Archive for November, 2012

Northstar Consulting Group: Local Outsourcing Grows Business, Keeps Jobs in U.S.

Friday, November 30th, 2012 by Seth Weinstein

“Outsourcing Services Adds Value to Business Growth in US” Claim Northstar Consulting Group (PRWeb)

PRWeb put out this article a few days ago, and it very succinctly summarizes what makes local outsourcing so effective. The following quotes originally refer solely to the Northstar Group, but in the larger world where many companies offer outsourced services, I find them to be more universal than specific. I’m not one to mess with what is already quality work, so here’s the distilled version of the article’s pertinent points.

>> “Gartner reported ‘outsourcing’ has shown a 2.1 percent increase from 2011.”

>> “Outsourcing operations to other American businesses who are experts in their field allows a brand to get the best possible results while keeping overheads low and ensuring work opportunities remain in the US.”

>> “[…] outsourced services are extremely cost effective – in many cases considerably cheaper than the average business maintaining an internal sales force – and offer a specialized service. Outsourcing a [function] allows many [clients] to concentrate on their core business operations […]”

>> “[Leif Schneider, managing partner at Schneider Bartosch Communications,] states that, ‘You don’t need to be an expert in everything – in fact no one can be, or should claim to be – but you do need to have access to the best experts and you do need to know how to manage them. We effectively outsource any work that is not senior managerial activity.'”

>> “[Hugh Greenhalgh, Businessblogs.com contributor,] adds ‘the mark of any good manager is the ability to effectively delegate work […]. If you want your start-up to operate like the big guys, outsource the small stuff to give yourself the time and brainpower for the larger issues, and your bank statements will confirm the wisdom of your choice.'”

If that last part sounds awfully familiar, it’s only because I’ve said extremely similar things multiple times on this blog. Maybe I’m on to something! The general takeaway here is that for businesses that want to step up their game while keeping costs down and helping the local economy, outsourcing to a company like Ziptask or Northstar is an extremely viable methodology.

 

The Interview Process is Flawed, Obsolete

Wednesday, November 28th, 2012 by Seth Weinstein

Another day, another eyebrow-raising statement delivered to your eyes courtesy of Work 3.0. Today, I’m crusading against the ubiquitous Interview Process For Job-Getting, which as you may gather from the title, I am not the biggest fan of.

I’m not alone in this opinion. I went to the streets and talked to friends and colleagues about their feelings on the interview process, and they were quick to poke holes in it. The biggest complaint, they felt, was that the interview process creates its own separate universe. In this interviewniverse, they are encouraged to drastically alter the way they think, act, and speak, and all too often these forced changes are in no way indicative of their ability to actually get the job done.

A recurring gripe was the constant presence of lies in every step of the interview process. Candidates are of course supposed to be truthful, but that doesn’t change the fact that resumés are embellished, piercings and tattoos are removed or covered, and you have to memorize answers that employers “want to hear” instead of truthful ones. Additional stress factors emerged; one individual noted the very relatable feeling of dread when an interview is approaching. Another pointed out that interviews are really the only time we expect a person will drop all pretense and straight-up brag about how awesome they are, which is something people tend not to do in real life.

Indeed, the disconnect between “what happens during an interview” and “what working at the company is really like” bothered many potential job-seekers. If the job doesn’t require a large degree of interpersonal communication, the interview will bear little resemblance to any work the candidate will actually face on the job. Additionally, being good at interviews is a skill unto itself, and a person sufficiently talented at this endeavor could potentially find themselves in any sort of position they want, regardless of actual talent.

It’s not just the people on the receiving end of the interview that have problems, either. Managers, small business owners, and team leaders who I talked to shared similar views. They reaffirmed the notion that interviews are a completely separate world from the rest of the job, stating that a successful interviewer must have a whole litany of skills that may or may not be relevant to their workplace.

The candidate interview process is a feat unto itself for hiring managers. They must know their company inside and out and have an exact idea of what they are looking for in an employee before the process even starts. And then come the fun parts. There’s the act of making sure the right people apply for the position, sorting through a stack of resumés which (we now know) are going to be at least partially fictitious, and the logistical nightmare of finding time in the work day to schedule these meetings. Then each candidate needs to be thoroughly vetted with secret unwritten “curveball” questions, inquisitions about their true employment intentions, validation of their alleged skills, and their fit with the company atmosphere. Oh, and all this time you’re also closely watching their nonverbal cues to see if they’re lying.

