Justin McGill
August 12, 2014 1 Comment AUTHOR: Justin McGill CATEGORIES: Entrepreneurship, Productivity / Life Hacks

As I eluded to in my last blog, oDesk is my friend. I have mastered the art of outsourcing.

I use virtual assistants and freelancers as much as possible. This frees me up to work on things that lead to bigger results, and ultimately just things I would prefer to do. I also have a couple friends who have businesses, and noticed that they could be doing so much more with outsourced help so I know others can learn this ‘technique’ as well.

After my last blog mentioned oDesk, I was asked by quite a few people about how to use oDesk and why I prefer it over other platforms.

I have used Freelancer.com and Elance, but oDesk is what I have had the most success with and what I’ve grown comfortable with. I now use oDesk exclusively.


Lets start with WHY you should be outsourcing as much as possible. There are a few very obvious reasons:

  1. It saves you time. You aren’t getting your time back so spending it on things you don’t enjoy working on is a complete waste of it.
  2. It allows you to make more progress towards your goals. While you have a virtual assistant working on certain tasks, this frees you up to work on tasks which are going to lead towards bigger results.
  3. It can save you money. This is compared to hiring someone part time or full time. It could cost you money if the alternative is that you are doing all the work. In which case, read # 1 again.
  4. Quickly hire/fire people. This means you can hire someone to fill an immediate need. Take on a new contract? Get overwhelmed with a project? No problem! You can also fire and pause contracts as needed also making it easy to find new people, or pause contracts until you have more work.


Pool of Talent – There are over 1.3 million freelancers and virtual assistants that are available to hire through oDesk. You can get practically any kind of help that you need.

Number of oDesk Freelancers

Screenshots – A really cool feature is when you hire someone on an hourly project, and that person starts logging hours on your project, the software will automatically take screenshots every few minutes showing you their screen. This can, and should, be used early on with new contractors to ensure they are performing.

oDesk Screenshots

Hourly tracking – The hours are logged automatically and not something you have to worry yourself with. No need to get separate time tracking software (and obviously no annoying time clocks).

oDesk hourly tracking

Auto pay – Payments are handled automatically by oDesk to the contractor either through your bank account or through a debit card. oDesk takes a cut of the pay to the contractor automatically as well.

oDesk payments

See Real Reviews – The toughest part about hiring someone is not really knowing who you are getting. With a review system like oDesk though, you can see what other companies had to say, how they felt about a contractor on a 1 to 5 scale, and more. This is like finding out where a potential employee used to work and getting ACTUAL feedback from that employer about their performance.

When is a good time to outsource?

There are a ton of usage cases and I think I’ve used just about every one of them. I actually just listened to the latest podcast from Startups for the Rest of Us where Mike and Rob actually listed several reasons. So I am going to suggest you listen to those (and then every other episode for that matter).

I do want to give a few more examples of how I’ve used virtual assistants on top of their list:

  • Writing / Content creation – I don’t use it on this blog as it would be rather impossible. However, for other businesses and niche specific content though – I will typically outsource that content. Could be blogs, presentations, infographics, etc.
  • Social media management – I have a very specific social process that I want followed and am planning to hire someone to handle this to generate awareness and interest in my products.
  • Content production – With my agency, I had a very specific content process where we would have the content written, then have a person design blog post images, then have someone else do the editing and then lastly someone else to schedule/format/post it in WordPress. It was factory like, but those sorts of things can take up a lot of time.
  • Submissions – Whenever I have new products, I’ll be using a VA to submit them to the list of startup websites I compiled.
  • Cold calling – I mean honestly, who wants to do that?? You’d be surprised how many people do on a site like oDesk! You need to craft a script though and be prepared for that script to be adjusted accordingly. In any case, you can have someone else test out messages for you!

I could go on and on, but hopefully between the podcast I linked and some of my additions it will help you to spark some ideas on how you can leverage virtual assistants.

“This sounds great Justin, but…”

I am sure this leaves you with a few questions and maybe even some concerns.

I’ve heard people say, “can I trust them?” I’m usually asked, “How long does it take to get them setup? Seems like I’d have to do a lot of training.”

Fortunately, both of these are easy hurdles to overcome.

Lets start with the trust factor.

First and foremost, oDesk provides you with a couple of statistics that can help you with this.

# 1 – They show you the overall rating of a provider.

oDesk Rating

Anything less than 4.5 and I remove them from consideration.

# 2 – This one is a relatively new feature, but when you are evaluating providers you are given a % of how many people recommend that person. If that number is less than 80%, I am a little hesitant to talk further with that person. They also now give some contractors a “Guaranteed” rating in which oDesk will reimburse you should the contractor not perform.

oDesk guarantee and recommended

Now that that’s out of the way I’m sure you’d like to know how to actually go about hiring some superstar help so lets get into my actual oDesk process!

