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Pro-Sourcing, Part 2: Get Marketing, IT, Design, Social Media and Writing Projects Done for Amazingly Affordable Prices.

In part one of this article, we provided the background and the detail of what makes Pro-Sourcing an extraordinary strategy to get project work done and to extend your company's capabilities. Read on for a quick review and some useful techniques for getting Pro-Sourcing projects completed efficiently, reliably and successfully.

By Bob Lieber
Published: September 6, 2011

About Thinking Creatively

Thinking Creatively is about taking a step back... when you want or need to think strategically and creatively about your business... or about your customer's business... or about a solution to a challenging business problem. The goal is to be one part inspiration and one part motivation. We hope to provide - over time - thought-provoking advice, tools, ideas and company profiles that help get you to your next breakthrough. Your feedback and interaction is invited, welcomed and encouraged.

Thinking Creatively is made possible by the support of GMC Software Technology. Normally such features are for "Premium Members" only. However, because the topic is so timely and essential to all executives in the industry we asked GMC Software Technology to provide support for this series. Their support allows us to to present these articles free for all WhatTheyThink.com members.

In part one of this article, we talked extensively about what makes Pro-Sourcing an extraordinary strategy to get project work done by professionals from all over the U.S. and the world. We'll do a quick review here, and then move into some useful techniques for getting Pro-Sourcing projects completed efficiently, reliably and successfully.

What is Pro-Sourcing?

It is the act of putting your project out for hire – and tapping the hundreds of thousands of independent, professional contractors who have signed up to offer their services --  through online talent banks like elance.com, guru.com, crossloop.com or odesk.com.

Here is a list of some of the projects I've personally completed, either for my own business or for my clients (e.g. you can source this work and resell it to your own customers):

  • I've had a new PowerPoint template designed for a client…and then had a company overview presentation designed in that new template (using one contractor in Chicago, one in Atlanta).
  • I've had software specifications written for a new service to be sold over the internet (contractor was from Argentina).
  • I have had my own company's website redesigned; vendor is from India.
  • I have had a marketing planning tool created for a client, using a resource in North Carolina and Pakistan.
  • I have had an Excel database tool created by a resource in Missouri.
  • I have had viruses removed from a PC expert in California.
  • I've consulted with an intellectual property attorney in Silicon Valley on the pros and cons of patenting a new online service.

Just how big is this Pro Sourcing phenomenon? Here are statistics from the first quarter of 2011, at elance.com:


Yes, that says over 138,000 projects being posted, and over $30 million in earnings.

The numbers on a competing service, odesk.com, are equally compelling:


And, for those who think this is an "offshore only" opportunity, consider the narrow gap in hourly rates being charged by contractors at odesk.com:


What I do to increase the likelihood of finding great contractors.

My best success to date has been with the service elance.com. In my own experience, I have found a few techniques that helped me increase my odds of finding a match – someone with the skills, at the right price and service orientation to work collaboratively with me:

1. Select the right search parameters when trying to locate contractors. You can specify individuals or businesses. You can select location…by country or state. You can restrict your search to those with a certain amount of reviews…or satisfaction ratings. You can even save your searches or put contractors on a "watch list" with your notes about them. The key here is, while you can put your project out to bid to "everyone", it is worth it to invite those contractors who you've previewed in your search.

2. Scrutinize your invited contractors carefully. I almost always stick to contractors with high rankings and lots of completed jobs. This ensures that people know how to satisfy lots of different buyers, and have mastered the ways of understanding a buyer's needs. I read the types of projects they've completed, the prices paid for them and the reviews that buyers have written. Subtle clues can be discerned from a careful reading of reviews…look out for those who've missed deadlines, or had trouble in communications.

3. Be sure to look over a contractor's portfolio. Each contractor has the opportunity to display their work right on elance.com. This gives you a chance to evaluate the factors that are most important to you. Is one contractor's work more creative? Clearer? Intricate? Impressive? The portfolio review should give you another way to compare one contractor to the next.

4. Don't forget to make notes. If you do like I do – and look at lots and lots of contractors before you pick one – it is easy to forget what you liked or disliked about each. You have the opportunity to do this if you add them to your watch list. It is also important to do this as you evaluate each contractor's bid. This is essential to keep your process efficient.

5. Spend time writing a great project description.  Be clear and complete in listing who you are, what you need, when you need it done and what you expect from the winning bidder.