Fortunately, the age of the interview does not have to continue forever, and the Internet is greatly catalyzing its exit. Sites like oDesk, LinkedIn, and (you guessed it) Ziptask attempt to remove a lot of the guesswork involved in interviews by making it entirely about the qualifications of the candidate. Skills are verified either by the platform or by other users, and search tools help weed out poor candidates almost immediately. With Ziptask, the entire process is automated and completely hands-off; workers are verified, classified, and assigned work by the Ziptask team, and potential employers don’t even have to talk to them if they don’t want. And since it’s a skill-based marketplace, you don’t have to worry about accidentally hiring this guy based on his stellar interviewing skills.

Yeesh.

“Not To Exceed Estimate” Removes the Guesswork

Tuesday, November 20th, 2012 by shawn@ziptask.com

Image © 2012 Carlos Sanchez

Here at Ziptask, we aim for a no-nonsense approach to getting work done because we understand that our clients are busy people. We are too! That’s why we take every opportunity to make sure that the structures we have in place make the process as smooth and pain-free as possible for our customer.

“Not to exceed estimate” is a concept that Ziptask subscribes to when it comes to determining how much to charge for work. It’s essentially what it says on the box; when we quote you a price, you’re getting out guarantee that the final price you end up paying will be no greater than that number. In fact, it’s often lower. This represents quite a switch from the way a lot of businesses currently run things.

Assessing the Norm

If you go to an auto mechanic, hire a contractor, or solicit work from any entity whose price structure isn’t set in stone, you typically receive and sign off on a price estimate before the work is completed. When it comes time to pay, however, it is very rare that the estimate looks anything like the check you’ll be making out. Usually, you end up paying more. Parts, labor, hidden fees, miscalculations, and old-fashioned sleazy business tactics team up to take as much extra money from you as possible.

In technical terms, this isn’t a super-great system. It’s obviously unreliable, since the price you’re initially quoted means essentially nothing. This makes any price-comparison process you try to invoke equally meaningless, since everyone is throwing out arbitrary numbers that have no relevance on the final price point. This is naturally frustrating, which in turn leads to poor customer relations and general untrustworthiness. There’s a reason that there are so many articles describing how to know if your mechanic is cheating you!

The New Promise

Not-to-exceed changes the entire game. When you send a job to Ziptask, they send you a number back that represents that maximum possible price you will be charged for that job. And as I mentioned, Ziptask often comes in under budget. Having this number as a solid, immutable figure allows the customer to make real decisions around it, and removes the guesswork associated with regular estimates.

For many clients, simply having a frame of reference for what the work is worth will be a huge boon. Even if they don’t end up choosing Ziptask, that estimate will provide a baseline if they wish to shop around for better deals on the work. Assuming Ziptask is chosen for the work, the benefits increase. Clients can find that since the price is now concrete, it is easier to budget their available funds around the work, even several months or years into the future. It also provides accountability and a general feel-good moment when you come in under budget. Who doesn’t like that?

Simply a Smarter Choice

You wouldn’t buy a banana with a price sticker that said “probably about a dollar”. You wouldn’t sign up for a credit card whose interest rate is “around” anything. So why are you still messing with crapshoot price estimates, especially when the stakes are so much higher? Upgrade to a business service that you can count on, breathe easier knowing you can rely on your budget, and leave the hidden fees to the businesses of yesteryear. You’re better than that.

Ziptask vs. TaskRabbit: When You’ve Got a Task, Who Do You Ask?

Friday, November 16th, 2012 by Seth Weinstein

TaskRabbit is what I like to refer to as an Online Quest Board, where clients post requests for work done and users answer the requests at their leisure. Complete the request, get paid. Think of it like Craigslist, where it’s basically a big community bulletin board that can be accessed by anyone with a computer. Ziptask, on the other hand, is like a cool Dr. Seuss machine where you put your work in one end, scribble instructions on a piece of paper, feed it through a slot, and receive your completed work out the other end.

