The high’s and lows of employing people overseas

inida outsourced worker

Your best employees may not all eat bacon and eggs for breakfast

The Shipbreakers of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh became famous after a documentary showed the other worldly scenes of the places in the subcontinent where the ships go to die. Here is an amazing video showing what goes on.

Shipbreaking is just one of the many professions that get outsourced all round the world. International outsourcing is big business in Australia too. More and more of the work we used to do here in Australia is being done in other countries where wage rates are lower.

A client of mine is a tax accountant and he has outsourced part of his operations to India. Another client of mine is an architect and he has started to outsource a lot of drafting work to the Philippines. It’s the way of the world whether we like it or not and I’d encourage you to put your toe in the water as well.

I have engaged various assistants and specialists overseas for the past 3.5 years.

  • I’ve hired a designer/ illustrator in India to help me with a couple of my books.
  • I have had various SEO specialists in India work on the ranking of my website in Google.
  • I have had someone translate one of my books into Dutch. (In the Philippines of all places)
  • And I currently engage a marketing specialist to help me with my content marketing and engagement strategy.

Some have been great and some haven’t been so wonderful and some could have been great, if only I’d understood the challenges better. Those challenges are what I’d like to talk about:

BRIDGING THE CULTURAL GAP

India, Pakistan, Indonesia, the Philippines are overflowing with highly skilled people who want to work. Some of them are incredibly cheap (like scary cheap) and some less so. You know this already of course. But here’s what you may not have considered. The gap in cultural understanding between you and a freelance contractor in the northwest of India, is real. Very much so. You need to be aware of that and you need to set your engagement structure up to suit.

A couple of years ago, I engaged Rajiv in India to do the typesetting and layout of my third book. Part of the project was to create 36 illustrations to be dispersed throughout the book. This caused me no end of trouble for a while, because I simply hadn’t foreseen that my visual reference points were so very different to Rajiv’s.

One example still makes me smile. For a particular illustration, I had in mind an image of a classic strong man in a circus, except instead of being dressed in a Hercules costume he was dressed in a business suit and instead of carrying a big weight above his head he would have a pyramid of office workers standing on his shoulders.

THERE’S NO CIRCUS IN NORTH INDIA

To me it was an obvious image. Rajiv didn’t get it. I had to send his drawings back several times, it just didn’t make any sense until I suddenly realised that Rajiv, who was born and raised in the country in north India, had probably never seen a circus nor a classic circus strong man. So I found a bunch of photos of strong men and old circuses and sent them to him and then he got it. The end result was great I think.

THE LESSONS I’VE LEARNT

So here’s a few of the lessons I’ve learned in engaging Rajiv, Jasmin, Aanchal, Sridhar, Oleg and various others over the past 4 years:

  1. Understand that even if your employee speaks English, they won’t necessarily have the same understanding of a situation that you have.
  2. Set out your expectations excessively clearly. When you’re working with someone who is 10,000 km and 6 time zones away from you, you can’t walk past their desk and look over their shoulder to see how they’re going. Agree how often you are going to talk in what format. Agree on what the key deliverables are, weekly, and how you measure and report on them.
  3. Before you hire someone, pay them to do a specific test job and see how they go. I recently got 4 new marketing assistants to rewrite an old article of mine to see how they went and I paid them 2 hrs each for the article.
  4. And then after you select someone based on the test job, still only engage them for two weeks and ask them to perform specific jobs in those two weeks and again compare.
  5. Accept that your first hire is probably not going to work out well. It’s ok. Freelancers are generally engaged on a week by week basis and you can simply let them go and find someone else and apply the lessons you’ve learned.

Outsourcing to overseas contractors can work like a charm and it can allow you to do things you might otherwise never consider. But if you want it to work, you have to start by accepting that not everyone in the world has bacon and eggs for breakfast.

For more resources, and reading on strategies for growing your business follow this link to the first of The 7 Big Questions that all small business owners want answered

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6 comments on “The high’s and lows of employing people overseas
  1. hazel says:

    It’s a difficult one really. Outsourcing has both its advantages and disadvantages

    • Thanks Hazel,
      You’rte right, it’s really difficult and there as many horror stories as success stories out there, but whether we like it or not, we need to come to terms with the concept and the people and companies that get good at it will do well in the coming years

  2. Kym Heff says:

    Having outsourced over 300 jobs and with a current blend of Overseas and locals I couldn’t agree more with your “process”.

    I would also add:
    1. Talk with them via Skype/Zoom or another technology with screen sharing don’t just rely on emails and other written comms
    2. Take the time to get to know them like you would any local staff
    3. Research the learning norms as schools in some of countries you mentioned don’t always develop problem-solving – they learn by “rote” which means instructions are often interpreted very literally
    4. Research “how to do business in…” as this will help your understanding of the cultural/learning/communication differences

  3. Ronald says:

    Outsourcing can be very powerful if properly done. Aside from the obvious budget savings, you will be able to find talents that have a passion or skill that far exceeds to those of whom you can find locally. It’s hard in the beginning, but once you have enough experience in working with people from different countries, you’ll find that you’ll be able to create something that you never thought you can’t with the amount of resources you had.

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