The Personal Outsourcing Olympics: Bangalore Butler or American Assistant?

165 Comments


So good I had to show it to you again.

This past Tuesday, I was part of a segment on the CBS Early Show on personal outsourcing called “Average Joes, Janes Outsourcing Tasks.” Check out the video, one of the best I’ve seen on the topic, here. It includes case studies.

Two of my favorite articles on personal outsourcing — one from The Wall Street Journal and the other from the NY Times — compare different tasks and common problems.

I’ve outsourced everything from hardcore business functions to personal chores, emptying my inbox, and even online dating (see my “extreme outsourcing” article for the last).

One big question still remains for most:

Where the hell should I go to get started?

All personal outsourcing companies are not created equal…

Some only do research, while others do actual work, and still others screw up everything you give them. I haven’t seen a good ranking of customer satisfaction for different services, hence the following survey for readers here, who have more experience than most in personal outsourcing.

If you have used any of the following services and been satisfied, please vote for them here (multiple services is fine). There are dozens of new upstarts, so I only included those I’ve used or heard good things about. If you have other recommendations or questions, please leave them in — you guessed it! — the comments. If you haven’t used personal outsourcing yet, what’s holding you back?

The competitors are:

Elance
American Express Platinum Concierge
Ask Sunday
ODesk
Get Friday (Your Man in India)
Do My Stuff
Amazon’s Mechanical Turk
Craigslist
Workaholics for Hire
Brickwork India
iFreelance
Scriptlance
Guru
Agents of Value

Tell us about your experiences (or reservations) below — ideally focusing on what has worked so others can duplicate it — and don’t forget to vote here for your favorites!

Results will be posted next Friday. [Update: Here are the results]

Posted on: December 6, 2007.

Watch The Tim Ferriss Experiment, the new #1-rated TV show with "the world's best human guinea pig" (Newsweek), Tim Ferriss. It's Mythbusters meets Jackass. Shot and edited by the Emmy-award winning team behind Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations and Parts Unknown. Here's the trailer.

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165 comments on “The Personal Outsourcing Olympics: Bangalore Butler or American Assistant?

  1. I used Elance for the design of my current blog/soon-to-be-sales site. Overall I was pleased with the quality of the work but it took way longer than expected because the designers I used were so burdened with other projects. The timezone/language differences did not help either. I recommend you read all the feedback, especially negative comments, very carefully on Elance and be very upfront about expectations.

    Like

  2. I have been a user of Ask Sunday for about 2 months now and have been pretty impressed with their service. I started by using the short/small task request based part for restaurant reservations, flight status updates, making doctors appointments, etc. – basically low-value stuff. Recently, I have started using their Sunday Projects service for a market research study I am doing for work and have been pretty impressed with the output. Their Sunday Projects division is based in the Philippines and their English skills are better than what I have come across in India.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Great piece on outsourcing from CBS. I am still figuring out if I can outsource stuff without causing me to worry about how it is being done. That is a tough call from someone who is used to doing it all himself, but I do see the benefits you preach!

    Like

  4. I’ve tried individual companies as well as marketplaces and I have to say that marketplaces (like elance.com or guru.com) beat individual companies every time.

    The main benefit for me was that I could insist on having it “my way” in terms of working style (e.g., amount and frequency of mutual feedback), secure payment mode and overall formality. E.g., individual companies mostly tried to impose their contract templates and feedback cycles on me – I would have saved neither effort nor money had I given in, thus reaping no benefits at all from outsourcing (or personal / virtual assistants).

    Whether it’s an individual company or a marketplace: the biggest problem is always to establish trust. Haven’t found a solution yet, except maybe prototype projects and the like.

    Like

  5. I’ve used both AskSunday and Amex Platinum service, and continue to use both happily. Amex was great for projects that required a Concierge service (get me concert tickets, find me a doctor in a foreign city) wheras I use AskSunday for anything where I would like someone to call around a few places and essentially act as my ‘personal assistant’. The combination is great. I trust Amex to make qualitative and time urgent decisions, and use AskSunday for tasks that are mundane, but require time.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I’ve worked with several overseas contractors and have found the key to success is to make sure the words I’m using are simple and have no double meaning. In other words, I avoid using a lot common business language like “get underway” and “bottom line”.

    You might be tempted to say “I would like to start with the following task.”

    By starting with the word “I”, you are directing the communication to yourself instead of the assistant. Also, the word “would” may be hard to decipher for an intermediate English speaker. “Can you” or “I want you to” is safer.

    Also, the word “following” can mean “after”, “behind the leader” or “second”. So, your opening line could be read a few different ways. Such as:

    “I like to begin with the second task” ”
    “I want to start the task later”.
    “I would like to start the task after the leader”.

    A clearer statement might be: “Can you do this task?”

