Friday, April 07, 2017

Managing Outsourced Remote Labor - Part One

I think I've been doing "serious" management of remote people since about 2005. The origin is a bit fuzzy because it's the kind of thing you step into a little at a time.

I managed the technical side of the Work from Home program for HP's Roseville, CA plant in 1995-1996. I didn't manage any of those remote workers, but my team configured and serviced the laptop (and desktop) machines that were used by remote workers. Prior to that I had been a remote worker, managing employees in three states even while I traveled. So my personal remote experience goes all the way back to 1993.

[Insert old man stories about the equipment we used back then.]

But as far as managing people for MY OWN company, that evolved in the mid 2000's. Some of it was the standard business of working with my own technicians on the other side of town. But then we quickly evolved to have a help desk in India (Zenith/Continuum), higher-end support from Microsoft MVPs we had contracted with, graphics people and web developers in the U.S. and Philippines, and so forth.

I think I will have remote assistance of one kind or another forever. After all, why should a web designer, SQL programmer, or social media assistant have to come to my office? The truth is, they are probably more efficient and effective from their home base.

Here's a quick overview of the kinds of resources you can outsource. Of course this is the tip of iceberg, but it will get you started.

Remote employees.  Okay, if they're real employees, they are not really outsourced. But they need to be managed almost identically.

1099 (contract) workers. Many people don't consider these folks outsourced either. But if they're not your actual employees, contract workers are the very definition of outsourced employees.

Virtual specialists. This includes "virtual assistants" of all stripes. Some are primarily office administrative assistants. But some are also bookkeepers, accountants, graphics professionals, layout artists, copywriters for advertising, marketing companies, etc.

There's a big bucket that falls under the term VA, but there really are a lot of specialists. I outsource two different graphics people, each of whom specializes in specific services. I also have people who perform very specific services related to book publishing. And, of course, I've used help desk and escalation services such as Third Tier.

These outsourced resources can be divided into three broad kinds of businesses. First, there are individuals who provide their specific skill set, generally for an hourly fee. Second, there are small companies (1-10 employees) that will provide services. These usually have one primary person you deal with. And of course, third, there are larger companies. These tend to be the nameless, faceless companies that we all know, such as, AppRiver, Intermedia, etc.

Some Resources

Looking to find outsource opportunities for your business? Here are a few places to start. First, let's look at "generic" resources that any business could use. Then we'll look at IT or MSP-specific resources.

Any business might find value in these outsourced resources:

- Upwork (formerly Odesk and Elance) -
This is the ultimate place to find pretty much anything you want. I have used Upwork to find SQL programmers, web designers, video editors, graphics designers, voice over artists, and more. You can filter by talent, country, cost, and many more options. If nothing else, it's worth browsing this web site to see what's available.

Hey, don't laugh. It's actually amazing who you will find on CL. I have hired several "local" web designers over the last fifteen years from CL. Only two of them ever came and worked in my office. The others worked from home and were totally outsourced. I just happen to find them through CL. Remember, just because you want to outsource doesn't mean they have to live in another country.

- Referrals.
My primary book cover designer, my primary virtual assistant, my transcriptionist, and the person who does all my book layouts came to me as referrals. In other words, I asked someone in a meeting, or on social media, or in a mastermind group if they knew someone. You want work through referrals, right? Well, so do lots of other good people.

Now let's look at a few IT-specific recommendations.

Third Tier (
If you're in I.T. and you get stuck, you have about three options: 1) Call the hardware vendor support line; 2) Call the software vendor support line; or 3) Call Third Tier. They have a stable of really smart people who can handle pretty much any problem you've got. Don't know PowerShell? They do. Afraid of Active Directory or defragging an Exchange database? They're not.

You get the point. Sometimes you're just too busy or overwhelmed. A couple years ago, I had a client with an Exchange issue and I had jury duty. I probably could have got out of jury duty, but I put in a ticket with Third Tier and they just handled it.

Continuum (
Okay, you need to be a Continuum RMM subscriber to take advantage of their help desk. But if you are a subscriber, please be sure to use this service! They do some amazing work. Even little stuff like analyzing blue screens. You look at two a year. They have a team that does nothing else! Trust me, they'll find the problem faster than you.

Other Outsourced Help Desk
As for other options, this is a growing market. Google "resell outsourced help desk service" to see. The prices are going down, down, down. You could potentially have a business where all you do it take support tickets and assign them to someone else, paying a flat fee per month.

Your New Reality

Many of us got into "computer consulting" because we like to play with computers. We like to fix stuff. Some like to program or do scripting.

Today those are hobbies.

For your business to grow, to improve, and to move forward, you are going to be doing more outsourcing. And, to be honest, you're going to be selling more cloud services.

One answer to having someone else take care of an Exchange server is to eliminate the server and pay Intermedia or AppRiver a low monthly fee that you bundle into your offering. You manage "accounts" but all the technology is somewhere else. Someone else patches and fixes it. Someone else keeps it secure. Someone else backs it up.

You take money from the client and give a small piece of that to the hosted Exchange provider. You handle the client side of things and resell the technology piece.

- - - - -

In the second article on this topic (next Friday), I'm going to talk about how to manage outsourced resources and what can't be outsourced.

Comments Welcome.


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