Hiring my first oDesk employee – Part 1

I’ve put together an audio blog to talk about my first experience of hiring a virtual employee to help me with some of my day to day website tasks.  Check out the audio blog below either with the audio feed or youtube video and let me know in the comments what you think.

Audio File

YouTube Video


Today I’m going to talk to you about my experience with hiring my first employee from oDesk. I’m going to cover a few things in here. I’m going to talk to you about why I decided to hire someone from oDesk and then go into how I actually prepared for that first hiring and job posting.   After that I’m going to step you through the actual process of posting the job, filtering the applications all the way through to actually hiring my first employee.

 Why Hire Someone?

As many of you probably know, I run a number of different of websites.   Once you get to a point where you’re running a number of different websites the day-to-day tasks of those websites really starts to chew up your time a lot, and it really detracts from the amount of time you can spend doing new work. So I was finding that as I was launching new websites, I really wasn’t keeping up with those day to day tasks. As a result, my sites were suffering. They weren’t getting as much traffic from search engines. They weren’t getting retention traffic because content wasn’t staying as fresh as like I’d like it to be. So I really need to find someone to go in and do those mundane day-to-day tasks for me so that I can focus on new stuff and my older websites can continue to grow in the manner they were, and I can start keep launching newer and newer products.

So why hire from oDesk specifically?  There are a number of different services out there. I’m sure you all know about Freelancer and there’s other different services around. Virtual Assistants might help you, but I’ve been looking at oDesk for a long time and it really impressed me. They’re certainly a large service, and that was one of the nice things about it. The simple size of the resource pool that they have is very beneficial when you’re looking for someone because it really gives you a lot of different people to choose from when you post your job posting out there. They also take a lot of the hassle paying and managing the people you hire.  Whenever you start thinking about hiring an employee, you certainly have to start thinking about, “Oh, what about the legal aspects? What about the payroll aspects? Do I have to have a lawyer and an accountant now.” All those kinds of things. With oDesk, you just don’t have to worry about that at all. They take care of all that in the background for you. You literally just have to give them a payment method, you have to approve the number of hours they’ve worked during the week, and they take care of paying them for you out of your payment method, which is fantastic. Then on top of that, they’ve really got some great tools for being able to track the work that’s being done. Some messaging capabilities and then they’ve really got some cool tools to be able to see exactly what they’re doing with their time and keeping track of those time management tools and what have you, which is very beneficial when you’re starting out with new employees.

Make a plan 

When starting with this, the first thing you don’t want to do is run in, write a job description, post it, and go for it. You’ve really got to take some time to sit down and think about exactly what you’re trying to get out of this. I already knew that I wanted to get someone to do to some of my day to day tasks so that I could focus on the new stuff, but really it wasn’t just the case of, “I want to write a job posting.” I wanted to start off small. This is my first employee, so I know I’m going to make some mistakes. I know I’m going to do the process wrong. I’m hopefully not going to hire the wrong person, but potentially I might. So I certainly don’t want to waste a lot of time writing out absolutely everything and doing the whole process for full-time employee when it’s going to be a waste of time. So I wanted to start off small and actually run some initial tests so that I could get comfortable with the oDesk system, and so I could get comfortable with actually managing a remote employee to do these kinds of work. Once I started the initial test, I knew I was going to expand it. But for my initial test, really I needed to find a chunk of work I could actually break off and have them do. That was one of the critical parts of managing anyone: making sure that you can actually have chunks of your work that you can break off and give them, and have them run and work with on their own fairly independently without too much outside interference.