    So, if you want them to buy you a new shirt. Don’t say “find me a shirt” or “get me a shirt”. Be clear…”buy me a shirt”

    It can be frustrating at first, but after a while, I’ve become accustomed to writing like a 5 year old.

    Best,
    Michael

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I originally heard about Ask Sunday on a segment on the Today Show. I thought the price was reasonable to give it a try mundane tasks that I never seem to get around to, such as doctor appointments, reservations, and my personnel favorites waiting on hold and then patching me in and wake up calls with the weather forecast.
    Recently, I started my own business, and have used Sunday Projects to help me out. This is perfect for someone like me who is still working their day job and trying to get another career off the ground. I can hire someone for a set amount of hours to do competitive research analysis for me at a low cost allowing me to really focus on the core business. I know as my own business grows there will be more work that I will be able to outsource to Sunday allowing my own margins to be that much larger.

    Like

  8. Nice Post!!! I think this a great way for people to duplicate what is working for others. It seems so essential to copy those whom have done well. Something I have also done for myself is hire a personal assistant to do my laundry and grocery shopping. I only do this once a week, but those crucial eight hours are now spent reading and doing other activities.

    Look forward to all the great posts!

    Jose Castro-Frenzel

    Like

  9. Tim,
    Great post. Though you placed sites that we could go if we needed to outsource something; where would you go if you wanted to become a resource to be used by someone?

    ###

    Hi Randy,

    Many of these site — like http://www.elance.com — are for both providers and those looking for services. Hope that helps!

    Tim

    Like

  10. Tim,
    Two days after I read your book I met the founder of a virtual staffing agency and knew I had to take the plunge and hire a VA. I was unsure exactly how I would use a VA but the consultation and matchup I received couldn’t have been better. I use a domestic VA with this company by the way. So far my experience has been first rate and I highly recommend them.
    The website is http://www.worldwideofficesupport.com

    Like

  11. I’ve always enjoyed using oDesk over other marketplaces because the service buyers that I work with are often good in sending out instructions and the pay is not so ridiculously low as other freelance marketplaces’ service buyers pay.

    Like

  12. Am following the directions in 4HWW, developing an idea, writing content, etc. Went to elance to find a Web design and development firm. Selected a company in India. So far so good. We’ll go from idea to reality for a very small investment.

    That’s the good news. Oh, and the design is beautiful. I love to look at it. It makes me happy (worth what I paid already).

    The bad news is: you wrote about having to be crystal clear in your communication. I’ve found it’s not just that… you have to be crystal clear, repeat yourself and very nearly bully to get the work done *well*. I’d taken to numbering every thought, item request, etc. in my emails and still many action items were overlooked or ignored. Then I requested for them to not do that (and numbered that, too)!

    This guy gets a lot of work and rave reviews on elance, too, so I don’t think he’s a hack.

    I think maybe he acts bigger than his company actually is- or they just skimp on design services, I can’t tell which. It took a long time and some extremely direct communication to get someone who could design… the first iterations were clearly whipped up by tech guys who knew programming but were not designers.

    It’s an adventure I’m enjoying. The URL will follow when we go live!

    I don’t think I’ll outsource much else right away. Takes too long to communicate — the other things I need done now I can do myself faster. Thanks!
    Rebecca

    Like

  13. I’ve used AskSunday for a couple of months now and happy with the level and breadth of service they provide. As a small business owner its pretty easy to communicate with their reps to take care of small task like reservations, messenger deliveries, product research, etc. They provide a lot of “bang for the buck” at $30/month. I’ve also used Get Friday and have had a harder time reaching these representatives as well communicating with them. I think what really separates the two services is the training that AskSunday puts into their reps and the neat technology interface they use to store relevant information. I’m planning on testing out their Sunday Projects for some research for my company.

    Like

  14. I recently came across a web site for a virtual assistant firm that specializes in helping people with their online dating. It’s called Love Concierge. They do other personal assistant activities too. I’m thinking about trying it out and was wondering if anyone else had ever tried it. The web site is http://www.datingvirtualassistant.com

    Like

  15. Outsourcing has really uppped my productivity–when done right. I started outsourcing 2 years ago with mediocre to great results at elance and small companies.

    Database/data collection:
    First VA came highly recommended –botched concurrent jobs I gave her, badly, and was months late after being paid in advance. The celebrity friends who recommended her couldn’t understand my upset when they rec’d superior work on the same kind of projects…but we discovered she wanted to impress them and would take their “whenever you get to it work” over my high priority work. This was for simple data collection that she never would put into the format she’d agreed to. I canx’d a third project because she ran too late and hired a local assistant to finish it within a few days, so it cost me twice, plus the lost time. Lesson learned: stick to VAs where there’s an objective ratings system and never pay in advance, even when your celebrity friend says they’re the best ever. Still kicking myself for that one.

