Monthly Archives: May 2012

Building Virtual Bench Strength

Many small businesses are doing what they can to keep things going in the face of one of the worst economic downturns in our lifetimes, but with so many elements of uncertainty many are loathe to make full time hires or resume their pre-recession growth trajectories. And yet, there is still work to be done. While we wait to see what will happen with health care reformlabor lawstax changes and other variables, it is important to keep moving, stay focused, and explore other ways to get things done.

One way to keep projects moving and stay on track is through the use of virtual teams and the thousands of freelancers around the world who are eager to ply their craft, but have been sidelined as a result of the economy and job market.

I see a tremendous opportunity through virtual outsourcing, for small- to mid-sized businesses as well as freelancers and solopreneurs.

Since I started my business in March 2010, I’ve tested a number of these online resources, such as oDeskGuru,99designs and several others. In many cases, you will find very capable US-based freelancers registered on these sites as contractors and service providers. And in many cases, using these services is not the cheapest option. I have had some projects go very smoothly, and others that (four months later) are still not complete. And in that timeframe, I have learned some things that I am going to share with you.

  1. Have a plan. This would seem pretty obvious, but in the US workplace we’re so used to ambiguity and lack of specificity in job assignments that it’s tempting to apply the same approach with virtual team support. Don’t! If you cannot create a “paint by the numbers” plan for the project that spells out the goals, elements and deliverables then you are kidding yourself if you think the person on the other end is just going to figure it out for themselves. It is up to you to spell it out, and be as specific as possible in defining the scope of work and what the finished product should look like.
  2. Use specific questions to narrow the field. Many times, freelancers and virtual teams will simply bid on every project that is posted, and they will decide later (once they’ve made the cut for interviews) whether they can actually do the project. Eliminate these pikers right up front by putting questions in the original job posting that they need to answer in their response. No answers, no need to pursue further. If they won’t pay attention to details when they are eager to win your business, how attentive will they be once you’ve paid them?
  3. Set a price for the project, don’t go hourly. It is very tempting when you see the hourly rates that are posted on services like oDesk to just create an open-ended project … after all, for $3.50 an hour or sometimes as high as $11.00 an hour you can get lulled into the sense that you are getting “cheap labor.” And that’s true to a point. However, what you will find is that there’s a pretty significant delta between our expectations in US business (including research, writing, marketing, etc.) that doesn’t necessarily resonate in other parts of the world. What that means is that you will end up paying someone for 20 hours to learn what it is that they need to be doing, when you could have hired a US-based “VA” (virtual assistant) or an intern to perform that same task in a couple of hours. So, bottom line: set a price that you are willing to pay and make it a project price not an hourly rate. You will weed out the people who don’t have the ability to get it done, AND you will create an incentive for fast delivery because the project is only fully paid upon completion.

More tips later. Like”Keep an open line for communication.” and “Check the work in progress and be specific about changes.” What questions would you like to ask? What tips would you share based on your experience?

Alternative Workforce Strategies

Alternative Workforce Strategies: Earning Opportunities in the Knowledge Work Era

Key aspects of the traditional job market have been changing for several decades, enabled and increasingly required as a response to global competition, the ability to source labor in lower cost areas, and the willingness of employers to “de-compartmentalize” aspects of a business process and outsource them. This trend has only been accelerated by technology and telecommunications tools that enable work to occur anytime, anywhere and in the most efficient setting possible.

This is being seen in three areas that have a direct implication for job creation in the traditional sense:

1.         Technology is being used to augment or replace roles that were previously filled by a person, such as administrative assistants, travel agents, assembly workers, bank tellers, toll booth attendants, retail clerks, etc.

2.         Work is being “off-shored” or otherwise assigned where it can be achieved at a lower cost, and companies are increasingly outsourcing work that is not a core competency or profit center for the business. This is being seen in the health care industry (e.g., medical records transcription and radiology interpretation) as well as in professional services such as accounting, law, and business consulting.

3.         Entire work processes have been transferred to lower cost areas of production, such as the manufacture and assembly of electronics and components, and these jobs are not likely to return to the US.

