“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.

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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!

Outsourcing Helps Strengthen Your Start-up

Tuesday, October 30th, 2012 by Seth Weinstein

If you’re just launching a new business, you might think that outsourcing some of the work would be the last thing on your mind. But according to this article by Hugo Greenhalgh on Techcircle.in, outsourcing certain aspects of your work can be the difference between a lean, well-oiled machine of a company and you working 80-hour weeks.

The article describes some companies that found great success when they allowed certain practices to be taken care of outside the office. In a nutshell, here are the reasons why they found these methods so helpful.

Advantage #1: Rapid Growth Minus Overhead

Outsourcing allows your start-up to have all the qualities of a large office with many departments, but at a fraction of the cost. Especially when your business is new, the costs of hiring and training staff can be off-putting  But often, a third-party firm or freelancer is available for pennies on the dollar compared to adding a whole new department to your burgeoning business. Neil Asher of The Advanced Child Academy built his entire business model around Elance, and ended up cutting costs by about 80%. Ziptask could offer comparable results to many new businesses.

Advantage #2: The World of Workers at Your Fingertips

Even if a new business seeks to hire on a large scale, they may run into stumbling blocks if there are no available workers in the area with the proper qualifications. Companies that tap into tools like Ziptask, Elance, and oDesk can find talented workers from anywhere on the planet, eager and ready to go. And keeping these workers in their home towns instead of forcing them to relocate is a whole other set of advantages: office costs are lowered, globalization improves, and everyone’s happy.

Advantage #3: The Power Shift

While it might seem reasonable to think that outsourcing so many departments would lead to an overall loss of control, the individuals who report from the front lines will tell you otherwise. Lief Schneider, managing partner at Schneider Bartosch Communications, was asked about providing good service while outsourcing. He says, “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.” The mark of any good manager is the ability to effectively delegate work, whether it’s to the person in the cubicle next door or to a firm halfway around the world.

These people have found success by relinquishing the less hand-on portions of their business to workers outside their offices. Ziptask hopes to help business accomplish these same goals, with the added advantage that with their system, you don’t need to waste time tracking down the perfect worker. 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.

 

Outsourcing the Crap Work

Friday, October 26th, 2012 by Seth Weinstein

There’s a new trend that’s begun to rear its head in outsourcing. Hiring someone designated to catch crap is a widely practiced business strategy, but now it’s being taken literally; towns and institutions have begun to outsource their entire sanitation departments to outside firms and private service providers.

In one story, the North Delhi Municipal Corporation in New Delhi plans to outsource the task of providing toilets and proper hygiene in the corporation’s primary schools. The decision was passed due to a combination of a staff shortage and a Supreme Court directive that all students had to be provided with clean facilities and drinking water in accordance with their rights to free and compulsory education.

In another story, the city council of Massillon, Ohio voted unanimously to shut down their local Solid Waste Department in favor of outsourcing garbage collection to a company in the private sector. In addition to reducing costs for the city, residents will now have access to curbside recycling, a perk they could not previously enjoy under the city’s sanitation department, and the city will make some more money back by selling their garbage trucks to the new workers.

In both these cases, we see attitudes that are very Ziptask-friendly. Although we’re not about to drive out to your city to scrub your toilets and collect your garbage, the sentiment and ideology are very resonant. These businesses and services find themselves bogged down in the details of making everything run smoothly. In both cases, sanitation is just a cog in the giant machine that is the North Delhi Municipal corporation or the city of Massillon, and they find that outsourcing the task frees up people for more crucial work in addition to increasing the quality of the outsourced task itself.

In the Ziptask world, this equates to similar cleanup work. Ziptask will do the final formatting on a blog post after in-house people actually write the thing. Ziptask can balance the figures after you make a big deal with a new client. And Ziptask can take the winning pitch that you spent all last week working on and turn it into a script, create a PowerPoint slideshow, and put the whole thing in a nice package ready to be presented. After your people do the hard work, Ziptask does the cleanup, the polishing, and just generally keeps your hands off the tasks you’d rather stay away from.

Take a hint from these institutions, and leave the smelly stuff to the pros.