    File Transcription: (My Secret Weapon)
    My best productivity tool is dictating books and courses on my digital recorder and uploading the audio files to a VA I hire via elance. Best service ever? I dictated 30 files in 14 days while commuting to my day job, then I sent the files to my VA on Friday evening and had a 300-page text document ready for me to make final edits on 48 hours later…for a few hundred dollars. Audio file transcription with other VAs (the first one was already booked) has been crappy quality that required me to re-work everything myself because their spelling skills were not as represented, in spite of great ratings from others.

    Research: Mediocre job from a very earnest male VA in India with great credentials and price. In spite of what I thought was good upfront communication, he didn’t understand the subtleties, regardless of what we’d agreed to. Cultural differences made a huge difference in this project. Good job from a VA in Argentina who wrote to ask me what she could do to make it better. I gave her three larger projects that were absolutely perfect–she took my concerns from the first job to heart.

    Coordination of projects/research/data collection/email contacts: Very good job from an inexperienced VA who wanted the opportunity to prove what she could do and build her resume. She definitely, in hindsight, underestimated the hours required but refunded some of the money because she considered the experience so valuable to her.

    I’ve tried to outsource some book formatting projects through elance but rec’d incredibly high estimates that included all sorts of things I specifically said don’t do. Hard time getting people to listen to instructions on this one instead of trying to force-fit me into their idea of what I should do. Ended up outsourcing this one to a local assistant who did 15 such projects for the estimate of 1 such project from elance.

    Editing: Very professional VAs with individual companies. 80% of these have been superb, with the 20% requiring me to reaccomplish the work personally because they made such a mess of it. Without the good ones, I wouldn’t have finished the projects for another year.

    So my VAs have been hit or miss, but when one hits, it’s a force multiplier for my productivity!

    Like

  16. I used GF for about a year. Started out great, but the quality steadily diminshed. They recently assigned me to a new VA who could barely speak English, and explaining things to her plus her errors required much much more of my time than it saved.

    Switched to a brand new startup copmany called Zirga.com.

    Their service has been absolutely spectacular (not to mention slightly cheaper than outsourcing to Bangalore!).

    Highly recommended–you might add this service to your list above.

    Jordan

    Like

  17. I have had very positive experiences with Elance. The marketplace approach finds specialists for each particular project, which has some advantages over a firm one ALWAYS goes to – that go-to firm will probably say yes to projects they are not qulified to do. The listing process is very easy, and they seem to have a good pool of talent. So, Elance 1

    I had very negative experiences with Get Friday. I tried to use them first (having read the 4HWW) and they seemed to be a victim of their popularity – slow to respond, corporate BS in the way the communicated, bad communication between team members, unqualified people assigned to tasks, lost emails, you name it. TERRIBLE.

    I should mention I have had good results with OnAssist – they are a Philippines-based firm that’s been quite responsive and goal-oriented. Worth considering.

    Best,

    Karl

    Like

  18. A follow-up thought – I’m thinking about ‘meta-outsourcing’ – now that I’m comfortable with the process / skill of defining-and-assigning outsourced projects, the time to post them and manage them is itself an outsourceable task. The trick will be to find a very high-level VA who can translate verbal / quick email project descriptions into formal bid requests, and then manage the growing team of VAs. Finding that high-level assistant will be a bit of a challenge, I think.

    – Karl

    Like

    • Karl, that is a BRILLIANT idea! The thought of wading through a sea of misunderstanding has been one of the things that has made me hesitant about using a VA. But “meta-outsourcing”…! PLEASE let me know if you have any luck finding a high-level VA who can do this, and where you find him/her.

      Like

    • I’m about to get started with outsourcing (I just finished reading 4HWW last week, and I’m on the Low Information Diet at the moment.. moving through Dreamlines), and I’d love to know your feedback on meta-sourcing. Have you begun to implement this, and, if so, what have your results been like?

      Like

  19. Tim, read the book twice already and love it. I remember reading (pg 56) you said you found your dream car the Aston Martin DB9 on ebay.. Did you purchase this car or were you just browsing?

    Anyhow was curious if you did purchase it how you like it as it is also one of my favorite cars and I set that as my first major goal for october 08′ on the dreamline.

    As a fellow MMA enthusiast, excessive notetaker and master of systems and automation I feel we were cut from the same thread and keep up the good work!

    Mike C.

    ###

    Hi Mike,

    I’ve driven the DB9, and it’s amazing, but I don’t own one. Now, if someone offered me a Tesla Roadster… :)

    All the best,

    Tim

    Like

  20. I’ve used Elance for getting art work done (book illustrations). It worked great.

    I think the real trick is knowing exactly what you want and being able to write it down in simple English. If you can do that, the task will almost certainly work being outsourced. If you don’t know exactly what you want, you are going to have problems. If you’ve read Tim’s book you can see that he knows exactly what he wants and writes clearly and simply; he also has phenomenal success with outsourcing. That’s not a coincidence.

    Like