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3 Tips for Managing Crowdsourced Workers

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Crowdsourcing hiring is a cutting-edge way to scale a business but one that still presents certain traditional human resource challenges. Managing crowdsourced workers is an "operationally intensive" effort, says Ryan Frankel, chief executive officer and co-founder of VerbalizeIt in New York, a live, phone-based foreign-language translation service that relies on a community of 18,000 crowdsourced translators in 75 different countries. Frankel admits VerbalizeIt made some early missteps in managing its crowdsourced workforce, but learned valuable lessons about recruitment and retention along the way.

Rethink recruitment. First off, VerbalizeIt over-recruited to meet the initial demand for its services after the company's February 2012 launch, says Frankel. VerbalizeIt found itself with too many translators who didn't have enough assignments to keep them busy. As a result, the idle translators were not as invested in the business as their busy counterparts and didn't bother to stay current on the company's policies and procedures, he explains.

Frankel also realized that only about 20 to 30 percent of the candidates recruited actually passed the company's language and business knowledge proficiency tests. Recruiting and testing a large number of individuals who didn't pass the vetting process cost VerbalizeIt time and money, he notes.

VerbalizeIt adjusted its recruiting strategy and now focuses on referrals from existing translators. The referring translator receives a small percentage, about 1 to 3 percent, of the new hire's income, Frankel explains. The rewards add up for translators who keep referring high-quality candidates, he says. The candidate pool quickly improved and now 90 percent of those recruited pass the proficiency tests, says Frankel.

Value workers' time. Because crowdsourced workers have the freedom to come and go as they like, providing added value helps retain talented workers, says Daniel Qu, chief executive officer and founder of Launchsite, a website design platform in San Diego launched last May.

Launchsite, which maintains a pool of approximately 300 vetted website designers, offers clients three designers who compete to build a client's website by creating a sample page. The client chooses a designer with whom to work and Launchsite takes a percentage of the payment, Qu says.

Importantly, the two designers who aren't chosen by the client get paid $50 for their effort, as long as it's rated highly enough by the client, "so the designers don't walk away with nothing," Qu explains. Other crowdsourced web design sites don't limit the number of proposals submitted and don't pay the runners-up for their time, he points out.

Tap into worker wisdom. Engaging service providers in the business is a fundamental part of managing a crowdsourced workforce, says Garrick Pohl, chief executive officer and founder of Zipments in New York, a delivery service that primarily relies on several hundred crowdsourced bicycle couriers. Zipments gets its couriers' input on everything from how to do their jobs more efficiently to what they wear to work. "If it doesn't work for the couriers, they just won't do it," Pohl says.

Zipments, which launched in 2012 and recently expanded to Chicago, broke into the well-established bicycle courier community in Manhattan by laying the groundwork for its recruitment efforts a year in advance, says Pohl. Zipments used social media to identify the influencers in the courier community and assembled a courier "think tank," he explains.

During lunch meetings, Pohl says he learned about what the couriers needed and wanted, and who would be most receptive to the company's collaborative delivery model. Pohl also makes sure he's always available for feedback by giving couriers his personal phone number and email address. "If you're not listening to the service providers, you're building your business on sand," he says.

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