The Good, Bad, and Down-Right Ugly of Our Outsourcing Adventures
You and I have a finite number of hours to use each day.
But hiring a quality employee is a hassle. And trying to find one in a pinch is absurd. So what should a professional content marketing blogger like you do?
One option is to outsource your SEO to an overseas marketer. With the right process in place, outsourcing your SEO is as simple as buying a book on Amazon.
The problem is, it can be a challenge to find overseas marketers who won’t botch your process if you have never done it before. And as you probably know, if you do SEO, it can wreak havoc on your rankings on Google.
Here is what we will cover, and what you may want to keep in mind, when outsourcing your SEO:
- How to Treat Your Business Like Starbucks and McDonald’s.
- Improving Your ROI By Outsourcing Your SEO.
- When Should I Start Outsourcing My SEO?
- What Processes Can You Outsource?
- How Much Should I Pay When Outsourcing SEO?
- Why We Recommend You Track Your Outsourcing.
How to Treat Your Business Like Starbucks and McDonald's
How is it that Starbucks and McDonald’s are the world leaders in the coffee and hamburger markets?
With one simple approach.
But it’s not just them. It’s also how Amazon, Apple, and Sports Illustrated have become household names. This approach works just as well for mom-and-pop shops as it does for enterprise companies.
What’s this approach, you ask?
Creating a system that’s scale-able. Some call this systematic approach a standard operating procedure (or “SOP”).
What exactly is an SOP?
SOPs are step-by-step instructions on how you do any task, no matter how complex or simple the activity is. In simpler terms, they build a predictable system.
When McDonald’s opens up a new location, you expect the same hamburger and fries there as you do at the franchise you frequent. That’s because McDonald’s use a system so each employee knows how to make a Big Mac.
If you’re a professional blogger, chances are you already have a system for many of the things you do. And if you document your system, anyone can step in and do what you do.
For example, here is what your content creation process might look like:
- Create a content strategy.
- Find keywords to target.
- Create a headline.
- Create an outline.
- Research the article.
- Write the article.
- Edit the article.
- Publish it on WordPress.
From there, you will want to break up each step into an outline of the process.
Each of these steps can be broken down even more, such as by creating your email outreach process, how to add the outreach templates and customer list into Mailshake.
Taking the time to document your processes will help you scale up effectively. Once you’ve created your SEO systems, you can decide what you want to outsource.
Improving Your ROI by Outsourcing Your SEO
First, let’s make sure you and I understand what I’m talking about when I mention SEO outsourcing. SEO outsourcing is the process of outsourcing services related to search engine optimization. These services can include on-page SEO, off-page SEO, and even technical SEO tasks.
For something like SEO, you can break down any strategy into a systematic process. Then, once the process is in place, you can hand these process-driven tasks off to others. By outsourcing your SEO, you end up producing more results. And if you are doing work that can bring in new customers, outsourcing will improve your ROI.
To produce higher results, you can decrease the number of resources you invest (your inputs), or you can increase the amount that is produced (your outputs). For example, you can do this by automating your email outreach.
Here’s a simple example demonstrating why outsourcing can be so powerful:
Let's say that there are two fictional agencies. At Agency A, Mark pays $500/month to serve his clients. At Agency B, Lucy pays $500/month, just like Mark does at Agency A. She also estimates the added time cost to screen and hire a few virtual assistants (VAs) will be an extra $500 in the first month.
However, Lucy also knows that after Month 1, she will save $250/month because she outsources most of her work to VAs in the Philippines.
Here’s the total costs month-to-month for each agency:
As you can see, it will take three months for Lucy to break even with Mark. But after Month 3, Lucy will save an extra $250 a month. Thus you've increased your pricing, without charging your client a dollar more.
When Should I Start Outsourcing My SEO?
“The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The next best time is now.” - Chinese Proverb
From an SEO standpoint, you’re probably in one of two scenarios:
- You do SEO as a consultant, for an agency, or in-house at a startup.
- You lack SEO expertise and need a professional agency or consultant to step in.
Hiring an SEO agency or consultant is a great way to increase your productivity, even if you have SEO experience. However, this article will focus more on those in the first scenario.
If you are in the second scenario and don’t know what you’re looking for, I’d recommend hiring a consultant who can help you flesh out what you need to do.
What Processes Can I Outsource?
In a 2016 study done by Bright Local, here are the most common outsourced SEO tasks:
- Citation building and cleanup
- Content creation
- Link building
- Web design
- Video creation
- Social media
- Link cleanup
- Reputation management
Truthfully, anything you can systematize, you can outsource. However, it can be risky to outsource your systems too soon.
