Archive for the ‘Business’ Tag

Why You Should Use Ziptask as Your Business’s Virtual Assistant

Friday, December 28th, 2012 by shawn@ziptask.com

© Zsuzsanna Kilian 2009

I recently read an article on Entrepreneur.com detailing the various ways in which virtual assistants can help small businesses save time and get more work done. While reading the list, it occurred to me that many of these tasks were similar, and almost all of them could be completed with Ziptask. Using Ziptask as your company’s de facto virtual assistant is preferable to going through the process of hiring an in-house worker, and will allow your company greater flexibility and more focus on important tasks.

Why Ziptask Over an In-House Associate?

Ziptask’s services are best used for small, insular tasks, which are precisely the type of work that an assistant would commonly perform. As I’ve mentioned in the past, the process of hiring a flesh-and-blood worker is an extreme headache. For the relatively small role of an assistant, the process is understandably not worth it for many businesses. On the flip side, if you find yourself in desperate need of someone to handle all the small tasks that fall by the wayside, your new worker may find themselves overwhelmed by the volume. Ziptask can easily scale up to handle any amount of work; the same can not be said about a standard human assistant.

The article I read detailed 10 services your assistant could provide you, but I found that they could essentially be distilled into three categories: data collection, data synthesis, and data organization.

Data Collection

In a thriving business, which yours hopefully is, the people up top may find it difficult to keep up with all the information they are expected to know, much less seek out new research. Ziptask can help by sending its workers out to collect new data for you. Based on what your company needs, Ziptask can research potential new clients, keep tabs on changing industry standards, or keep an eye on competitors. Provide Ziptask with a general prompt delineating what information you want collected and simply send it out once a week. You can even automate the process so you just get a simple weekly “newsletter” directly in your inbox!

Data Synthesis

Conversely, sometimes your business has the information it needs already, but it’s not in the most convenient or accessible form. An assistant can provide structure to these heaps of data, and Ziptask is similarly more than up to the challenge. Send us a scan of your date book, and we can send you back a calendar file with all your meetings and reminders perfectly squared away. Send us your fresh-off-the-press business report and a few key points, and we’ll make a visual presentation for your coworkers, clients, or yourself. Send us a pile of receipts, and we’ll transfer the values to a nice, clean spreadsheet for you. Having your data in an accessible form at all times without having to do it yourself is practically invaluable.

Data Organization

Keeping tabs on all that data is possibly the most tedious part of your job, and therefore the part that screams the loudest for you to hand it off to someone else. Ziptask can, for a start, keep your finances in order by filing away all your statements and keeping track of upcoming bills. Simply having that part of the money matters off one’s mind can be a huge relief. In addition, Ziptask could also help you build and maintain a database of your employees or business contacts, keep track of your website’s traffic and hits on social media, and even manage your email inbox.

When faced with the seemingly endless amount of minor tasks we encounter on a day-to-day basis, many people would jump at the chance to pass some of that work off to a reliable third party. Ziptask feels your pain, and we want to help. Free up your time and your brain, and congratulate yourself on avoiding the hiring process when you’re done.

5 Reasons Why Your Business Needs Crowdsourcing

Wednesday, December 26th, 2012 by shawn@ziptask.com

Infograph from Saleschase Blog:5 reasons

In summary, crowdsourcing helps save time and money, improve quality, and make your business more flexible. Ziptask falls under the “Crowd Sourced Labor” category, and we’re ready to do whatever heavy lifting you need! Embrace the power of the crowd, and super-charge your business.

Huffington Post: You Can’t Outsource HR

Friday, December 7th, 2012 by Seth Weinstein

HR

From Liz Ryan at Huffington Post:

[You] can’t outsource HR. That’s like running a business in Indianapolis and using contractors in India to water the plants on the desks. HR is local. It’s what’s happening on the ground, in the culture and among the troops. You can’t do that sort of work long-distance.

Good HR people are embedded, with at least one ear to the ground all the time. They may process vacation-time requests as part of their jobs, but their real value is in knowing where the good-and-bad-energy currents are flowing in your organization, and using that knowledge (and other skills, like sensitivity and emotional intelligence) to steer around the landmines that come with the territory whenever you work with people.