 

Why Microsoft Office?

Tuesday, October 23rd, 2012 by Seth Weinstein

 

There really isn’t any other service like Ziptask that focuses exclusively on Microsoft Office for the majority of its work. Many other freelancing and task-outsourcing networks prefer to focus broadly, offering their customers a litany of services, options, and types of work. But Ziptask eschews this method. Why? What makes MS Office special, worthy of an entire service dedicated to the platform? Well, I’m glad you (hypothetically) asked!

Ubiquity

When you started reading this, you probably didn’t have to play catch-up by looking up what MS Office is. You wouldn’t be alone; MS Office is installed on over one billion desktops worldwide, and doesn’t seem to show any signs of slowing down. Tutorials are available on YouTube for free, making it an extremely easy-to-use suite o programs. And it’s not limited to specific demographics; students make presentations in PowerPoint, professionals track data with Excel and create press releases with Word and Publisher, and your mom might even email your great aunt through Outlook. Even Apple computers have MS office available for them; no other suite of office software has come anywhere close to the impact and reach of Microsoft’s Swiss army knife of tools.

Data Handling

In addition to Office being well-known and easy-to-use, businesses can take advantage of built-in features to measure metrics and learn a little more about the work done by their employees. The software suite is very good at silently compiling data about your documents as you create them, which makes it easy for anyone who needs to retrieve it later en masse. Word documents, for example, can produce counts of individual words, exposing new SEO terms and making sure the established ones are getting their proper exposure. The capabilities of the suite by no means end there; indeed, any interested supervisor or executive could retrieve a huge number of statistics on their employees’ work. The possibilities are really only limited by what data you want to find.

Transfer-Ready

In a business that lives and dies by sending files from one party to another, transferability is crucial, and MS Office delivers. It’s far too common to hear a horror story of one person sending another a file to have it end up as a mass of strange characters or jumbled formatting. Office circumvents this problem and others by making it extremely easy to transfer part of, or entire, files. Need a bunch of data moved into Excel? Write a macro, plug in the file, and your work is done. Bits of Word documents can be pasted into spreadsheets and vice-versa with nothing more than a glorified copy-paste feature. And you can rest easy knowing that the file you sent out will look exactly the same on your contractor’s screen as it did on yours.

You probably already use Microsoft Office for a number of things around your workplace. Ziptask recognizes this, and that’s why we’ve billed ourselves as your one-stop-shop for any assignment on this platform. We cater exclusively to this program, meaning that we don’t get distracted by trying to learn fifty others at the same time. We’re confident that our team can handle anything MS Office can throw at us, and we want to do it for your business too. You’ve probably worked with some less-than-competent people in your lifetime; wouldn’t it be nice to hand off work to a company that actually knows what it’s doing?

Don’t Skip the Legal Legwork!

Tuesday, October 16th, 2012 by Seth Weinstein

From Cliff Caswell at Police Oracle:


Outsourcing: Clarity Sought On Driver Training

Fed confirms it has sought legal advice over privatisation issue.Senior roads policing professionals have admitted serious concerns over the potential legal implications of outsourcing driver training to private firms as budget cuts continue to bite.The Police Federation has confirmed that it is seeking clarification over any ramifications that could face forces if they use the services of third parties.

Alan Jones, Chairman of the staff association’s Roads Policing Group, said that he was not levelling criticism at forces using the outsourcing route or the companies they chose – but felt that any potential legal issues should be quickly identified and addressed.

More…


Looks like even the police aren’t above the law when it comes to outsourcing! It’s always a great idea to double- and triple-check the laws before you outsource any work to an outside firm, especially when it’s high-profile and high-risk work like the kind mentioned in this article. Failure to comply with laws has ramifications that I am sure we’re all familiar with and would rather avoid.

Of course, it almost goes without saying that if you choose to outsource your work through Ziptask, you’ll find that we’ve already done all the legal work for you. We pride ourselves on putting as little personal strain as possible on the customer, so you can be assured that if you use Ziptask, everything will be handled in the legal-est possible manner. Just one more little hassle that Ziptask is more than willing to do so you don’t have to!

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