Go Virtual With Your Work Force

Outsourcing and virtual hiring can give you lower costs and enables you to work with talented employees all over the world.
Magazine Contributor
3 min read

This story appears in the May 2009 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

College entrepreneurs are often judged by their revenue, profits and work force headcounts. But while financial metrics are a logical benchmark for success, employment numbers are not. Outsourcing and virtual hiring can give you lower costs and the ability to work with talented employees around the world.

When Jordan Goldman launched Unigo last September to provide student-generated college reviews, he needed a way to quickly engage students from hundreds of schools. Instead of hiring employees and deploying them to campuses nationwide, he built a team of virtual interns--300 of them, to be exact.

"It would have taken us many years and millions of dollars to do what we did in three months, and on a tight budget," says Goldman, 26. "The interns knew their school ecosystems much better than we ever could, and this helped us spread the word quickly and economically."

In less than three months, Unigo amassed more than 40,000 student reviews, and the site was off and running thanks to Goldman's army of virtual interns. But effectively harnessing the power of virtual employees takes careful planning and execution.

"It can be hard when you have an external work force because you can't look these people in the eyes or take them out for drinks," Goldman says. "To compensate, you have to implement a structured system with clear goals and objectives. It's important that your virtual employees feel they're part of something real."

Tim Ferriss, author of The 4-Hour Workweek and an avid proponent of virtual operations, has built a career around advising companies on the effective use of outsourcing to save money and stay focused on core competencies. "The two most important things to a business are creating product and selling product," Ferriss says. "If a repetitive task is not related to one of your core capabilities, you should look at using a service like Elance.com that, for a percentage of your hourly income, can do these tasks for you."

To further focus goals and eliminate clutter, Ferriss recommends that college startups hire a virtual assistant from a company such as AskSunday.com. "If you hire a virtual assistant, it'll very clearly show you how undefined or ambiguous many of your objectives are, because you'll be forced to put down criteria, deadlines and milestones," he says.

For both Goldman and Ferriss, running a successful virtual company--especially in college--revolves around allocating time and money to the most important tasks, and minimizing or outsourcing the rest. "When in doubt," Ferriss says, "focus on elimination."

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