Today’s freelance and crowdsourcing approach to project work includes a variety of activities, many of which are a natural complement to current social media practices and technology. There are dozens of areas where crowdsourcing is supporting or supplanting traditional roles and employment opportunities, such as advertising, programming, writing, research, design, product development, and data analysis. Technology makes it possible to source this work instantly via alternative workforce strategies and contingent staffing models.

Project and contract assignments generally fall into one of the following categories:

(1)   Transactional: tasks that can be delegated or assigned to an individual or entity with specific instructions and expectations for the completed work

(2)   Relational: projects and tasks that are interpersonal in nature, and frequently require interaction and collaboration among more than one team member to complete the work

(3)   Creative: requires intellectual and/or creative content from an individual, often based on ambiguous instructions or loose guidelines

Work in 2020

Currently about 20-30% of the workforce in Fortune 100 companies is made up of “contingent” workers; that percentage is expected to swell to 50% by 2020.

If you’re a corporate manager in the future, you may need to make decisions regularly about whether your needs can be addressed by a “virtual” freelancer … or a former colleague who became a contractor after getting laid off. You may even have both types of contingent workers on your team, working alongside a few highly compensated company employees. As a result, you’ll need to manage folks with widely varying economic realities and pressures simultaneously. Their motivations may be very different.

Or, if your company gets leaner, you may be among the freelancers being managed.

Read more here.

3 Golden Rules for Hiring IT Freelancers

Here are some great tips from a recent Computerworld article on how to select IT support through freelancing:

1. Pay close attention to your hire’s background. Sometimes, professional outsourcing companies based in foreign countries attempt to masquerade as a single individual on a freelance site, bidding at an absurdly low price. Check the pedigree and personal description of a potential hire carefully to make sure you’re getting an independent person with a solid work background.

2. Your results are only as good as your ad. You’re hiring IT professionals, not mind readers. Unclear or unspecific job advertisements on any of these sites may attract the wrong type of talent or individuals without enough expertise. That can dramatically draw out the hiring process and reduce the effectiveness of using these sites.

Go over your job advertisement with a fine-toothed comb before your post it. Be sure to include specific areas of expertise that you want from contractors, years of experience that you want contractors to have and exactly what you expect them to do for you if they get hired.

3. You get what you pay for. This rule can’t be emphasized enough — but it is easy to forget when visiting online freelance marketplaces. While very basic tasks may be suitable for outsourcing to low-cost workers, you’ll generally find that IT pros who submit bids to work for two dollars an hour are going to give you just that: work worth two dollars an hour.

Digital Era Competencies

Do you have the knowledge, skills and abilities necessary for success in the Digital Era? Regardless of the sector you work in, your professional discipline, your place in the organizational hierarchy – and to some extent your career stage – there is a core set of competencies necessary to effectively leverage new technologies to achieve your goals and objectives. This post highlights some of those competencies in four general categories – concepts, platforms, tools, and skills – in addition to identifying unique competencies for managers and leaders.

The New Digital Divide: Thoughts for Leaders and Laggards was inspired in part by efforts to help individuals and organizations adapt to Digital Era realities and adopt new social and digital technologies and tools. At the end of that piece: the importance of leadership – including self-leadership – in bridging and crossing the divide. As new technologies increasingly permeate every aspect of our personal and professional lives, it is incumbent upon all of us to prepare ourselves to be successful in the Digital Era – not just as workers, but also as citizens and community members. No matter what our starting point may be, we must take it upon ourselves to understand new digital technologies and make educated and informed choices about which technologies we will embrace and leverage. We must also commit to learning and excelling at the competencies necessary for Digital Era success.

There is a need to think about a new set of core competencies required for success in the Digital Era. As social tools and other digital technologies become more integrated into our work lives, it has become increasingly evident that developing certain knowledge, skills and abilities is important for a wide range of professionals in multiple disciplines and at all levels.