6. If you can, create a "pre-project" project and hire two contractors. This has been beneficial for me, when I've had a critical deadline for a project and I'm working with someone for the first time. It is also useful if I'm looking for specialized expertise, or really creative output. I put out a multi-stage job…and have two people -- who look good enough to hire -- create an interim output. I can evaluate how we work together and whether they are on top of the work and the deadlines. Then, I usually put out a second project to complete the job with the contractor I feel best about. I've actually expanded my network of people this way…saving some for more creative, but less rushed projects, and others who can be counted on in a pinch.

7. Write great reviews for those contractors you work with. The system for facilitating pro-sourced work includes a review mechanism. This allows you to grade and comment on your contractor – and vice versa. So good contractors continue to get positive reviews…and bad ones are exposed. Likewise, if you are not a good buyer, you will get dinged by your contractors. And all is online for people to see. So this is a self-policing system that helps maintain quality work and satisfaction all the way around.

Hopefully you're now convinced of the legitimacy and the opportunity that exists for you to employ Pro-Sourcing in your business. For anyone with specific questions…or for anyone who would like a bit more explanation on how this might work for their own business and projects, feel free to write to me.

Bob is available for speaking engagements and consulting projects. To get more information contact us here.

Bob Lieber is founder and CEO of OriginalThought LLC, a marketing strategy and services firm, creating “original solutions to chronic industry and consumer problemsTM”. Industry expertise is diverse, including technology, health care, financial services, consumer packaged goods and graphic arts.

What do you think? Please offer your feedback to Bob at blieber@originalthoughtllc.com

 

Discussion

By Karen Keenan on Sep 06, 2011

And we wonder how the print industry got into such a price-driven, commodity market. I think your article says it all

 

By Steven Amiel on Sep 06, 2011

Absolutely great article Bob-
We have used Elance and the system is great.
Managing overseas vendors, while no quite the wild west is was 10 years ago still has risk involved.

do not take anything for granted, and expect to proactively project manage your work at every stage to ensure the scope is understood.

Projects change while being developed, our experience overseas has been that they do a great job on what they think the job is....which many not be what you think.

Dot the I's and cross every T

With that, you can save alot of money and time.

 

By Mark Robinson on Sep 07, 2011

After reading your recent articles on Pro-Sourcing, Part 1 & 2, I can't help but get the feeling that you're promoting the cheapening of the labor pool, both here and overseas. There are many skilled contractors who work hard everyday in promoting their work and what they do well.

Seth Godin wrote in his blog back in July “A relentless race to the bottom” that while many companies are trying to race to the top by providing value added services, you want us to consider “Walgreening” our projects and design concepts to the lowest bidder.

You go on to mention that you recently had your website redesigned using Pro-Sourcing. As they say, you get what you pay for. Your refresh rates are slow and there are errors displaying on your CSS. All in all, I’d say $300.00 well spent!

When we have our next sales meeting, I’ll be sure to put you on our bid list for speakers. Just to let you know, our budget is only $59.95, so I guess you’ll be on stage for around 1 min & 40 secs. Oh by the way, you have to pay for your own gas and tolls.

 

By Bob Lieber on Sep 07, 2011

Steven,

Thanks for the positive feedback...and the good add on overseas vendors.

You are quite right about project managing your work...so much of the communication is done via email and chat, that it is important to be super clear in what you request, what you comment on and what you'll accept.

Again, thanks for weighing in.

 

By Bob Lieber on Sep 07, 2011

For those reading comments on this article, I did post a general response on part one of the two part article. It is mostly addressing a few comments around the "you get what you pay for" thought.

To be clear, what I'm advocating here is not simply "get bids to find the cheapest price you can".

What I am suggesting is that it is hard for companies and buyers of professional services to find great, expert resources, that are affordable and accessible...for project work. And many companies simply put off doing work like updating their logos or company graphics...or sales tools...or websites...because they assume it will be too expensive and too time consuming.

This is mostly true of sole proprietors.

And by having organized marketplaces that create a level playing field that help match buyers and sellers, there is a business benefit to both parties.

 

By Bob Lieber on Sep 07, 2011

Karen,

Thanks for your comment. I really do appreciate any and all feedback.

Markets behave in funny ways. New ideas develop, new technology is invented, new forces take shape, new kinds of value are created...and it is up to all of us to figure out the best way to adapt and change.