The thing that made the most sense for me starting out was social media posting. Anyone that runs a number of websites knows that social media posting is an important thing, and it does use up a lot of peoples’ time, especially with all the social media sites out there: Facebook, Google, Twitter, Tumblr, Pinterest. When you start listing out all the popular ones, it can certainly take up a larger chunk of time if you run multiple websites, to keep posting on those. So I was looking for someone to actually go ahead and take over that aspect of my day-to-day tasks. I didn’t want to give them keys to the castle and telling them to run all of my websites.  I have a lot of websites out there and certainly some of the larger ones are up in the tens of thousands of followers on Facebook. Certainly there’s issues around handing over the keys to those to someone without actually having them prove to them they can do the work without making some pretty major mistakes. So I decided to start with 2 of my small websites. If you’ve been following my blog, you’ll know that I’m actually doing some traffic experiments to try and revive a couple of my old websites, particular DecentComedy.com and Awesome-Pictures.com. So I wanted to really start with those and give them that, and start the social media posting with those. That to me seems like a really good test and really good way to actually work into this. If they were good at what they were doing, I would expand that into my other websites as well.

Looking at the amount of time that I wanted to actually have them work for, I knew I wanted to start out at around 5 hours a week. That was based on the actually workload I was going to be giving them. I know that I wanted posts every single day on social media sites and I wanted them to post on multiple social media sites. Five hours seemed like a good amount of work. In that as well, I wanted them to come up for a plan for the week as well. I didn’t want them to just go ahead and post and hope that they were posting the right kind of stuff. I wanted to have a little bit more control initially around what they were doing. So at the beginning of the week, I wanted them to come up with a plan to say where they were going to be posting, what content they were going to be posting, and then I could actually sign off on that and say, “That’s a good plan. Go ahead and do that for the week.” And then they could spend the rest of the week actually doing various different postings.

 Posting The Job

So posting a job on oDesk is actually a really easy process. First thing you have to do is sign up for oDesk. It’s like any kind of signup process. Then you verify your payment type because naturally you’ve got to have some way of paying them, and oDesk wants to make sure that you can pay them. I actually was able to use PayPal for mine, which was great, it was very easy. You can also use a credit card, which is fantastic too. Posting a job is actually really easy as well. They actually have a number of different categories, which give you a starting point where you can actually look to post your jobs. And within those categories, they also have a salary range, an hourly range, a rate range for what you can expect to pay people, which I found very beneficial because it gave me a clear understanding of what people on oDesk were expecting for the kind of work as well as what I could expect to be paying, which was nice.

So first thing you need to do is write a detailed description. By detailed, I don’t mean pages and pages and pages. I mean 2 to 3 paragraphs but detailed enough so that whoever is reading that job application can understand what you’re trying to get out of the job so there’s no surprises when you get through the hiring process when they say, “Oh, I didn’t understand you meant that.” Give a detailed enough description to where it’s accurate to what you’re actually hiring them to do. You can also set a number of different qualifications, which is nice. Then oDesk will filter out the applications based on those. You can say whether or not you want them to be experienced in oDesk, if they’ve worked for people before. You can give some geographical requirements. Certainly if you have timing requirements as to when you want to contact people, geographical stuff is very important.  You can also set up other qualifications, for example if they’re good with the English language and that kind of stuff.  Then on top of that, you can also set a range for your salary range. oDesk actually has 3 different ranges. You can choose from a low range, medium range, and a high range, so you can get different groupings of potential employees.  You can also set hourly range on how much time you expect them to spend per week on doing these various different tasks.

Some other critical things for this: the cover letter. The cover letter is important but not too important in my mind. Certainly requesting a cover letter is good, but you’ll probably find that a lot of people that are giving you a cover letter are copying and pasting cover letters from other things. So it’s not too important. The one thing I found that was really useful was the extra questions section. You can ask them a number of questions specific to what you’re looking for that they actually have to write in answers for. oDesk gives you a couple of default ones and you can certainly use those ones, but as with the cover letter, people probably have stock answers they’re giving to those people. So it might not be something you want to just use. I would definitely ask a couple of extra questions that are more specific around what you’re looking for. That’ll make people give you a real answer instead of one stock ones that they have.