These competencies, however, seem to get short shrift in articles and discussions about social business and enterprise 2.0 applications, which tend to emphasize the importance of cultural values like openness and transparency. As I have argued in different ways elsewhere (like this post), it’s possible to successfully leverage new digital tools and technologies even in organizations with more closed, traditional cultures. But it’s almost impossible to be successful if people don’t understand what those tools are and how they can use them. Culture may eat strategy for breakfast, but when it comes to digital technology, competencies eat culture for lunch.

Digital Era Competencies

When I developed this social media and online communities curriculum in early 2011, I created a core set of competencies to organize specific study topics. Many of these competencies are relevant even for folks who don’t have a professional focus on social media and community management. By their very nature, 2.0 technologies promote a DIY (do-it-yourself) approach to a variety of tasks that used to be delegated to people with specific technical skills. With more sophisticated and user-friendly tools at our disposal, we’re more autonomous and able to get work done more quickly and accurately – but only if we know what we’re doing!

It’s not the case that everyone has to embody all the competencies or master them to the same degree, but the stronger people’s working knowledge is in each of these areas, the more effectively they will be able to leverage new technologies to achieve their goals and objectives. This is as true for an organizational leader, who has to set strategic direction and allocate resources, as it is for a middle manager who wants to communicate with staff via an internal blog, a marketing or sales person who wants to identify new revenue-generating opportunities, a human resources professional who wants to interact with employees efficiently and effectively, and a new hire who needs to acclimate to a new operating and cultural environment.

Here are the main competency areas I have identified, along with brief descriptions and examples (all listed in alphabetical order) that are relevant for a wide range of professionals:

Concepts: Ideas unique to the Digital Era, or that take on new meaning in the Digital Era.

  • Anonymity
  • Calls to action
  • Channel
  • Cloud computing
  • Communities of practice
  • Digital integration
  • Ethics
  • Gamification
  • Influence
  • Levels of engagement (i.e., consumer, contributor, curator, creator)
  • Location-based services
  • Multi-channel communication
  • Network
  • Online/digital community
  • Privacy
  • Social bookmarking
  • Social commerce
  • Social learning
  • Software as a Service (SaaS)
  • Transparency
  • Usability
  • User ratings and reviews
  • User-generated content
  • Virtual reality
  • Web 2.0 and applications like Enterprise 2.0, Government 2.0, Health Care 2.0

Platforms: Environments in which 2.0 technologies are leveraged for specific purposes.

  • Public information networks like Twitter
  • Public social media sites like Flickr, Quora, Wikipedia, YouTube
  • Public social networking sites like Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+
  • Private social and digital networks, including social intranets, private digital communities, social business applications (see Ross School presentation slides 16-19 for specific examples)

Tools: Specific enabling technologies or applications of technology.

  • Aggregators
  • Badges
  • Chatting
  • Commenting
  • Content management systems
  • Dashboards
  • Discussion forums
  • Infographics
  • Mashups
  • Mobile apps and location based services
  • Plug-ins
  • Podcasts
  • Portals
  • RSS feeds and subscriptions
  • Tag clouds and word clouds
  • Videocasts and vlogs
  • Web analytics and social media metrics
  • Widgets
  • Wikis


The Social Media Sophistication (SMQ) Quiz tests people’s knowledge of 2.0 platforms and tools.
Click here to learn more and take the quiz


Skills: Capabilities unique to the Digital Era, or that take on new meaning in the Digital Era, including specific means of leveraging 2.0 technologies to achieve goals and objectives.