How to Hire Outsourced Help with oDesk

Posting the Job
You can give as much, or as little detail here as possible. If you are looking for a developer for an app, I would suggest being a little vague at this stage and only outlining or giving product specs to qualified candidates.

If you are looking to source content creation, be prepared with knowing length, angle of the story, maybe an outline, etc.

Hourly or Project Pricing
I have used both of these regularly. Neither one is better than the other, it just depends on what you are needing.

If something is more ongoing, I recommend going an hourly rate. If something is truly a one-time project, then I’d recommend just stick with a project price.

Again, if you are looking to have a product or plugin built – I would start with a test project first and then you can go to hourly if need be after that was completed successfully.

Invite People to Apply
Once you post a job, you can invite people to apply to your newly posted gig.

I recommend trying to set specific filters (such as region, english level, feedback scores, hours logged location, hourly rate, etc). I use every option possible to narrow down the list of potential candidates.

From there, I look at their headlines and initial bio to see what they portray their expertise to be. At the same time, I’m looking for any potential language problems.

I’ll usually be able to find 3 to 6 really good candidates for a job. Many of them have things going on and you won’t always get them to apply.

It’s important though that you keep the jobs public so that others can bid because often times there are many more qualified candidates.

Rarely do I actually end up hiring any of the one’s I invited, just because someone so much more qualified usually bids.

What to Look For
After a day or two, you can start to review your applicants.

When you go to view your list of applicants, you will see several (depending on the type of job posted) that haven’t gotten feedback, have poor feedback (under 4.5), new to oDesk and haven’t logged many hours, don’t meet certain qualifications, super low price, super high price, etc. These types of contractors I avoid and just remove from consideration. The qualifications I’m lenient on, but the rest I have a zero tolerance policy in place.

You will see a few contractors with a guaranteed label, + a recommendation percentage over 80%, AND a rating of 4.75 or higher, with hundreds (or even thousands) of hours logged. These immediately should go to your “shortlist”.

Test Scores

There are tons of various tests that contractors can take through oDesk depending on their expertise. This is a really quick way to gauge where someone’s skill level is at.

To be honest, I do not really know what these tests are like. I have heard though that they are pretty difficult and not something you can just BS your way through.

Get someone that has scores in the top 30, or 20, or even top 10% relative to your project? Keep them shortlisted!

I have seen developers look the part, but then their tests are writing related. It raises a red flag for me, and I will usually just move on.


Someone might have great ratings and feedback, but look closer at their previous contracts and portfolio. Make sure that they’ve done something similar to what you are trying to do with your project.


If you don’t have Skype, get it. This is the preferred method for communication. I believe every single oDesk contractor I have ever hired has used Skype to communicate.

I recommend getting together a list of questions to ask. Do a simple Google search for “position interview questions” where “position” is what you are trying to hire (i.e., graphic designer, web designer, content writer, etc).

Close the Deal

If you feel comfortable with how they handled the interview, ask them for their lowest/rate. You will be surprise how much people are willing to drop their price. This works much better if they feel this has long term potential for more work.

I got this little nugget from a house flipping book I read where the guy said he always asks the seller for their lowest price. I have gotten people to go from $40/hr to $30/hr, from $18/hr to $13/hr, and even $10/hr to $5.50/hr.

If they ask you to hire a different profile (I’ve had this happen a few times), it usually raises a red flag to me. They are usually wanting to use a different profile for a couple of reasons:

  1. They have multiple people involved and so the person you hire might not be the person that does the work.
  2. They are trying to hide poor reviews from another profile.
  3. If they don’t perform for you and you want to leave a bad review, it won’t hurt their main profile and they can just trash this profile.

Getting the Most Out of oDesk

If someone can make through all of these steps without raising a red flag or any suspicion at all, then chances are pretty good you are going to find yourself a superstar.

If you don’t feel comfortable for any reason, trust your gut and move on to the next candidate. Don’t be afraid to repost the same job again if things didn’t work out. You may want to switch out the post title the next you post though.

Treat your contractors well, especially the ones who perform, as they will typically want to work for you as long as possible. This means it saves you the training time and general “onboarding” time of new workers.

Speaking of which, I’d recommend putting together screencasts or videos (or wireframes and examples depending on the type of project) and sharing with them. This way they know exactly what to do and what the expectations are.


This isn’t foolproof. There are going to be people who make it through the cracks and you’ll feel you have wasted your time. This is especially true early on when you haven’t done this before. Once you go through this a few times, you’ll find that you have more and more success.

I am at a point now where I pretty much can nail every single hire I make, but it took a lot of practice. As the old saying goes, “you have to kiss a lot of frogs before you find your prince.”

If you have any questions, leave them in the comments and I’ll be happy to answer them.

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