The similarities to Ziptask certainly exist, but it’s also important to note where the two platforms differ. At the most basic level, TaskRabbit provides a lot more variety in terms of which tasks they’ll post. Ziptask mainly focuses on Microsoft Office and other computer work, while TaskRabbit has been seen to complete oddball tasks like delivering someone waffles at the airport or hand-sewing a Halloween costume.

From this main difference, we see the rough pattern that the other asymmetries follow. Mainly, Ziptask offers quick, professional solutions for those who don’t necessarily want to get their hands dirty with the entire hire-a-freelancer process, and TaskRabbit is a more relaxed, community-focused environment where two parties can define the labor however they feel is appropriate. This separation can be seen in many aspects of both platforms:

Ziptask TaskRabbit
Workers are anonymous to the client. Workers have public profiles and rankings.
Ziptask determines task price and maximum possible price. Task price is negotiated between clients and workers.
Quality control is handled by Ziptask employees. Quality control is handled retroactively through community ratings and feedback.
Ziptask supervises its workers via keylogging and occasional screen grabs. Supervision is provided by the clients, or workers complete the task unmonitored/independently.
Clients and workers do not interact, all communication is handled by Ziptask employees. Clients and workers are encouraged and expected to communicate as much as necessary.
Unsatisfactory work is automatically reassigned to a new worker, and the client is not charged any extra. Unsatisfactory or incomplete work is not reassigned and must be completed by the client, reposted to the website for a second attempt, or left incomplete. The client may still be charged if the work was unsatisfactory.
Tasks are kept confidential and only known to the client, the worker, and their Ziptask project manager. Tasks are posted publicly and can be seen by anyone.

Both platforms have the important things in common. Workers are vetted by the company before they’re turned loose on the world, jobs are assigned to workers based on experience and desired work, and ranks are applied to workers depending on how well they can complete a task. Both platforms also include an iPhone app for on-the-go job posting.

The differences boil down to what you’re looking to get out of the task process. If you have the time to personally devote to finding someone to complete your task, and your task is a little out-of-the-ordinary, TaskRabbit is your platform of choice even though the procedure may take some time and the somewhat shallow pool of available workers won’t guarantee expertise. If you want a fast, professional, hands-off job done on a project that’s more cut-and-dry, Ziptask will do just about everything but trim your mustache, and you can count on the results to be up to standard.

How Ziptask Manages the Hassles of Onshore Outsourcing

Tuesday, November 13th, 2012 by Seth Weinstein

An editorial published by Professor Ilan Oshri at the Loughborough School of Business has given us a “state of the industry” view of outsourcing. The findings are promising for those in the field: the IT and business process outsourcing industries combined are reported to have a market to the tune of $435 billion, with projected growth in both sectors over the next two years.

Professor Oshri went on to delineate the perks and hassles of onshore, near-shore, and offshore outsourcing, going into detail on which is easier to manage, recruit for, scale, and train. He states at one point that for companies that must outsource, “in the current economic climate it would be politically correct to pursue an onshore setting.” But he is not without his criticisms of the methodology; he goes on to say that onshore firms often don’t offer the scale available to offshore vendors, and that sticking to onshore outsourcing may limit the talent pool that clients can draw from.

Ziptask, I am happy to say, successfully averts these problems while still providing the advantages of local outsourcing. Our talent pool is both wide and deep, pulling in not only our own workers but applicants from oDesk’s enormous stable as well. In fact, it is with this facet that Ziptask solves all the aforementioned problems in one fell swoop.

We hire workers worldwide, with the only requirement that they have a computer and speak English. So in addition to talent found outside the country, we also have a large group of workers from right here in the US. Why choose between onshore, offshore, or near-shore when you can essentially have all three? And Ziptask’s robust system handles scalability exceedingly well, again due to our large pool of workers at the ready. Ziptask can just as easily handle 20 minutes of work or 20 hours. And again, since our pool is so wide and varied, you never have to worry about not being able to find the right worker for the job. In fact, Ziptask handles the entire hiring process for you!

In these ways and more, we find that Ziptask provides a great option for businesses who are considering outsourcing part of their operations. There really is no other business that straddles the line like Ziptask does, and if Professor Oshri’s predictions are any indication, we’re going to be doing very well for the next couple of years. Hire us, and our success can be your success too.

Scalability: Congratulations, You’re Too Successful!

