
Outsourcing is a much easier than hiring an employee, and cheaper too, because you won't have to hire an agent to find candidates and handle the process for you.
We've hired through agencies before and it is expensive, but it comes with the benefit of having an experienced person guide you through the process and ensure you're doing everything within the law.
With outsourcing, everything is much simpler. You don't need to conduct formal interviews and adhere to legal process.
How Do You Find Remote Workers?
Every time we've hired someone, we've done it based on referrals from other people and we've never had any problems with this approach.
We hired Danielle earlier this year to manage our marketing based on a referral from a board member, and she was awesome (she sadly left to become a lecturer and teach cool stuff), but then Danielle referred us to Laci who is awesome too.
Tap your network for recommendations and then set up a few Skype meetings with those who feel like a good fit.
You're looking for someone who has experience in your sector and who you also feel will be a good fit for your company culture. This is especially important if they're going to be interacting with customers or managing your social media accounts.
It's hard to gauge, but just be yourself when you're talking to people and if you have rapport with them, then go for it.
When you find someone, set up a short-term contract as a trial to see how things go and then renew this on a rolling-basis when you need to.
It's a pretty painless process, most consultants will have a contract already, so you won't need to write one or pay expensive legal fees to have it proofed, provided you know how to read a contract. If you don't, get someone with experience to look over it for you.
On-boarding consultants has been, in our experience, really quick and straightforward. An experienced consultant will hit the ground running and drop in with questions when they need something from you.
You might not be comfortable with the idea of paying someone who lives on the other side of the world to work for you when you can't check in on them everyday.
The solution is to switch from a mindset of measuring output by hours worked to results achieved.
Many consultants will bill by the hour, but they will also give you a breakdown of what they're going to do for you and how many hours they will need to fulfil this. If something is going to take significantly more time for whatever reason, then they will tell you (or should tell you) up front.
Measuring effectiveness is simply a case of setting some targets, and then watching the results.
There are lots of consultants who will sell you advice, be wary of these people and only hire people who are prepared to deliver tangible output.
If you're worried about someone stealing your social media passwords or taking your server offline. You can mitigate this by hiring based on a referral from your network. Failing that, just do your homework on the person you're hiring.
Do they have a solid online presence? Check their LinkedIn profile. What kind of connections do they have? Do they blog? Are they active on Twitter? You can always ask to speak to past clients for extra-reassurance.
If you decide to try it, then good luck! You won't regret it.
P.S. If you need an awesome marketing manager, PPC expert, Facebook ads guru or financial expert. Drop me an email or leave a comment below – I know just the people ;)