The changes in the print market have been on the horizon for some time. The changes in how professional services are bought and sold are obviously still emerging...but the signs are clear. Elance.com and odesk.com alone generate nearly 500,000 job posts a quarter and have over 1.7 million contractors ready to work.





 

By Bob Lieber on Sep 08, 2011

Dear Mark,

I do appreciate you taking the time to respond to the articles. I welcome feedback and opinions different from mine. And I'm happy to have an extended dialogue with you about all this at any time.

In reading your comments, I’m pretty certain though, that you misunderstood the essence of what I wrote.

Let me try to clarify.

You wrote: “I can't help but get the feeling that you're promoting the cheapening of the labor pool, both here and overseas.”

Actually, that's not correct. I’m shining a light on market forces that are at work in our economy, forces that each person can choose whether to accept…or not.

This idea of an open marketplace, with a level playing field to help people buy and sell, has been a fundamental change that the internet and technological shifts and economics have created. In lots of different industries.

In my own business I help companies differentiate themselves…helping them stand out, carve out unique space. I’ve helped Fortune 100 companies do that and many sole proprietors as well. When that happens, companies, or independent consultants, can command a premium price for their work.

So my aim is not to “cheapen the labor pool”; the price that people charge for this work is a function of many different variables.

If the price of fresh fruit went down, and became more plentiful, would you insist on paying more because it might put farmers out of business?

And, the idea that every contractor is charging “below market rates” is not true. Averages dictate that some charge more and others less.

Shouldn't we leave it up to the buyers to determine who to choose and which contractor combines the right set of skills, talents, experience, timing and costs.

And why is this any different than promoting your service on Facebook or Twitter or LinkedIn?

You wrote: There are many skilled contractors who work hard everyday in promoting their work and what they do well.


My thoughts:

All of the people on elance.com and odesk.com and guru.com are doing just what you describe; many are “working very hard everyday in promoting their work and what they do well.”

Why would you deny them the opportunity to use another “selling channel” to gain new clients? Should they be penalized because they are not working for a company, but choose to work for themselves? Or, what distinction do you see in promoting via LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and blogs, vs. these marketplaces? In some respects, this is actually a much more direct route to new clients and new work.

You wrote;

You want us to consider “Walgreening” our projects and design concepts to the lowest bidder.

My reply:

Actually, I read Seth’s article; he is defending sole proprietors, or shop owners, over big conglomerates. And he is talking about people at company’s like Walgreen’s that “don’t care”. Well, I can tell you first hand, the people on elance.com and crossloop.com DO care…they’ve gone out of their way to help me meet tense deadlines, with quality work.

Also, as I stated in my comments on article #1, I don’t – and have never advocated – for work going to the lowest bidder. Work should be awarded based on the right mix of talent, skills, experience, timing AND cost. Isn’t that the way it is with those who freelance and don’t list on elance.com?

If what you took away from my article is that work should go to the lowest bidder, you really missed the point. There are those companies – and individuals in business for themselves – that are putting off updating their website, or starting a blog, or creating new services, because they feel they don’t have the money, or the skills or can’t devote the time to do it themselves.

Should they just have their business stand still when there are willing, able and affordable resources to help them grow their business?

With every new trend or advancement in the world of business, there will be those who will resist and hang on to the status quo. And there will be those who will venture out and embrace the future.



 

By Mark Robinson on Sep 08, 2011

Bob,

I appreciate your reply to my comments. Your original article was titled “Redesign Your Website, Create a New Sales Tool, Update Your Company Graphics…all for under $1,000. Really!” If I extend your premise, I assumed you were advocating a cheap and inexpensive buying experience based on your title.

That being said, I know the individuals that proffer their services on those sites are indeed professionals dedicated to providing the best they offer. I endorse them in everyway. In fact many of them are using the sites to supplement their earnings and extend their skill sets.

I agree with you that given the state of the printing industry, printers should use to them to create marketing programs, social media adjuncts and web (re)designers for their businesses sooner rather than later.

We live in challenging times. Our “new” economy leaves many people unemployed, or under-employed. The skills they bring should not be under-valued based on how good a deal we can get when we shop for goods, or services.

I understand change as I recently wrote a blog titled “The Winds of Change” you can read it http://www.gerichards.com/dnn/Blog.aspx

Regards,

Mark Robinson

 

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