Friday, November 9th, 2012 by Seth Weinstein

We all define “success” differently. For an artist, finally getting their masterpiece into a prominent art gallery may qualify. Retail outlets shoot for profits, happy customers, and quality wares. If you’re a musician, you may find your goals met when you finally perform for an arena-filling sold-out crowd.

However you define success, reaching that point is cause for celebration. But what happens if, or when, you surpass that point and become more successful than you originally anticipated? It’s a great problem to have, but a problem nonetheless; how do you supply a demand that simply blows away every estimation you had for it?

Usually, it comes down to your classic business-expansion moves: increasing production by hiring more people, buying more publicity, and expanding your factories and office buildings. Sometimes you’re lucky, and your initial success has given you oodles of money and attention, making this transition easy. It’s harder if your money is tied up in investments, recouping costs, and paying back debtors. It’s practically impossible if your success was so surprising that you didn’t have a system in place to reap the benefits of your own good fortune.

This brings us to scalability, which basically asks the question, “What would happen to your business if your demand increased five- or tenfold, overnight?” Would it be poised to supply this demand and provide you ungodly amounts of wealth in the process? Or would it fold under a previously unthought of amount of pressure? Scalability is your company’s potential to rapidly expand to satisfy new or increased demands.

Ziptask is convenient for such expansions because the work our clients are required to put into it is so minimal. We’ve really worked hard on this system to make sure that it works whether our clients send in one document or one thousand documents. Sure, it may take a slightly longer time to process the thousand, but the important thing is that from the client’s perspective, that’s the only thing that’s different.

Let me toss out a scenario: you own a furniture/home decorating business that ships nationwide and takes both mail orders and online orders. The online orders are easy to process, since they go though your website directly into an Excel database, but the mail orders are harder. Since they arrive in hard copy, they have to be copied into the system before they can be processed. It’s not difficult work, but it is tedious and it is essential and it’s not that bad as long as there aren’t too many of them.

So what happens when one of your couches is prominently featured in a key scene from a breakout hit TV series? Suddenly, you’re receiving thousands upon thousands of orders for this product from all over the country, and you’re hitting a real bottleneck in turnaround speed when it comes to processing your mail orders. Crisis alert, basically. You don’t have the time or the money to hire someone just to process these orders, you certainly don’t have the time to do it yourself, and the longer you wait to find a solution, the greater the chance that one “wtf, where’s my couch, this company sucks” Tweet ruins the whole thing before it even gets started.

Ziptask is the solution. Scan the forms, send them to us, and you’ll have hundreds of hands on them starting immediately. Our pool of workers is huge; you’d have to send tens of thousands of files before we’d start to have trouble finding people to process them. With the relative ease of the work being done, a single page of instructions attached to the project is the only prep work you would need to do. And if you can drag-and-drop one file, you can drag-and-drop a thousand and one.

Being too successful might not sound like a nightmare scenario, but for those unprepared to handle the success, the windfall may end up being the blow that crushes your business before it ever gets off the ground. Use Ziptask, and other similar services, to make sure that you can handle whatever comes your way, and then get back to the real work: makin’ couches.

Pictured: the life that awaits you. Awwwww yeah.

Automate Your Life To Make Better Decisions

Tuesday, November 6th, 2012 by Seth Weinstein

A recent blog post by Robert Pozen on the Harvard Business Review made the claim that “boring is productive”. Putting it like that doesn’t sound too exciting, especially considering that the subject matter of the article is our President, one Barack Obama, and his tricks for a productive day. Who better to take time-management cues from than one of the busiest men on Earth?

The gist of the piece is that when Obama isn’t making decisions that change the face of the planet, he’s not making decisions at all. The clothes he wears, the food he eats, his exercise routine, and other comparatively mundane daily details either remain constant day after day, or are planned out in advance. When it’s time to sit down for a meal or get dressed for the day, Obama’s doesn’t even have to think about the details.

The idea is that the human brain has only a certain amount of decision-making power before its effectiveness drops off steeply. The article links to two scientific studies that seem to support this; even when the decisions are mundane or low-risk, the simple act of repeatedly deciding on one thing over another is enough to fatigue the brain into making less-than-optimal choices.