 Filtering the candidates

So once you click on ‘post job’ link, it goes ahead and posts your job to all the potential applicants on oDesk.  Within about 6 hours, I had 25 job applicants, which was pretty good in my mind. I don’t know if that was specific to just because I was looking in the social media marketing and they have a lot of candidates for that or if I wasn’t asking for too much complication in terms of what I was asking for. But certainly 25 job applicants is a decent number for certainly in 6 hours. The one thing I did find is I did get a large number of spam applicants. oDesk does a good job of filtering out a lot of these spam applications, they actually hide a lot of them. You can actually look at the hidden ones as well if you want. However, some of the jobs applicants did actually filter through, and you can generally tell what the spam applicants are from a couple of things. Firstly, there are certainly some cover letters that were definitely copied. The cover letters looked very generic, so that’s kind of a red flag there, but the big one I found for spotting those were when I looked at the extra questions that I asked, I found a lot of the time people were posting just a simple one word ‘yes’ to each of those questions. They definitely weren’t one-word ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answers. These were questions that required a sentence or two to actually think about what I was asking and to respond to it. So anyone that was just posting ‘yes’ to those questions was immediately out. And in my mind, they were either a spam applicant because they hadn’t read the application or they didn’t understand the questions, which was also another red flag.

I definitely got some applicants, 2 or 3 applicants, that were overpriced. They were definitely very qualified for what I was looking for, but they were overpriced way beyond what I actually wanted to be spending. I also got some that were very much underpriced. Generally, the pricing goes along with their experience and their capability of doing things. Pricing’s not the only gauge but certainly a good gauge of telling whether or not someone can actually do the work you won’t. Certainly don’t rule out the underpriced ones. They’re worth taking a look at. Feel free to rule out the overpriced ones. I certainly ruled them out because I definitely had a budget I wanted to stick to.

So I went through all of my job applicants, and I actually shortlisted 6 of them. I didn’t just hire based on that first round. I wanted to follow-up with them on a second round of questioning because I wanted to make sure I had a bit more than just one interaction with them before I went ahead and hired them. Sometimes oDesk actually recommends you get on a Skype call with them. I didn’t really want to take that extra step and take that time because I knew this was only a test for me, but certainly I wanted a second round of questioning to filter out to make sure people were reading the questions properly and were capable of doing what I was asking for. So I followed up with another round of a couple of questions, this time getting more specific about what I was asking for. I actually gave them an example website that I wanted them to look at just to give them a little bit more context that they could provide to their answer. They actually took between a few hours and a day to respond to that, which is pretty good. Bear in mind, you’re dealing with people in different geographical locations, so always give them a bit more time to answer because certainly if you’re posting in 2 o’clock in the afternoon and they’re asleep for the next 8 hours, don’t expect them to response in the next 8 hours. Also, weekends were another thing. You might not always get responses on weekends because you don’t know if people are working weekends or spending time with their families. These are real people. They have lives as well. We may not all have lives because we’re working weekends and night and strange hours. We’re oddballs. That’s just the way we are. So based on those responses, I narrowed down to 2 or 3 candidates I thought were really qualified. I really took a stab in the dark and picked the one I thought was most qualified.

 You’re Hired

The actual hiring process was very easy for that. In terms of how I hired them, it really was a click on a button and you can hire them. So you click on the ‘hire’ button. You confirm the terms and they’ll send a contract over to the candidate that they have to agree to as well. You actually set the exact rate. If they were asking for a specific rate, you can change it if you want, but I stuck with what they were asking because it’s what I based my choice off of partially. You can also set the exact number of hours you expect them to work or up to the exact number of hours so there’s no price shocker. If you said, “I want them to work 10 to 20 hours a week,” and then all of a sudden they start working 30 hours a week, that’s not going to happen. You can cap the number of hours you want them to work.

Once the candidate has actually accepted the contract, it’s time to go ahead and start working. You reach out to each other. You start communicating and go to town. You start working and that’s really going to be the second part I get to in this audio blog post. I’m not going to talk about it today but certainly start checking back for that because I’m going to be posting soon. I’ve got some more follow-up information because I’m actually working with my candidate now. I want to give you that insight to how my work gone with them, how we communicate, some of the pitfalls that I’ve found, and really how the progress is going. So certainly check back. Visit EasySiteNetwork.com. Thank you for listening today, and I hope you come back and listen some more. Take care. Bye.



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