Archive for the ‘Outsourcing’ 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.

ReBlog: Clickworker.com Offers Tasks to Finnish Online Jobbers

Friday, December 21st, 2012 by Seth Weinstein

clickworker

Clickworker.com offers tasks to Finnish online jobbers (PR-inside.com)

The clickworker.com platform has been providing micro jobs in the areas of text creation, web research, translations, tagging and data categorisation for the last five years. Worldwide over 300,000 Internet users are registered on the platform. They are ready to handle any number of tasks according to their skills and preferences. An increased demand from Finnish e-commerce businesses for short product descriptions has prompted clickworker.com to offer text creation and editing jobs to Finnish Internet users.

Read more…

It’s nice to see platforms like this succeed, especially when their goals and methods are so similar to Ziptask’s. Cloud labor is worldwide!

Check out this site if you’re interested in other services like Ziptask. Our operations and capabilities seem pretty similar; the main difference is that Clickworker is more focused on creative endeavors, where Ziptask is more focused on processing and refinement. Both systems have their merits, and it’s always cool to see how the “other guys” are doing things.

Have a good weekend, and Happy Holidays!

–Seth

Cloud Labor Scuffle: Ziptask, AutoMan, and MTurk’s Flaws

Tuesday, December 11th, 2012 by Seth Weinstein

AutoMan

Researchers at the University of Massachusetts have recently created AutoMan, a new cloud labor algorithm that intends to outsource not the worker, but the boss. New Scientist’s Douglas Haven reports that AutoMan is a fully automatic system that analyses and delegates tasks to human workers on Amazon Mechanical Turk. Where Ziptask simplifies task outsourcing via our task management team and a “set it and forget it” setup, AutoMan seeks to tackle the process completely automatically. If AutoMan is successful, it could end up wildly improving on the original Turk by automating oversight, the one remaining untouched process.

In a report published by the UMass researchers, the grievances against MTurk are laid out quite succinctly on the very first page. Turk doesn’t scale well to complicated tasks, it’s often difficult to determine the appropriate payment or time scale for a job, and there’s no guarantee that the finished work will be of acceptable quality. Being so similar, both Ziptask and AutoMan have their own unique ways of addressing these flaws.

Scale and Complexity

MTurk is great for simple tasks like identifying the subjects of photos, but when it comes to complicated, iterative, or interrelated tasks, its power often falls short. The problem lies in the fact that clients need to separate complex tasks into bite-sized chunks of work, which are better suited to the platform. Ziptask solves this problem with its team of project managers, who can break down and assign tricky tasks to multiple workers, or pore through their database for a worker who is qualified for all aspects of the task. Unfortunately, it does not appear as though AutoMan will have any innate capability to split up or delegate a task in such a way; perhaps this functionality will be addressed in a later update. We’ve discussed the strength of Ziptask’s scalability before, so I hope the UMass researchers have something good up their sleeves.

Payment and Time

Those who wish to assign work via MTurk not only have to format and post their task, but must also determine how long it should take and how much money they think it’s worth. Since task posters are already short on time by definition, this step becomes an unnecessary speed bump. Ziptask, again with its human team of supervisors, assigns prices to jobs automatically based on the difficulty and type of work. Since the labor is compensated per-minute, they’ll also determine a cutoff price to help you avoid going over budget. By contrast, AutoMan turns the process into trial-and-error based on a series of formulas. Price is calculated based on the duration of the work and federal minimum wage, and task time limits are set to 30 seconds by default. AutoMan will automatically adjust both the task price and time limit (upwards) if it’s not getting the results it requires. Clients can set these parameters to other defaults if the task requires, but the process is otherwise very standardized.

Quality Assurance

Any cloud labor platform, regardless of its makeup or the details of its process, will live and die by work quality. Who wants to pay for substandard results? Quality assurance is an absolute necessity, and MTurk has next to none built in. Ziptask once again turns to its supervision team, who personally make sure that every document is up to standards before presenting it to the client. The client provides the final pass/fail check, and no money changes hands until everyone agrees that the work makes the cut. AutoMan, by comparison, automates the process in the simplest possible way; it has multiple workers complete the task, and waits to see which results are the most common. The workers are paid once the majority has reached a statistically viable agreement, with no payment going to workers who provided incorrect answers.

Will My New Boss Be A Robot?

Rest assured, it’s probably not gonna happen anytime soon. The relative inflexibility of both the AutoMan algorithm and the MTurk interface mean that this combination is going to be very effective, but only for certain kinds of tasks. In a nutshell, this isn’t going to add any muscle to MTurk; it will continue to be bad at intricate or skill-based work, but good at work that’s just above “a monkey could do it”-level. The only difference is that the AutoMan algorithm could highly increase Turk’s effectiveness at completing these types of tasks. For all other office work, especially things that you can’t wait around for five or six workers to agree on, Ziptask is going to get you better results, faster, and most likely for a better price.

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.

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?

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