27/05/11

By Saif Bonar, Manager of, www.freelancer.co.uk

The Challenge

We have all heard the stories of financial meltdown and the world’s economic woes a thousand times, and terms such as the credit crunch, hyperinflation, stagflation and quantitative easing have become ubiquitous in recent years.

However, against this somewhat grim backdrop, many Britons are still keen to start their own business. Recent figures published by the now defunct Enterprise UK show that 50% of people in Britain would like to start a business, but only 5.8% are in the process of doing so. 63% of those that want to start one, but aren’t, cited cash-flow as the biggest barrier they faced1. At the same time the reluctance of high street banks to lend money to start-ups and small businesses has been well publicised.

How then, is a cash-strapped entrepreneur, unable to raise funds, supposed to get their venture off the ground?

Opportunities Abound

The internet, and the technologies built upon its foundations over the past decade or so, have smashed down barriers and slashed the costs traditionally associated with getting a business up and running.

Company formation can be completed online, which is cheaper and easier than ever before. Communication has also never been cheaper – with applications such as Skype and Gmail allowing you to reach out to anyone in the world for mere pennies. OpenOffice, free software that rivals Microsoft Office in functionality, enables the most frugal businesses to produce documents, presentations and spreadsheets easily.

In addition, a website can be built using Wordpress, Joomla or hundreds more open-source packages, and you can get e-commerce including fully functioning shops up and running in days, for free.

A start-up can base itself at TechHub or TheCube on the ‘Silicon Roundabout’ in London for less than £100 per month, including access to high speed internet, a hot desk and a mailing address. Similar spaces exist in all major cities of the world, meaning that for the cost of a dingy office in a London suburb, your business could have a global footprint with a ‘presence’ in London, New York, Sydney and Paris, for under £500 a month.

Combine the right suite of free tools with access to a highly skilled freelance workforce and the cost of starting and running your business just went through the floor.

The Obstacles

If you ask most people why they haven’t yet tried outsourcing projects or hiring freelancers online, you will probably hear the same reasons over and over. How can I explain what I need without meeting face to face? How can I be sure I am picking the best person for the job? How do I know I won’t lose my money? What if the work is substandard?

In reality, these fears are unfounded – yet they still seem to be holding back Britain’s next generation of would-be entrepreneurs. Any online outsourcing marketplace worth its salt understands these barriers and has invested time and resources to building systems that effectively counter them all.

So with that in mind, here are some tips to help you get your first outsourcing project off to a flying start:

1. Start with a strong brief.

Ensure your brief is as clear as possible and as long as it needs to be to accurately convey all of your requirements.

If needed, attach a detailed project spec or site-map. An old trick I use is to bury a keyword or phrase in the job description and ask anyone bidding to repeat it in the opening line of their bid. This will allow you to quickly eliminate those who have not taken the time to read your brief in full and understand your needs.

2. Choose quality and experience over price.

The nature of outsourcing marketplaces means the bids will generally be very competitive. So you shouldn’t simply go for the cheapest freelancer. Instead, look for a person with demonstrable experience in the area you need help with.
Ensure that they have received positive feedback from previous employers, especially if you are new to outsourcing. Check that they have read and understand your brief. Make a shortlist, and then communicate with your shortlisted candidates. Try to find someone who you can build rapport with, as this will often help the project go smoothly.

3. Set targets, deadlines and milestones.
Set deadlines or milestones, and ensure that you communicate with your chosen provider often to ensure work is on schedule and being done in accordance with your needs. If it’s a major project, agree the timeline and deliverables for releasing milestone payments.

4. Don’t cut out the middle man.

Some freelancers will urge you to work outside the marketplace, saying that the fees are too high, or that they have some problem and need to be paid urgently. Cutting the marketplace out of the deal is called ‘disintermediation’ and it’s bad for everyone. The main reason it’s bad for you as a buyer is you lose all the protection, guarantees and safeguards which are available to you.

5. Leave honest but fair feedback

Honest feedback is the backbone of the outsourcing marketplace system. If your provider has let you down, you should share this so that other buyers can make informed purchasing decisions. Likewise, if your freelancer did an exceptional job, be sure to sing their praises – and at your discretion, pay them a bonus.

The information and tips outlined above should make you more confident and comfortable in taking the leap of faith and outsourcing your first project online. If you follow my advice, you should have an excellent experience and could save a bundle. I expect, if your first project works out well, you will be converted for life.

About The Author

Saif Bonar is Manager of Freelancer.co.uk, the UK operation of the world’s largest outsourcing marketplace. Saif has an MSc. in Information and Knowledge Management and over 9 years’ experience working on outsourcing marketplaces as both a buyer and service provider. Before joining Freelancer, Saif ran a website which produced a quarterly review and analysis of the leading outsourcing marketplaces.

1. http://www.gew.org.uk/makeajob