  • Benchmarking
  • Blogging: design, writing, promotion, commenting, management
  • Calendar and event management
  • Community management
  • Content sourcing and validation
  • Crowdsourcing
  • Digital collaboration
  • Digital design and publishing (e.g., Adobe’s Flash and InDesign)
  • Digital etiquette and communication effectiveness
  • File sharing and document co-creation
  • Group creation and management
  • Information management
  • Microblogging and status updates
  • Online research
  • Photo editing and sharing
  • Project management
  • Social sharing
  • Tagging and searching
  • Time management
  • User profile creation and management
  • Video production, editing, sharing
  • Web page design and coding (content, layout, keywords, links)
  • Web page navigation basics
  • Writing for multiple media

In addition to the above general competencies, there’s also a core set of management competencies that people in leadership positions need to effectively leverage and manage new digital technologies. These include:

  • Championship and change management
  • Community management, including engagement guidelines, moderation, and discipline
  • Governance principles, rules, and guidelines related to digital technologies
  • Human capital management applications and implications of new technologies
  • Knowledge of investment concepts like COI (cost of inaction), ROE (return on engagement) and ROI (return on investment)
  • Measurement and monitoring of digital activity
  • Risk management, including legal and policy considerations
  • Strategy and planning, including resource allocation and organizational design
  • And of course our definition of effective leadership itself may be changing, as articulated in another recent post: What Does it Take to be a Leader in the Digital Era?

What other competencies would you add? How about specific examples you think are worth highlighting? Any questions and concerns? As always, your thoughts are welcome.

Source: Courtney Shelton Hunt, PhD – Social Media in Organizations

CMO Guide

Ideas for Freelancing Business

See if there are any ideas below that fit you well. If you find an idea, seek out a guide on how to get started in that area.

Antique refurbishment This is a perfect side business for people who love antiquing. Take worn-out antiques home with you, invest the time and care needed to transform those old items into something amazing, then resell them at a profit.

Auto detailing Have a meticulous eye for detail and love to get things gleaming clean? Auto detailing is probably a perfect side business for you. In essence, your job is to make carssparkle inside and out – and many people are quite happy to pay well for this service.

Babysitting Got lots of evenings free? Like kids? Babysitting may be a great side business for you. Keep an eye on multiple children on Friday and Saturday nights and you can earn some solid income.

Bed and breakfast Have some extra space in your home? Turn that extra bedroom into a “bed and breakfast” room. This works particularly well if you have a somewhat older home or live near an area that attracts regular travelers and tourists.

Blogging If you enjoy writing, find a topic you’re passionate about and start a blog on the topic. All you need is a computer, some time, and some energy to consistently write.

Cake decorating Enjoy baking and have a bit of an artistic touch? Learn how to decorate cakes and make them for special events. One of my mother’s old friends does this and makes quite a bit of money on the side.

Candle making Candle making is a great little craft to learn. You can often easily sell the candles at local shops and also through websites like

Candy making Homemade candies are easier to make than you think and quite popular. Package them in nice little boxes and sell them through a local gift shop.

Card making This is another artistic “crafty” angle you can follow. Make greeting/birthday cards from scratch using your own photographs, some blank cards, and a healthy dose of artistic flair. Again, you san sell items like these through a local gift shop or at sites

Catering If you love to cook, take the “Blondie” route and start a home catering business. Catering is a business that’s perfectly designed to reward those who plan well and can often fit perfectly into weekends, lining up wonderfully opposite a normal workweek.

Childcare service Many states allow people to start up in-home daycares with minimal licensing and paperwork. If you love children and have plenty of time and space at home, this is a perfect business to get into.

Cleaning services for businesses Many businesses and civic institutions have a need for individuals who will provide cleaning services at a low cost outside of business hours. This is a great side business for those who can put in a few hours late at night or on weekends.

Collectible trading If there’s a particular type of collectible that you know a great deal about, you can often make good money as a collectible trader, utilizing tools like eBay and opportunities to find those collectibles in the community. I had some success with this myself with both trading cards and video games in the past.

Computer troubleshooting I had some success with this in the past, though I’ve largely moved away from it now. If you have a knack for fixing computers, this is a good place to start.

Consignment buyer Consignment shops and consignment auctions are often loaded with good deals if you know how to identify them – quite often, you can turn these good deals around and make a nice profit elsewhere. Get started by visiting some consignment shops and critically evaluating the prices on the items there.

Cookie making Much like candy making, homemade cookies can be a great seller. Bake the cookies, package them well, and resell them through a local gift shop. Often, you can find people in your social network who will buy batches from you for special occasions.

