Not sure on something?
As the we enter a new year is it time for you a micro business to seek out a little help? You’ve been running your own micro business for a little while and, perhaps with a few ups and downs, it’s starting to really show results. Up to now, you’ve been doing all the day-to-day work yourself and that’s been fine.
However, you’ve reached a point where you don’t have enough hours in the day or enough pairs of hands yourself to do it all and you have to make a decision. Do you continue as you are and put a cap on what your business can achieve, or do you bite the bullet and get some help?
If you rein back, your business may never get any bigger in turnover than it is now and you will almost certainly be turning down good opportunities, which you’ll probably be kicking yourself about in the future. But you know how things run at the level you’re on now and it’s your comfort zone.
If you get some help, what happens next? Take on staff? Get bigger premises to house them? Have to handle wages, tax and National Insurance payments, holiday pay, sick leave and all the other stuff that goes with having employees? It can sound very scary.
Ok, first take a breath and go and speak to your accountant. He/she will know from a financial standpoint if this is the right time to expand or whether you should wait a bit longer, to build up a little more on your own first.
He/she should also be able to talk you through the apparent financial minefield of employing staff, including your obligations, their obligations and what will be expected of you as an employer. He/she may also be able to suggest some alternatives to the more obvious ways of increasing your workforce.
These might include advertising for people who are self-employed, can work short or long-term and who deal with their own tax and NI payments. This can be a good way to go depending on the type of work you need done – physical, onsite work like packing for instance.
Similarly, employment agencies which provide onsite workers can be useful. You contact a suitable agency, tell them what you want done and they supply the appropriately-qualified staff. You pay the agency and they deal with the staff wages and other financial payments.
Of course, for any work which requires onsite staff, you’ll have to be covered by employer’s liability insurance, provide suitable toilet and break facilities and make sure you have a scrupulous approach to Health and Safety requirements (which you should anyway!) If you’re currently operating from your home study or converted garage for example, it could be tricky.
If all of that still sounds daunting, and the work doesn’t necessarily need to be done at your premises, why don’t you consider using a virtual workforce?
Virtual employees are real people, of course, but they work for you remotely at their own address, keeping in touch by phone and computer. They don’t necessarily have to be in your own town or even your own country either.
Now that almost everyone on the planet has access to the internet, it has become possible to easily interact with people anywhere in the world. Communication is simple and amazingly completely free by email and apps like Skype for voice and video chat. Money can also be transmitted all around the globe in seconds by ‘ordinary’ people using companies like Worldpay and PayPal, so trading and working have taken on a new dimension, which you can make use of.
There are many millions of people working on a freelance, self-employed basis and many of them individually advertise their skills and availability on the internet. LinkedIn is a good source of this and you can find lots of virtual personal assistants and clerical workers here.
You would contact them, ask for their CV and references and interview them in just the same way as you would face to face, but probably on the phone or by Skype, rather than in person. A Virtual P.A. for example, works from his/her own base and can deal with day-to-day bookings, appointments, incoming and outgoing telephone calls and paperwork, you communicate by phone and email and never even need to meet.
If the work you have involves something very repetitive like data processing or collecting hundreds of pieces of information for instance, another online option is to use a ‘crowdsourcing’ site, like the German based company Clickworker and US-based Onespace.
These companies act like an agency. You give the company the job brief and set a budget for the work. They then offer the job to their members, split down into several or many ‘micro jobs’. Literally dozens or even hundreds of people can work on the job, depending on its size, which can make completion very fast indeed. Usually, the workers will have been required to pass training tests of general literacy and specific job requirements before being allowed to work on your project.
There are also websites dedicated to pairing workers up more personally with those who have more one-off work that needs doing, using a bidding system. Some of these sites are not so great for either the employer or the worker, but a few are useful and have good workers available. One UK-based platform is People Per Hour. These sites can be good for finding writers of all types, editors, photographers, website developers, SEO experts, proof-readers etc.
Most of the sites which allow the employer to interact directly with the workers are free for the ‘buyer’ to post a job. They tend to charge the worker or ‘seller’ a percentage fee to make a bid for the work, so be aware that this might be added to the seller’s bid amount.
You will write a description of your job brief, including as much information about it as you can. You can set a general expertise and price level, or you can specify a fixed fee. Once the job is posted on the site, you will very quickly have freelance workers sending in bids telling you why they think they are qualified for the job and how much they propose to charge to complete the work. You can keep in direct contact with your chosen worker on the site itself and there are safeguards in place to ensure you get what you pay for at the end of the job.
Don’t necessarily go for the cheapest bid. Sometimes workers will bid very low just to get the work and, because they have to cram so many jobs into their day to make a living wage, the result can be rushed and not so good. Always ask to see previous work they’ve done so you can judge whether they will be a good fit for what you need.
So, it’s not always necessary to physically employ hordes of staff to get your business up the next rung of the ladder. It’s probably unlikely that you’ll stay with virtual staffing forever as your business grows, but it can be a very good and cost-effective way to grow your business over that tricky time between its childhood and adolescence.