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

Outsourcing

vogons

Why the future is with Rajiv in India

If only he understood my jokes a bit better

outsourcing India

My third book

I’m getting close to finishing my book.

It’s my third book and I’m proud of it. I think it’s my best book yet. The Working title is “The Ten Truths for Making Business Fun and building a business that sustains you for years to come”

One thing’s very different from my first two books. To complete the book I’ve joined the globalisation movement and engaged with an illustrator and designer in India. Rajiv is creating all the drawings that will go in the book and he is carrying out the design and layout work to get it ready for the printers.

Fascinating process… I’ve never had so many of my jokes and double entendres fall flat on their face, but Rajiv’s work is excellent.

And let’s be quite clear about this. By engaging Rajiv, I’ve taken work away from an Australian designer and illustrator and I’ve done so because it’s cheaper… much cheaper.

Superspeed internet

Collectively, I think it’s clear that the world is going to go through a massive shift in the next few years. When the NBN finally gets connected to a significant portion of our homes and businesses or some other superspeed internet connection becomes the standard, the wave will become unstoppable. More and more of the work that can be outsourced to India, The Philippines, China or Tajikistan will be. Right now, there are still a lot of businesses who are resisting it, because it’s all too hard and the language problems and cultural differences etc etc.

vogons Resistance is futile

But in the words of The Vogons: Resistance is futile.

I was talking to an architect recently about this issue and although he hasn’t gone the route of overseas outsourcing yet, it won’t be long before he will be forced to. Cost pressures will simply force it on him.

Do I think this is a good thing? Yes and no. Obviously if I was a young architect, or designer or web developer or computer programmer, I would be worried… very worried for the future. My career is probably not going to be there anymore in 10 or 15 years, maybe even sooner, because architects in the Philippines will be doing most of my work.

That’s not great for our society here in Australia or elsewhere in the Western World.

But you could just as easily argue that it is a positive development for the world as a whole. It seems to me that over time the rates we will be paying architects and software programmers in India will get closer and closer to rates we pay in Australia, and maybe that’s not such a bad thing. There is clearly a great imbalance in wealth and cost of living between the West and the Third World. Maybe this kind of movement is going to redress some of that imbalance. I’m sure that is already happening. Rajiv advertises his hourly rate on his profile as $4.50 per hour, but I’ve actually engaged him for $8.50 per hour (yeah, I know, I’m being ripped off right!).

Wage inflation

I was talking to an Indian friend of mine the other day and he reckons that working in India, the designer would be lucky if he could charge $2.50 per hour. So contracts like mine are causing wage inflation already (on a miniscule scale, but you see what I mean).

So what would I be doing if I was a young designer or programmer, bookkeeper or architect or any other profession that is outsource-able?

Keeping your fingers crossed certainly seems like a bad strategy. The old saying: If you can’t beat them, join them, strikes me as the approach to take. You see, I think there is an enormous opportunity for people to provide go-between services for people like me and Rajiv in India. What would perfect for me is if I could engage an actual designer here in Australia who manages the process of getting the work completed easily in India or wherever. The problems I and Rajiv have faced in this project so far have largely been about language, culture and some technical glitches.

I think If I was a young designer coming out of college, I’d make sure I learn Hindi or Tagalog or Chinese and establish a network of designers in one of the prime outsourcing countries. Then I’d develop a service for people like me and the contractors that facilitates the process, so that instructions I have for my contractor actually get understood the first time. Rajiv and I find ourselves going back and forth quite a lot, because I use words and sentences that mean something very different to Rajiv than they mean for me. Having someone in the middle who understands design and has design skills and speaks Indian would be invaluable.

Not to mention that I’d love my brilliant jokes translated into Hindi and hear the raucous laughter clear across the Indian Ocean.

The world will change completely in the next 10 years. There really is no point hoping it won’t.