Dinner preparer I recently met a woman who earned quite a bit of money as a very part-time chef. Once a week, she would go to someone’s house and prepare a homemade meal for their family, then do all the dishes and cleanup work. This gives the family plenty of together time, while earning the lady some cash in the pocket. If you love to cook, this can be a great opportunity, but you may have to put a lot of work into searching for clients.

Event coordinator Events like family reunions and large parties are often full of busywork that many people simply don’t want to tackle. That can be the perfect place for you to step in and take charge of the planning and coordination.

Event DJing Are you an audiophile? If you have a great sound system and a large selection of music, you’ve already got what you need to hire yourself out as a DJ for various events and receptions. This is a great way to fill an afternoon and evening while also earning some cash in the process.

Exercise teacher Many gymnasiums will trade membership and often a bit more for a person willing and able to teach an exercise class. If you’re in good shape, this is a great opportunity to earn some extra money, plus it can often lead to additional income with one-on-one teaching opportunities.

Furniture making If you’re adept at woodworking and have just a bit of basic equipment, it’s easy to get into business making deck furniture. It only requires a few items – a saw, a drill, a sander – and some creativity and passion for working with wood.

Garage sale management One person I know holds a garage sale at their house almost every weekend during the summer. As a result, that person has a lot of regular customers who stop by almost every weekend to see what’s on sale. That person then goes to neighbors and friends and offers to sell their stuff at that yard sale for them, splitting the proceeds. People are usually happy to do this, since they don’t have to go to all of the work of running a yard sale, but still get rid of unwanted items and earn a bit of money, too.

Gardening services I’ve actually had requests from others for people willing to do this, so the demand is out there. To put it simply, some people are willing to pay others to get a vegetable or flower garden started for them in their yard so they can have access to ultra-fresh produce without all the legwork.

Handy man services Skilled at basic home repair? Let people know that they can call you for little repair jobs, like basic plumbing and other things. You’d be amazed at the simple things people are willing to pay others to help them with.

Housecleaning Many people simply don’t enjoy cleaning their homes and are willing to pay a reasonable price to have someone do the work for them. This is a great way to earn extra money in a flexible way, particularly if you have time off during the workweek.

Interior decorating Fascinated by interior design? Have a huge collection of interior design materials around? Many people are quite happy to hire individuals to help them decorate their home – I know, for one, that I have no eye for this type of thing.

Jewelry making If you have a good eye for detail work and a lot of patience, homemade jewelry can be quite profitable. As with other items on this list, there are many opportunities to sell such items through local gift shops or at sites like etsy.

Knitting / crocheting / quilting Skilled at creating blankets and sweaters? There’s a hugemarket for these types of items – even better, you can usually make them in your spare time whenever you have it. As always, local shops and places like etsy are great places to go to sell such items.

Landscaping services Willing to mow lawns and trim bushes and trees? Many people are quite happy to pay for such services. Not only is this a great side business for a fit adult, it’s also a great way for a teenager to get a small business started.

Meal-to-go preparations Remember my earlier post about breakfast burritos? Making meals in advance is a great way to save money for yourself – but you can often prepare these for others as well and sell them for a markup. Prepare eight casseroles, for example, then sell six of them to cover your costs, and you’ve got two free dinners for your family (and maybe a bit more). You can grow this by taking orders from others and finding out what they like.

Online media consultant Like participating on messageboards, Facebook, Twitter, and so on? Become an online media consultant and help people promote things. Start small – help local businesses get a presence on Facebook and set them up with Twitter. From there, you can grow to whatever works for you.

Personal shopping Many very busy people and elderly people are willing to pay a fee for people to do their shopping for them. Simply retrieve a shopping list from them, return with the receipt, and accept payment for the purchased items (plus a little fee). You can often do this in conjunction with your own shopping trip if you’re well-organized (take two carts!).

Pet grooming Many people loathe bathing their pets and trimming their hair – I know I do. Pet groomers perform these tasks for a small fee – a perfect job for a person who loves dogs and cats.

