Back Office 5.2. Outsourcing Your Back Office: Marketplaces and Job Boards

One way to fill your back office needs is to hire people one at a time through an RFP marketplace or job board. You can advertise for an ongoing outsource relationship or just have piece-work bid on one-at-a-time by freelancers or vendors.

While technically not “turnkey” solutions, these marketplaces and job boards as giving you access to outsourcing vendors, virtual assistants, and freelancers across all your small business needs.

Small businesses typically use RFP marketplaces and job boards when they’re very small, quite literally at the starting line, largely because they provide significant cost-savings (because of low-ball bidders) and allow you to farm out work when you need help. Quality varies widely, so these marketplaces are usually the worst source of dependable talent.

Beyond back office, these sites are also valuable destinations for other outsourcing needs, such as building your Web site, advertising, copywriting, or programming.

Be careful! Cheapest is not always best. RFP marketplaces tend to attract low-ball bidders. Quality providers often steer clear of RFP marketplaces because so many low-bidders are snapping up all the business. Quality providers often find themselves wasting their effort on these sites because they always lose to these low-ballers. So be careful when selecting a bidder.

Besides being a source of contractors, you may find yourself using these marketplaces and job boards to sell your own services as a business. If your start-up venture involves virtual services of any kind, these marketplaces should be one of your primary marketing vehicles, at least at the start.

5.2.1. Guru.com

http://www.guru.com

Guru.com should be near the top of your business process outsourcing bookmarks―if not your general outsourcing bookmarks.

Guru.com is a marketplace that connects buyers looking for outsource services with contractors willing to provide those services. You place an RFP for services and contractors on the Guru network bid for those services. The problem, of course, is that this whole process is time-consuming. If you need regular services, you need to establish relationships with freelancers or outsource firms. Otherwise you’re wasting your time authoring RFPs and reviewing proposals―time you could spend doing the work yourself!

When you’re contracting for back office support, by far the largest number of contractors on guru.com is home-based, single person businesses.

General categories―extending far beyond back office support―are:

  • Business consulting
  • Finance and accounting
  • Sales and telemarketing (including call support)
  • Marketing, advertising, and sales
  • Legal
  • Web design, and others

Remember: every time you use a marketplace like Guru to locate contractors, you’re taking a risk. There are many lemons mixed in with the stars, so you must vet your bids carefully. And a general rule of thumb is this: cheapest is rarely best.

5.2.2. Elance

http://www.elance.com

Elance, like Guru.com, is an online RFP marketplace connecting businesses with freelancers, although a few outsourcing firms mix it up with the freelancers in responding to RFPs. Like Guru.com, these freelancers are a mixed bag. Elance has the virtue, at least, of being the online marketplace for AssistU certified virtual assistants (see section 5.3.4), so it is an excellent source for virtual assistants.

Elance connects businesses with freelancers in the following areas:

  • Business consulting
  • Web sites
  • Design
  • Writing
  • Programming
  • Administrative services

5.2.3. Contracted Work

http://www.contractedwork.com

Contracted Work is an RFP-based freelancer marketplace that allows you to place projects for contractors and freelancers to bid on, much in the same way as Guru and Elance. Like these other RFP marketplaces, however, the presence of lowball bidders means that quality is a gamble―higher quality freelancers steer clear since prices can go so low. Categories include:

  • Administrative
  • Web Design
  • Writing
  • Construction
  • Software/Programming
  • Graphic Arts
  • Business
  • Multimedia

5.2.4. Craig’s List

http://www.craigslist.org

Craig’s List is the largest online classified advertising site on the Internet―with over 5 billion page views per month by some 15 million unique visitors, it is the seventh most-trafficked Web site in the world. Every major city on the planet has a section on Craig’s List. The service offers all standard classified ad categories, such as real estate, jobs, things for sale, and personals.

Craig’s List allows you to post two kinds of jobs: regular jobs-for-hire and gigs, or temporary, one-off jobs. You can post gigs for free, but a jobs ad requires an account and costs $25 if posted in the New York, San Francisco, or Los Angeles Craig’s Lists.

The usefulness of the site depends on the size of the city you live in (you can only post in one city) and what you’re looking for. If you’re located in a large metropolitan area such as New York or Los Angeles, your ad will attract a large number of high-quality applicants. The site is a genuine resource if you’re looking for contractors to do as-needed jobs for you. However, it is a very, very risky site to find employees or outsource contractors. Most of the respondents to your ad will be magnificently unqualified and, if you live in a big city, a job or gig ad could land you dozens if not hundreds of equally unqualified responses. Follow this rule of thumb when hiring off Craig’s List: ask for references and contact them. Anything less is taking a big risk. Craig’s List has more horror stories than happy endings.

Because Craig’s List limits you to one city and does not allow you to repeat ads across cities (its posting engine checks the wording of your ad against all the other ads that are posted―if it matches another ad pretty closely, the service will reject it), you can’t find virtual assistants across the country very easily. So if you live in Topeka, Kansas and you’re looking for someone to do virtual word processing, you’re better off putting the ad in the New York or Los Angeles Craig’s List. You’re more likely to find the right person in these larger cities.

5.2.5. Monster

http://www.monster.com

The Monster job board is the largest and most-recognized job board on the Internet. The Monster site is geared primarily for large businesses and recruitment firms―Monster visitors are lining up for “regular” jobs rather than the kind of outsourcing you may be trying to achieve. So Monster is a good solution if you’re contracting for a long-term relationship with a single person providing a back office service.

The employer section at http://hiring.monster.com is where you sign up to post jobs on the Monster job board. You can set up an account with the site, but it’s not necessary to post a job or search resumes. Posting costs you money but you can search resumes for free (but downloading resumes costs you money).

Since this is a book about shoestring ventures, consider this: a single job posting for a one hundred mile radius costs $400! There’s a reason why the site is used almost exclusively by big companies and recruiting firms! At the same time, the quality of Monster users ranks considerably higher than that in any of the RFP marketplaces we’ve mentioned or Craig’s List.

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