Archive for the ‘Ziptask’ 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.

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

CrowdFlower Under Fire: Lawsuit Threatens Employment Status

Friday, December 14th, 2012 by Seth Weinstein

crowdflowerIt is not a good day to be CrowdFlower. The website, based on crowdsourcing, offers a service akin to Amazon Mechanical Turk: huge amounts of data handled cheaply and quickly by large crowds that are paid per task. But a new lawsuit leveled by an Oregon man who works for the company claims that its employees are drastically underpaid. According to the suit, CrowdFlower pays its workers much less than the federally-mandated minimum wage for employees, with some fees going as low as $2 to 3 an hour.

The sticking point in the suit is the classification of CrowdFlower’s work force. The suit claims that they are employees, like at any other company, and must therefore not only be paid the minimum wage, but also must have income and other taxes withheld. CrowdFlower, however, claims that their employees are independent contractors, and subject to less strict guidelines. The results of the suit will most likely hinge on the classification of their employees into one category or the other.

It’s tricky, though. According to the official IRS website, there is no one deciding factor that determines if an employee is or is not a contractor:

Businesses must weigh [behavioral, financial, and relationship-related] factors when determining whether a worker is an employee or independent contractor. Some factors may indicate that the worker is an employee, while other factors indicate that the worker is an independent contractor. There is no “magic” or set number of factors that “makes” the worker an employee or an independent contractor, and no one factor stands alone in making this determination. Also, factors which are relevant in one situation may not be relevant in another.

The keys are to look at the entire relationship, consider the degree or extent of the right to direct and control, and finally, to document each of the factors used in coming up with the determination.

In a nutshell, this means that the plaintiff’s side of this case will likely launch a large-scale investigation into CrowdFlower’s employment methods and worker duties, as well as peer into how the workers are paid, and by whom. If I can be honest, it does not look great for CrowdFlower. The lawsuit claims that some of their employees aren’t even compensated monetarily, and are instead given online gaming credits or points towards award programs. If it turns out that CrowdFlower’s workers cannot be classified as contractors, that is going to be all but a fatal blow. Further complicating the matter is the fact that CrowdFlower does not directly employ its workers, but instead hires them through channels like MTurk.

Further reading on the IRS site details what will happen if the employees are found to not be contractors. In the most likely scenario, CrowdFlower will have to pay both back taxes to the IRS and full retroactive compensation to the plaintiff, plus damages. Since the plaintiff is also attempting to get his suit into class action status, he may not be the only one who gets paid. However, CrowdFlower can claim that it had a “reasonable basis” for treating its workers as contractors, in which case they may not have to pay the aforementioned compensation.

There is also the possibility that CrowdFlower will be forced to reclassify its employees and give them all the tax- and compensation-related baggage that goes with it. Again, this could be a huge blow to the company since they’ve built their model on the idea that their workers are contractors. Without drastically increasing prices or dramatically cutting costs, they are simply not going to have the money to keep their namesake Crowd around.

It’s times like these that I am very thankful for how Ziptask runs things. We hire contractors as well, but with two major differences when compared to the CrowdFlower model: we are unequivocal about labeling our workers as contractors, and we pay them a fair wage. Crazy, right? But it turns out people like feeling like their time is worth something. There’s a reason that there isn’t a huge line at McDonald’s to be the next fry cook. Some work is menial and less-than-desirable, but it still has to get done. And if CrowdFlower wants that to happen, it’s in their best interest to not get sued for treating their employees poorly.

Simple stuff, really.

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.

 

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.

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