Pet sitting When people go on trips, they’re often concerned as to what will happen with their pets. That’s where you step in – offer yourself as a safe place to leave their pets, or be willing to go to their home to take care of their pets.

Pet walking Many busy people leave their pets home all day, but realize that those pets really could use a vigorous walk (and an opportunity to relieve themselves) during the day. Pet walking is a great opportunity for exercise, fresh air, and some pocket money if you have free time during each day.

Pet yard waste cleanup For many people in suburban areas, cleaning up pet yard waste is a real hassle – it’s disgusting, for one. Instead of cleaning it up themselves, they might hire someone to do it regularly, two to three times a week. There are several such services in our area, actually.

Produce selling Like to grow vegetables? Focus in on one vegetable and sell the excess to grocery stores and at farmers’ markets. My father does this with tomatoes and earns some solid extra money during the summer months. You can do really well, though, if you can grow things inside during the winter – February fresh tomatoes can sell quite well.

Proofreading Have strong English skills and exceptional grammar? You may have opportunities to work as a proofreader from home. Advertising for this can be difficult – seek out those who might actually be able to use your services and advertise directly to them.

Public speaking If you’re the type of person who can get the attention of a room easily, public speaking might be for you. Take advantage of every public speaking opportunity you can and you’ll be surprised at the opportunities that make themselves available for you.

Scrapbook making Many people dream of having beautiful scrapbooks. They collect all the materials they want in the scrapbooks but never follow through on the actual creation. You can step in here – take their ideas and materials and assemble a scrapbook for them.

Senior citizen assistance Many elderly people need assistance with a wide variety of simple household tasks – cleaning, laundry, and so forth. Many children of elderly people are quite willing to hire someone to help out their parents.

Sewing and alterations My wife is quite handy with a sewing machine and often hems and modifies our children’s clothes. She could easily take this a step further and offer her services to others, doing basic garment repair and modification for a small price on lazy evenings.

Soap making Making amazing homemade soaps isn’t as hard as you might think – it just takes time and patience. Again, items like these can easily be sold via local gift shops and through websites like etsy.

Teaching music If you know how to play an instrument (particularly the piano or the guitar) and have patience, you’ve got what you need to teach others how to play. Offer lessons in that instrument to others – this can also be an excellent thing to barter with, too.

Toy making From simple things like sock monkeys to more elaborate things like handcrafted chess sets, many people are willing to pay good money for handcrafted toys that you can easily make at home in your spare time. Again, gift shops are the place to go with items like these.

Tutoring Did you major in a particular topic in college? Do you have patience with children? You likely have what you need to tutor kids in particular subjects. Seek out parents and let them know that you tutor in a particular subject and provide materials for them to share and phone calls will often trickle in.

Video preparation services Many people like to have videos made for special events, such as weddings, or for gifts. This may mean actually taking the video yourself at a special event, or it may mean simply assembling materials and creating a video from those items. Either way, with a well-equipped PC, some taste, and some patience, you can make quite sophisticated video productions at home.

Virtual assistant Many ultra-busy professionals appreciate having someone who can check and answer their email, organize task lists for them, update their calendars, and so on, with minimal interaction. The best part is that you can provide this service from home with a good internet connection.

Web site design Many small businesses in your community could use a very basic web presence to tell others about their business. Quite often, these businesses don’t have a large budget for such things. That’s where you come in – get a bunch of clients from the local community by beating the pavement, create sites for them, and maintain them for a small fee. Get enough businesses and you have a nice side business of your own that doesn’t require a ton of maintenance time.

Wedding planner If you’re one of those people who can’t help but flip through bridal magazines and think about various wedding arrangements in your daydreams, wedding planning might be the perfect thing for you. A great way to get started is to develop a website on the topic, get to know people online, and offer your services throughout the community.

Source: The Simple Dollar

Best Venn Diagram Ever!

This has to be the best Venn diagram ever, especially for those of us who are searching for the best opportunity to earn a living and love what we are doing. I’d like to hear your thoughts …