So many of of the articles about off-shoring involve call centers and software development and are really only relevant to large firms with travel budgets, staff and money to spend so that they can investigate and vet out their partners.
But what about small businesses who need a logo, a PowerPoint presentation, a video, a website or a spreadsheet prepared? Can the company with fewer than 30 employees really afford to get on a plane and develop a relationship with a Philippine web designer? Can we fly in a Ukrainian graphic designer to meet us when the whole purpose of off-shoring was to save money in the first place?
For many firms, there will be greater and greater needs for one-off projects. This is much different than a large outsourced relationship with software developers, for example, that can last years and have dedicated personnel involved. And the busy CEO is trying to save time as well as money.
This where crowdsourcing comes in. Crowdsourcing is offering a job or project to a large group of people and companies — thereby getting several vendors, several bids and several options for prices and features. Crowdsourcing usually occurs via the internet, often at crowdsourcing websites. As overseas crowdsourcing sites arise, more and more American company owners will be dealing with labor they haven’t met and vendors who may not ever speak to them on the telephone.
Crowdsourcing can be done in an off-shore manner; that is to say that one can list a project on a crowdsourcing website and get bids from people overseas a well as locally. Sometimes dozens of foreign nationals can bid on a project.
If a firm wanted to crowdsource a project to set up a blog, for example, they might want to go to the myriad of websites that facilitate this practice. Rather than recommend a specific site, I’ll just direct readers to Google what they want.
Our local CEO may be crowdsourcing a design of her blog because she lacks the time to do it herself, or the the in-house knowledge to build a blog. She may feel crowdsourcing will save her money. She also may be looking to crowdsourcing to get free ideas about what her blog should look like, how it should function, or features it should have.
One myth of crowdsourcing is that it saves time. There is truth to this: a firm puts up one job requirement and many vendors come forward. But the actual management of the vendors may be more time consuming. The man who built one of my websites (partnersinternational.com) spent an hour interviewing me to understand my business and my biases. Afterwards he required no management at all. Because of our frank conversation (the kind that is direct and really, only two Americans can have with one another) he needed no guidance, no “push” no motivators and no threats. We had no language barriers and no cross-cultural difficulties. His electricity never lost power (a common problem in the third world). I paid him with check drawn on a U.S. bank. There were no exchange rates or currency issues to deal with. When the website needed tweaking we were able to fix it with a simple, local phone call.
When crowdsourcing takes place, the lowest bidders are usually from abroad. This creates difficulties in the areas mentioned above. When a Malaysian built one of my other websites, I re-entered the world of global business.
One thing I learned from the Malaysian experience is that I could not ask direct questions and expect direct answers. The indirectness is something Americans have to prepare for.
The language barrier was only daunting in the case of oral communication. The Malaysian could read and write English. He learned English by reading and writing, not speaking. Contrast that with things like language tapes in the United States, which focus on hearing and speaking as a way to learn a foreign language.
Asking this designer to create concepts with no direction from me was confusing as well. In the United States, we expect designers to create a concept from nothing. The man I was dealing with preferred to augment existing designs that were on the web and then modify them to my liking. At the time, international payment procedures were already perfected. Beyond using services like PayPal, many of the crowdsourcing sites would actually hold my money in escrow, only to be released upon my satisfaction. I could use a credit card to enter my deposit. No issue there.
Perhaps the most difficult part of the crowdsourcing experience was the need to explain my wishes, explain those requirements again and then explain what I had already explained. This was all in writing. It was tiring because of the need to keep writing long, detailed paragraphs which an American designer would find superfluous.
As with any skill, the ability to draw on crowdsourced labor takes practice, patience and insight.