You can mitigate this by taking advantage of the same methods President Obama does, namely identifying parts of your daily routine that you can automate to decrease the number of daily choices you’re forced to make. Ziptask is well-poised to help you with this effort by reducing not only the amount of decisions you have to make, but clearing up extra time to make more important decisions. Instead of dedicating a bunch of idle brain power to your more boring or tedious work assignments, Ziptask can automatically complete them while you are free to focus your attention on things more worthy.

If you’re finding your decision-making skills to be less sharp lately, or you’re just feeling overwhelmed with simple tasks, having Ziptask automate parts of your workday could end up being a huge boon. With your extra time, you could find new things to automate and start a positive feedback loop that ends with you having tons more free time and a much happier brain.

Ziptask: The Killer App of Cloud Labor

Friday, November 2nd, 2012 by Seth Weinstein

Quite an assertion, right? You’ve gotta be pretty bold to make the claim that your service is the be-all-end-all, better than the rest, the only one worth using. But in the case of Ziptask, it’s pretty close to the truth. We pride ourselves on a “whole package”-type deal, and that’s the key factor that sets us above all the other outlets. They may provide aspects of cloud labor or outsourcing, and some of them are very good at what they do, but if you want the full package, Ziptask is the only one that’s gonna do it for you.

Of course, I couldn’t make a claim like this without some evidence to back it up. So allow me to contrast Ziptask against some of our top competitors, so you can see exactly where Ziptask fills in the gaps.

Ziptask

Just so we have a baseline, allow me to describe the Total Ziptask Package. When you send your work to Ziptask, the only other thing you are required to do is provide instructions on how to complete said work and approve a price. Ziptask’s in-house team and pool of freelancers then work together, completely autonomously, to find the best possible worker for the job, assign them the work, establish a per-minute price estimate, check progress, and assure the quality of the completed work. For the person using Ziptask, the process looks something like this: submit the assignment and instructions, receive and approve a price estimate, go do something else for a while, and pay a fee when the work is completed to your satisfaction. Completely independent and hands-off.

oDesk/Elance

Let’s get this straight; here at Ziptask, we friggin’ love oDesk. We get a ton of our freelancers directly from their pool, and they and Elance are both very good at what they do. But what they do is simply provide a space for freelancers to gather. They don’t do any hiring, work assignments, cost estimates, or quality assurance in-house. These platforms do not handle any of the interaction between the freelancer and the hiring entity. They basically boil down to an online stack of resumés, albeit an easily-searchable one.

Amazon Mechanical Turk

With Turk, we see a shift towards the automation that Ziptask users enjoy so much. Once a user creates a job on Turk and submits it, the work is done automatically by whatever users are sufficiently qualified and motivated. The actual process of the work getting done can be unmonitored and hands-off, which is nice for simple work that doesn’t need a lot of skill. The downside is the enormous amount of effort and brainpower that it takes to set up a project on the platform. Even though great leaps have been made in usability, the mTurk interface is still very clunky and confusing for a newcomer. Add that to the standard headaches of finding a way to format your assignment on their system, deciding on a “sweet-spot” price point that will attract workers without breaking your wallet, and the fact that quality assurance is not guaranteed, and many will find that Turk is too much of a hassle for anything but the most rudimentary tasks.

A Real-Life, Flesh-And-Blood In-House Worker

Just for fun. I probably don’t have to describe what an in-house employee does; you most likely are one, or have several working for you. An in-house employees can offer a lot of advantages, but Ziptask still has them beat. A worker can only take so much work in a day, of course, and scalability is rough since it requires you to actually go through the process of locating, interviewing, hiring, negotiating with, and providing office space for a new employee. Additionally, many workers are skilled in one area and not so hot in others, meaning that if it’s versatility you’re after, you once again have to go to the ol’ Resumé Well. And lastly, most workers are either salaried or paid hourly, meaning that unless you’re monitoring them for the entire time they’re at work, you’re most likely paying for them to browse the Internet at some point or another.

I may be slightly biased, but from where I’m sitting, Ziptask looks like a pretty sweet deal. I like to describe it as a “black box”, where the only things you have to worry about are the input and the output. The rest is completely automated by Ziptask’s team.

And honestly, we could all use one less thing we have to worry about in our daily lives.

Oh, and if you know of a platform that compares favorably to Ziptask, be sure to let us know in the comments!

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