Luckily, the gulf between “process-type HR” and “people-intensive HR” duties is becoming more and more obvious every day. Much of what we used to view as standard job-description fodder for a typical HR person is now safely in the “process-type HR” arena. You can outsource that stuff, as long as you have a sharp HR person on staff and on premises to run interference between the troops and your outsourced-HR-process vendors.

Ryan goes on to emphasize the importance of delineation between human-based HR work and business-based HR work, the latter of which can (for the most part) be outsourced freely. The human side of things is best left to an attentive, in-house individual who is wise to the company culture and the ebbs and flows of employee opinions.

Ryan also includes a large, but by no means exhaustive, list of situations where an in-house HR professional would be infinitely preferable to an outsourced individual or firm. If an employee is being too sexually forward with his peers, or a sudden medical crisis arises for a worker’s family, or the entire staff fundamentally misunderstands the company’s business plan, an HR professional who is intimately familiar with the company will be a bigger help than a third party any day of the week.

Ziptask doesn’t outsource these people-oriented HR tasks, but the more business-and-administration purposes are easily within the purview of work we can handle. If you have a great HR worker on your staff, hold onto them for dear life! But also ask them if maybe Ziptask can handle some of their more number-crunchy work while they take care of that unfortunate “our receptionist got a DUI and is in prison” situation.

 

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.

 

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.

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.

 

“Crowdsourcing”: No Longer a Dirty Word

Monday, October 15th, 2012 by Seth Weinstein

Crowdsourcing (v)the process of subverting the traditional work model by posing a task via open call to an undefined, voluntary group of people, instead of an employed individual or team.

Examples: American Idol. Wikipedia. Kickstarter. Craigslist. “Wanted” posters.

Since Jeff Howe first coined the term in a 2006 Wired article, crowdsourcing has slowly but surely worked its way into the public eye. Beginning as a mere corporate buzzword, it has evolved from a business term into a wide umbrella that, we’re now realizing, encompasses the way a surprisingly large array of organizations get things done.

But still, there is some resistance. The No!Spec movement among the design community urges aspiring artists and designers to stay away from the “contest” model of crowdsourcing, fearful that they won’t be paid for their hard work. And you don’t have to look hard to find crowdsourcing efforts that have gone horrifically bad; sometimes they don’t even have to be posted by the company in question. Some companies prefer to avoid the term altogether, preferring to bill themselves under a less-loaded word. There are legitimate concerns. And yet…

A recent TimesJobs.com survey revealed that nearly 57% of the surveyed employers use crowdsourcing for recruitment purpose, whether through minor projects completed by fans, or in-house employees vetted through some sort of crowd-sourced method. More than half of them noted the cost and efficiency of such methods compared to traditional models. If it’s so successful and apparently on the rise, is there still a need to be demure about it?

At times like this, I find it helpful to zoom out and look at the bigger picture. And the bigger picture is this: we are, as a sentient race of humans, becoming more and more aware of the exact extent to which our world is completely messed up. The widespread acceptance of the Internet led to the advent of the 24-hour news cycle, social media, and a voice for every individual, and that means that it’s becoming more and more difficult to be ignorant of the sticky issues our humble planet faces.

What this means for Joe Average is that he’s feeling a new surge of responsibility and duty to fixing these perceived issues, but unfortunately he still has mostly the same tools to work with. Being made aware of problems is sadly not the same as being given the power to solve them, although it is the first step. The next step is to create an infrastructure that allows Joe to contribute to helping solve the problems he is now all-too-aware of. And what do we call that system?

Well, Jeff Howe calls it crowdsourcing. You can call it “the best damn focus group you’ve ever seen” at the very least, but you could also call it “cost-effective labor”, “the infinite idea creation engine”, and “massive-scale QA”. These crowds are full of employees, consumers, parents, friends, students, and citizens; through their various roles, they can see sides of your business that you may not be able to. And they want to help you improve.

So let them. Hold a contest on 99Designs to get a fresh new logo. Raise money for a side project on Crowdcube. You could even hire someone to do your mundane daily work on a site like… oh, I dunno, Ziptask or something.

But if you hesitate, your competitors won’t. Almost two-thirds of them are already on the bandwagon. Can you afford to wait much longer?

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