Outsourcing Business Research with Elance

Hanging around with entrepreneurs can get to your head just a bit. After a while you start to think about things in a particular way. It turns thoughts like: “I really want to look into X but I just don’t have time.” into thoughts like: “How many dollars would I be willing to trade for task X being completed well enough?”.

So I’m taking the plunge. In my previous post I talked about outsourcing some of my business research using Elance. If you’re intrigued, read on as I chronicle the process.

The first step is to define your project. This step sounds like it should be easy, but it rarely is. If you want to find a way to frustrate your boss, the best strategy I know of is to give them exactly what they ask for. The catch, of course, is that hardly anyone asks for what they want with enough precision. One way to think about it is to write your to daily do list as though it’s meant for someone else (since 43 Folders has already covered this, read about it there). Forming this habit will get you a long ways toward writing tasks for others.

I ended up breaking the research task into two components. The first component is to identify 5-10 possible suppliers and their contact information. Submit that list to me for review. The second part of the task is: upon approval, contact each of those suppliers and ask about a list of topics e.g. minimum quantities, time from order to shipment, etc.

The plan is that this structure allows me to keep control of the research and identify early on if things aren’t right. This is essentially a check to make sure the researcher and I are communicating well. If we are, then the results will be from companies like Small Batch Manufacturing, Inc. If we are not, then this list will be full of Million Minimum Manufacturing Corp. Yes, the names of these companies are made up, but you get the idea.

To make sure things are presented in way that’s useful to me, I specified that the completed work will be in an excel spreadsheet. I specified which fields that spreadsheet should have filled out, and the minimum number of entries that it needs to be considered complete.

Thanks to the folks over at 43 Folders for the inspiration.