What is too soon? If you haven’t tested your systems, you run the risk that someone might misunderstand your instructions. Sometimes there will be steps you forget to list, exceptions to the rules, or instructions that are not clear. Untested systems can lead to low-quality or incomplete work, which will often waste more time in the long run.
Here is a process you can use to create and test your system:
- Write out the process step-by-step, simple enough that your dad could do it.
- Take screenshots using Windows Snipping Tool (COMMAND+SHIFT+4 for you Mac folks).
- Use Skitch to create arrows or text on a picture that may be confusing. (Here’s a free download for Windows users and Mac users).
- Use and edit the system as you’re doing the work for a couple clients. Editing a process yourself allows you to spot any assumptions you may have missed when first writing up the process.
- Give the process to a junior employee in your department that allows her to give input on the process using her knowledge of the field, which an overseas VA may not have.
- After the junior employee uses the system a couple times, have her hire a native English speaking VA to complete the next task. Here, the VA will spot anything your junior employee may have assumed since he does not know SEO. Anything that needs to be changed, the junior employee will update in her SOP.
- Finally, the SOP is ready to pass along to a foreign VA.
Not every process needs to go through this level of detail and scrutiny. In fact, I may skip to the final step if I know my system requires no deep expertise (for example, many overseas VAs have a process on how to find email addresses).
What is important is that someone checks that the task is done correctly to your standards.
If you do this process correctly, at each stage, you effectively pay less money for the same work.
How Much Should I Pay When Outsourcing SEO?
Your SEO outsourcing costs will change depending on:
- What task you are looking to get done. Longer projects often cost more, but usually we can negotiate a cheaper price.
- What comes with the service. For example, if someone is finding an email address.
- How much expertise the contractor brings to the table.
If you’re hiring someone from a developing country on Fiverr or Upwork, expect to pay between $3-$6/hour. I’ve hired a few contractors effectively for less than $2 an hour when I did a large project.
A step up from hiring a VA overseas is hiring one in the US, Canada, UK, or other local workers. You can hire most low-cost, US-based VAs for $7-$12/hour. The upside to these VAs is that communication is more natural. This can be helpful if something in your system isn’t clear. Additionally, I have worked with some US VAs who ask more clarifying questions that non-US VAs.
Before hiring, I ask VAs for a time estimate, especially for more significant projects. Not only does this give me an idea of their efficiency, but it also allows me to pay a fixed amount. That way, if the VA works faster, they earn more per hour. However, if they do a slower job than they quoted me, I’m not bleeding money while they casually work on the project.
In the end, you should be focusing on the value your business receives (e.g., your output compared to your input), not the price alone. Would you rather pay $750 for $7,500 in sales or pay $300 for $150 in sales?
While it isn’t always this simple, it is good to keep these numbers in mind. After all, ROI from content isn’t an exact science. However, you can create models to estimate the value of your work.
Why We Recommend You Track Your Outsourcing
As you begin scaling your work with VAs, it can get confusing who has started which project and when their work is due. Before you know it, deadlines pass, and their work is sloppy.
You spent money with virtually nothing to show for it.
Instead, you should keep track of your SEO outsourcing in a well-organized fashion.
An easy way to do this is to create a spreadsheet that tracks the following:
- Start dates
- Expected deliverables
- Cost per hour
- Effective cost per hour
- Link to their service page
- Notes on the person you hired (communication ability, ease of working with, how often they miss deadlines, etc.)
Perhaps you’re wondering, what is the effective cost per hour? This is what you effectively pay for a task (remember the input and output example from before?).
I once hired a US-VA for $10/hour who worked three times faster than a VA in the Philippines at $5/hour. So for a three-hour project, I paid her $10 while I paid $15 for the guy in the Philippines.
Here’s an example of how I compared the efficiency rate:
You may think $5 isn’t a big deal. And usually, you’re right.
But imagine how quickly the costs add up when you scale from a three hour project to 40 hours/week, 50 weeks a year (that’s $3,333 a year in savings!).
To Outsource or Not
At the end of the day, outsourcing your SEO comes down to a simple question: can you increase your effectiveness by increasing what is produced (your output), or decrease what I need to invest (your input)?
Only you know what works best for your business. That includes the weaknesses and threats your team face, along with the strengths and potential opportunities you could explore.
Is the money that you pay going to provide a profitable return in the long run? Is it best to fork over a premium retainer to an established agency, or should you pay a foreign VA? Or is it better to keep it in-house and use tools to save time?
Ultimately, that’s part of the fun of being an entrepreneur. You get to make a choice and live with the outcome.